Hubris essentially means arrogance, exaggerated self-esteem, and pride over the limits. Once a character trait, it has now become an independent and important ethical concept.
It is worth noting that the term and understanding the idea behind it has formed in the ancient world. Age of polytheism had definitive traits about respect and fear to the celestial beings without an exact physical appearance, more commonly known as gods. Hubris poses as an ultimate part of a relationship between mortals and the god-like beings. It can be explained by a range of individual thoughts and ideas that prevailed in each individual. Those, who showed disrespect and constantly challenged gods to “strike them down if they exist” were the bearers of the title known as “hubris”. It had a huge place in society and national ethos, as both common people and governmental organizations were highly religious in Ancient Greece and Rome, to name a few. Hubris grew from a definition to the mark of an apostate and heretic. A complex system of rewards and punishments when talking about gods and attitude towards them, as was in Greece, instantly leads to the fact that hubris was thought to cause severe “penalties” to your life from the higher beings. Such actions of retribution for arrogance included the absence of luck and happiness. Furthermore, the divine revenge was thought to appear in the form of Nemesis, the goddess whose primary function was to punish those accused in hubris.
From the works of Homer and Hesiod, another aspect of hubris appears. Homer wrote about this trait not only as god-hating and criticizing but as one that describes a person who aims to take the place of gods. Naturally, this also leads to the nemesis as retribution for such unholy sin. This statement has numerous examples from the literature. Achilles and Odysseus, Prometheus and Sisyphus and so on. Monotheistic examples are also big. Those are Adam and Eve, the builders of the Tower of Babylon etc. According to Homer, challenging gods to take their places is the primary motive for hubristic individuals.
Hesiod, however, understands hubris as a solely ethical issue. It can be caused by any sin, such as the desire for money. Aristotle also follows this line of thoughts, displaying hubris as a general term, not exactly related to gods directly. Furthermore, this term was used in jurisprudence, describing the “harm done by action or words”. Hubris often stands in Greek mythology as a goddess with the same name who symbolizes satiation.
History has forgotten about the term for a long time until Arnold Toynbee has spent the time to study it deeply. Modern hubris is much less connected to the divine concept, setting apart human character traits and its influence on the modern divine celestial beings. Toynbee took hubris from the personal level and compared it to the eclipse of some of the greatest civilizations. According to his work, Roman empire fell due to hubris and any advanced civilization is doomed to have the same fate, which means thriving, hubris and later nemesis that leaves only the mark on history.
Members of the postmodernist movement often describe hubris as a sociological phenomenon. In their understanding it is not that connected to the inevitable doom, or nemesis. Quite the contrary, hubris is described as the term for chaos, unbridled spheres of society and culture.
Centuries blurred the lines and now hubris can be spoken of from both good and bad sides, the same way as pride. Many historians claim that Adolf Hitler in his struggle to put himself over anyone else demonstrated hubris as it is, and therefore had his nemesis. Larry Wall, for example, takes a drastically different approach and names hubris as one of the three virtues of a programmer.