by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.

hubris n. 

  1. Exaggerated pride or self confidence often resulting in retribution. 
  2. Overbearing presumption; arrogance. 
Imagine being taught a word with rich nuances in its definition, using the word for decades, then looking it up to find that dictionaries, the practical arbiters of modern usage, have stripped the word of its subtlety.
Like waking up to find that "fragile" now means "shattered," that "vague" means "misleading," "wavering" means "illogical," "lame" means "malicious."
Modern definitions of the word "hubris" are decidedly unsympathetic.

The term arose from classical Greek thought as a fatal flaw to which the gifted are most susceptible.  Xerxes built a bridge of ships across the Hellespont, applying technology to convert sea into land.  What's wrong with that?

Well, the Persians beat his brains out at Salamis, so the gods must have been pissed.  Shouldn't mess around with nature, Xerxes.

That's not heavy-duty hubris, though.

You really want to offend the gods?  Just endure a tragic ordeal with an unbroken spirit.

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Eight years passed by following the publication of this entry.  Eugene Robkin, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at University of Wisconsin, took up keyboard in 2004 to reveal my hubris (the modern sense), writing...

"Xerxes was the king of the Persians.  It was the Greeks who beat his brains out.  It was Themistocles who devised the naval strategy that did the trick."