Greek philosophy is permeated by tensions and distensions between humans and the gods . Classic reflections and narratives are concerned with the relationship between the mortal and the divine, the wrong and the perfect, order and excess.

In this context, transgression has been one of the figures found in the background of the myths and stories that gave rise to the most classical Greek philosophy, and which among other things allowed the latter to have effects and functions in the social order.

There is for the Greeks a necessary natural order, which governs conduct and which must be maintained and respected. Nature (of which gods and humans are a part) organizes and regulates the world, body and soul, and maintains an order that must not be disrupted. The concept of hibris , which we will see developed below, has to do with that.

The hibris and the order of the cosmos

In Greek philosophy, human beings are part of an order called “cosmos”. In this order, there is no room for a sharp distinction between the human and the divine, nature and the soul, biology or culture. However, it is an order in which human beings recognize themselves as distinct from the divinity : humans are limited, they are not immortal or omnipresent like the gods, they are the other way around: finite and perishable.

As there is awareness of immortality, there is also awareness of one’s own limits, and there is then the possibility of transgression. The problem is that transgression is a sign of ignorance of one’s limits and of one’s condition as a human, which means equating oneself with the condition of gods through a narcissistic ego.

The hibris is the word with which the latter is represented: is the state of absence of measure , which is also the state of major transgression, into which none of the human beings should fall. The duty of humans, contrary to this, is that of “knowing oneself”, which means knowing one’s limits, avoiding excesses and conserving moderation. The hibris is the state that breaks with homogeneity, disrupts the order of the cosmos and the social order.

Thus, the hibris represents daring and excess, the splitting of the cosmos and the political order. It is the opposite of prudence, which is closer to the idea of human humility and invites us to think and live in the recognition of our own limits. The hibris represents the act of aspiring to more than is really possible , going against the “moira” that means “part”, “lot” or “destiny”, and refers to what each “being” has been given, including the possibilities of “doing”.

Heroes and political ethics

One of the great problems raised by some Greek philosophers is when those who fall into the hibris are the human beings in charge of governing. The tyrant, who encounters what the Greeks called “pleonexia” (the insatiable motivation, wanting to always have more), is the representation of the ultimate transgression .

He who has fallen into the hibris does not regulate himself, is not measured by moderation, and is therefore not the right person to rule. The opposite is true of the figure of the hero of the Greek tragedies, who also has a sometimes insatiable desire for power. This desire makes him blind and close to the hibris , but it does not represent a deliberate offense against the gods.

However, they do fall into pride and arrogance, so they are not saved from divine punishment: the nemesis; a figure that represents revenge, justice and balancing punishment. Herodotus, one of the fathers of history, already said that “the divinity tends to bring down everything that is too low”.

The Agamemnon of the Homeric Iliad and commander of the attack on Troy; Oedipus the King, who killed his father and married his mother; and some emperors like Caligula and Nero, are just some of the Greek characters who came to the hibris. The consequence of this excessive confidence is that it does not take into consideration the experiences, ideas and mentalities of others, so that the consequences or reactions of others are not anticipated either, and “nemesis” easily restores the balance.

Hibris syndrome

Through the concept and history of the hibris, it has been easier to represent the figure of the excess of consumption, the contemporary tendency to “pleonexia” and the sensation of insatiability that crosses the subjectivities , becoming more and more narcissistic.

A clearer example can be given of the obvious ambition for political power of a tyrant’s subjectivity, or the excessive ambition for knowledge that leads to an excess of confidence, a state of impatience or thoughtless hyperactivity.

The hibris is the state inspired by exaggerated passions, thoughtless actions. It represents obstinacy, the fixation on preconceived ideas and the rejection of the opposite or alien ideas, the overpowering treatment and narcissism.

This is an excess that disorganizes and corrupts , but it is quite far from the individual meaning that we attribute to “madness” in our time, precisely loaded with hibris.

However, the figure of the hibris has been used to represent even in clinical terms (such as “syndrome”) those personalities that are characterized by an eccentric and excessive ego that has the consequence of disregarding what is alien.

Bibliographic references

  • Carvajal, C. (2014). Hibris syndrome: description and treatment. Revista Médica de Chile, 142(2): 270-271.
  • Cruz, J. (2017). Transgression and philosophy. Criticism and artifices , 13(30): 67-61.
  • Editor (2013). The hibris syndrome, or the disease of power. No more pale. Retrieved June 15, 2018. Available at