The consequences of Hubris in Human societies – The almost ‘prophetic’ word of Hesiod

In this post we present and originally analyze two excerpts from Hesiod‘s “Works and Days“.

Hesiod in Greek and in English. Our analysis is aided by the Liddell & Scott Lexicon.

ύβρις = hubris = pride, insolence, arrogance, impertinence, imprudence, salaciousness


Works and Days, v. 213-218

Ancient Greek: σὺ δ᾽ ἄκουε δίκης, μηδ᾽ ὕβριν ὄφελλε: ὕβρις γάρ τε κακὴ δειλῷ βροτῷ: οὐδὲ μὲν ἐσθλὸς ῥηιδίως φερέμεν δύναται, βαρύθει δέ θ᾽ ὑπ᾽ αὐτῆς ἐγκύρσας ἄτῃσιν: ὁδὸς δ᾽ ἑτέρηφι παρελθεῖν κρείσσων ἐς τὰ δίκαια: Δίκη δ᾽ ὑπὲρ Ὕβριος ἴσχει ἐς τέλος ἐξελθοῦσα: παθὼν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω.

English: listen to right and do not foster violence; for violence is bad for a poor man. Even the prosperous cannot easily bear its burden, but is weighed down under it when he has fallen into delusion. The better path is to go by on the other side towards justice; for Justice beats Outrage when she comes at length to the end of the race. But only when he has suffered does the fool learn this.

Proper English Translation: (you should) listen to justice and don’t (you shouldn’t) continue/persist/pursue hubris. Because hubris is bad for the poor (or unfortunate, or wretched) mortal. Not even the best (or bravest, or strongest) can bear her with ease, but even him is weighed down under it when he happens to be in a condition of incautious (or imprudent, or thoughtless, or reckless) sin (or guilt). So, the road leading to the other side, to Justice, is preferable; in the end, Justice always succeeds in defeating Hubris. This is learned by the puerile (or fool, or unwise, or imprudent, or brainless) only after having suffered it.

Analysis: Hesiod formulates here one of the ‘big truths’ of the Spiritual Law; Man should act with justice in his life and should do everything to avoid Hubris. He warns that Hubris leads Man to a great Fall, while he claims that it is very difficult for one to recover from it, whether strong or weak, when the consequences of his thoughtless actions arrive – hence, there functions an ‘automatic’, as well as invisible, ‘justice/punishment’ mechanism from above. Hesiod names ‘brainless’ all those who align with Hubris. No coincidence that all the Philosophers and great poets (Homer, Pindar, etc.) also attribute the names ‘mindless, imprudent, insane’ to all those who do not believe in the Divine or, even worse, they are ‘θεομάχοι’*. Since, for them, the Divine identifies (among other notions) with Justice, it is clearly understood that whoever aligns with Hubris directly and practically opposes the Divine. He also informs us that Justice will always prevail over Hubris. Briefly that, whatever happens, no matter how strongly Men will choose to ‘fight’ against God, there is absolutely no chance for a final triumph of Evil.

*θεομάχος = from θεός and μάχομαι; an opponent of deity: to fight against God.


Works and Days, v. 225-247

Ancient Greek: δὲ δίκας ξείνοισι καὶ ἐνδήμοισι διδοῦσιν ἰθείας καὶ μή τι παρεκβαίνουσι δικαίου, τοῖσι τέθηλε πόλις, λαοὶ δ᾽ ἀνθεῦσιν ἐν αὐτῇ: εἰρήνη δ᾽ ἀνὰ γῆν κουροτρόφος, οὐδέ ποτ᾽ αὐτοῖς ἀργαλέον πόλεμον τεκμαίρεται εὐρύοπα Ζεύς: οὐδέ ποτ᾽ ἰθυδίκῃσι μετ᾽ ἀνδράσι λιμὸς ὀπηδεῖ οὐδ᾽ ἄτη, θαλίῃς δὲ μεμηλότα ἔργα νέμονται. τοῖσι φέρει μὲν γαῖα πολὺν βίον, οὔρεσι δὲ δρῦς ἄκρη μέν τε φέρει βαλάνους, μέσση δὲ μελίσσας: εἰροπόκοι δ᾽ ὄιες μαλλοῖς καταβεβρίθασιν: τίκτουσιν δὲ γυναῖκες ἐοικότα τέκνα γονεῦσιν: θάλλουσιν δ᾽ ἀγαθοῖσι διαμπερές: οὐδ᾽ ἐπὶ νηῶν νίσσονται, καρπὸν δὲ φέρει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα. οἷς δ᾽ ὕβρις τε μέμηλε κακὴ καὶ σχέτλια ἔργα, τοῖς δὲ δίκην Κρονίδης τεκμαίρεται εὐρύοπα Ζεύς. πολλάκι καὶ ξύμπασα πόλις κακοῦ ἀνδρὸς ἀπηύρα, ὅς κεν ἀλιτραίνῃ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα μηχανάαται. τοῖσιν δ᾽ οὐρανόθεν μέγ᾽ ἐπήγαγε πῆμα Κρονίων λιμὸν ὁμοῦ καὶ λοιμόν: ἀποφθινύθουσι δὲ λαοί. οὐδὲ γυναῖκες τίκτουσιν, μινύθουσι δὲ οἶκοι Ζηνὸς φραδμοσύνῃσιν Ὀλυμπίου: ἄλλοτε δ᾽ αὖτε ἢ τῶν γε στρατὸν εὐρὺν ἀπώλεσεν ἢ ὅ γε τεῖχος ἢ νέας ἐν πόντῳ Κρονίδης ἀποαίνυται αὐτῶν.

English: But they who give straight judgements to strangers and to the men of the land, and go not aside from what is just, their city flourishes, and the people prosper in it: Peace, the nurse of children, is abroad in their land, and all-seeing Zeus never decrees cruel war against them. Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care. The earth bears them victual in plenty, and on the mountains the oak bears acorns upon the top and bees in the midst. Their woolly sheep are laden with fleeces; their women bear children like their parents. They flourish continually with good things, and do not travel on ships, for the grain-giving earth bears them fruit. But for those who practise violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment. Often even a whole city suffers for a bad man who sins and devises presumptuous deeds, and the son of Cronos lays great trouble upon the people, famine and plague together, so that the men perish away, and their women do not bear children, and their houses become few, through the contriving of Olympian Zeus. And again, at another time, the son of Cronos either destroys their wide army, or their walls, or else makes an end of their ships on the sea.

Proper English Translation: But they who come out with just decisions for both the local inhabitants of the demos and those who come from elsewhere, without deviating at all from the road of justice, their city thrives and the inhabitants of it prosper (or flourish). Τhe peace that nourishes children (or young men) reigns on this land; and Zeus who sees at long distances never decrees (or orders, or defines) cruel war against them. Neither famine nor άτη¹ ever haunt men who do true justice; on the contrary, they share the abundance (or wealth, or prosperity) of their hard work. For them, the earth produces abundant goods, necessary for life (or livelihood goods). On the mountains the oak bears acorns upon the top and bees in the midst. Their woolly sheep are laden with fleeces; their women bear children that look like their parents. And from one end to the other their goods increase.They are also not forced to do boat trips, since the life-giving earth gives them its fruits. But for all those who are occupied with evil hubris and the σχέτλια² deeds, the son of Cronos, Zeus who sees at long distances, decrees (or orders, or defines) justice for them. Often even a whole city suffers because of a single evil man  who sins (or disturbs, or does harm), and who machinates ἀτάσθαλα³. Upon them, the son of Cronos from the sky lays great trouble, famine and plague together; so that people perish. Neither women bear children, and Houses (or Families) become smaller according to the wise decision of the Olympian Zeus; and again, at another time, the son of Cronos either destroys their wide army, or their walls, or eliminates their ships in the sea.

1. άτη = brain confusion, disturbed condition of the soul and an incautious (or imprudent, or thoughtless, or reckless) urge whose origin is some delusion sent by the gods, mostly for punishment of impudence

2. σχέτλιος-α = cruel, hard, unmerciful, inhuman, adventurous

3. ἀτάσθαλος = evil, vicious, insolent, hubristes, unholy, libertine, unwise, impudent

Analysis: In this excerpt, Hesiod presents how the Spiritual Law functions considering the individual and social behaviour of the people of a polity. On the one hand we have those who treat everyone with justice. Hesiod claims that such a polity will have happy inhabitants and a general prosperity.

More specifically:

a) peace that nourishes young men reigns; in other words that in such a polity both individual and social peace prevail, while ‘κούροι’ ( = young men, lads) are nourished (brought up)

b) Zeus does not decree (or order, or define) cruel war against them; in other words that a polity where Justice prevails has ‘protection from above’ against possible wars

c) the just never experience famine nor άτη in their lives. In other words, a polity where Justice prevails has ‘protection from above’ so that its inhabitants never experience famine, brain confusion and soul disturbances

d) in the polity where Justice prevails, people share the abundance in goods (the wealth)  which is a product of their hard work

e) in the polity where Justice prevails, the earth abundantly supplies its goods to the people; even their animals produce more

f) women in such a polity give birth to children who ‘look like their parents’. In other words, there is no Prostitution, Fornication and Adultery; only the Institution of the Honorable Marriage

g) from one end to the other, the goods increase in such a polity, so that none of its inhabitants is forced to seek for the subsistence means outside the polity, in foreign lands

Then we learn about those who behave in the opposite way; all those people who are occupied with evil hubris and the σχέτλια deeds, who sin (or disturb, or do harm) and  machinate ἀτάσθαλα. They ‘force’ Zeus to try (judge) them.

It is not the first time that an ancient text informs us about the strong and deep belief in ‘Collective Responsibility’, i.e., that for the sins of a single person, others will suffer, too. Hesiod claims that suffering like this can occur as a consequence in a whole polity, only because of the evilness, sin, viciousness, insolence, hubris, unholiness, licentiousness, impudence, imprudence of one and only person! We can easily imagine what could happen if a polity is dominated by such people:

a) great famine shall come, diseases and a general increase in deaths

b) women will stop having children and the families will become smaller and smaller, i.e., the polity will face the problem of low birth rate (deficit of births)

c) Zeus will allow the destruction of the polity’s army, walls, ships – anything that could protect it. Reasonably, for something like this to happen, both the internal and external factors could be implied here. In any case, Hesiod indirectly warns that such a polity will eventually face destruction after war events

Moreover, through contrary reading (in relation and comparison to the other side, the side of the just, wise, etc.) we can also learn that in this type of polity:

a) young men (lads) will not be brought up

b) brain confusion and soul disturbances will be dominant among the people

c) there will be a provokingly unequal distribution of goods among people and indifference (heartlessness) about the poorer of them

d) the earth shall not give its fruits in abundance (various different factors could cause something like this; for instance: extreme weather events, general climate change, necrosis of vast lands due to human intervention)

e) Prostitution, Fornication and Adultery will be on the rise, while the Honorable Wedding will be very rare

f) the necessary goods for subsistence will be continuously diminishing and people will be forced to move on foreign lands in order to survive


Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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