How does he relate hubris to his notion of the superman. For example in the greek play Oedipus Rex, hubris directly leads to destruction. It's seen as a vice, a flaw in character. But it seems that a superman must have hubris as a virtue. How does he reconcile these two contraries, if at all. Is he consistent on it.

Secondly is hubris discussed in any of the classical greek texts? I'm only familiar with this notion from reading some greek tragedies.

  • 2
    His first book is about Greek tragedy -- probably worth a look on this point
    – Joseph Weissman
    Sep 28, 2012 at 14:29

3 Answers 3


I am not sure there is a context in Nietzsche for the concept of hubris. He uses words like 'excessive' or 'overweening' to describe aspects of a real thinker's personality, and those adjectives are sometimes applied to pride, but the sense remains positive.

Most pointedly, in the Gay Science he complains how his poor health and this overweening spirit and pride are at odds, wearing him out and wearing him thin. The image I get is of an overly energetic child or pet that is purposeful and amusing in going beyond what the parent or owner would choose, or even what he can easily tolerate, leaving him taxed for his own good. He seems to gratefully rebuke them for their inconsideration and their refusal to let him be an invalid.

Discussing Wagner, He has much to say of the overuse of noticeable excess as a symbol of power (the force of the vibrations, the intricacy of the melody, etc.) which represent false self-evaluation. But this is not about power itself. It seems to be linked more to a sense that it does not represent the real pursuit of art, and instead compensates with false impressions and distractions or cunning manipulations.

Wagner is vain in the proper sense of the English word, but it is not hubris in the Greek sense, as I see it. It is the giddiness of being flattered, and the willingness to be shaped toward more flattery. He just does not know where his honest power would lie, and how much kinder and more edifying he could be to his audience if he found it.

It is hard to see where he thinks anything that truly arises from within can be bad or limiting, including the natural childish narcissism that bases vanity. One can fail, and one probably should, but learning to expect failure does not fit on the agenda for a powerful spirit.

At many points in the Genealogy of Morals it seems that in some sense, one's own sense of one's own value is never wrong. Those who devalue themselves become useless and parasitic, and those who do not bring forth their genuine will, which creates opportunitY. Those who misattribute their value to some cause are truly mistaken, but it is about that cause and not about the value itself.


Vanity of vanities! All is vanity

Ecclesiastes 1:2, otherwise translated as "meaningless everything is meaningless".

So allow me to answer: that hubris or tragic [^^] vanity would be a quality of the ubermensch's personality dependent on whether they [being what Deleuze calls a "active nihilist"] have a meaningful life. If so, then I am not sure you could call them vain, or overly proud.

If you take this question further, please do post about it - it's a good question !


1) Nietzsche applies the term hubris in his short reflection on Heraclitus in his early essay "Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks", section 6. Nietzsche quotes a Greek proverb "Fullness creates iniquity (hubris), Sattheit gebiert den Frevel (die Hybris)".

2) As far as I know Nietzsche does not apply the term hubris to superman in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra". Superman is always estimated in a positive sense.

3) Of course hubris is discussed in classical Greek texts, e.g. Odyssey: Book 12, 374f, Solon: First Elegy, Sophocles: Aias, Sophocles: Oedipus Rex (verse 873f), Euripides: Hippolytos (= Stephanephoros).

4) Concerning Oedipus Rex: I do not consider him committing iniquity (= hybridsein). I consider the remarks of the choir (verse 873ff) referring to hubris and justice (= dike) general remarks, not aiming at Oidipus in particular. In my opinion, Sophocles lets Oidipus perish because there is a curse on his house. Even the rational attitude of Oedipus cannot save him from the curse.

  • Isn't the curse, though, a symbol for fate? And in the worldview of Sophocles, wouldn't his disvaluing of Tiresias warning count as hubris? Jul 31, 2015 at 9:20
  • I do not consider curse a symbol for fate, because in general a curse is the punishment for an offense. But a negative fate does not presuppose any previous offense. Fate is just the upper term for chance. Secondly, could you please explain what you mean by your last passage "wouldn't ... hubris?
    – Jo Wehler
    Jul 31, 2015 at 12:52
  • Its an interesting question to ask whether one sees Oedipus is seen to be cursed after what befalls him; Tiresias repeatedly warns Oedipus not to pursue his search but refuses to say why, until he's pushed into it by his mocking: 'So, you mock my blindness? Let me tell you this. You [Oedipus] with your precious eyes, you're blind to the corruption of your life' Jul 31, 2015 at 15:05
  • The curse was on Laus because of raping Chrysippus, the curse was not on Oedipus. When Oedipus questioned Tiresias and later mocked on him, it was too late to hinder the realization of the curse.
    – Jo Wehler
    Jul 31, 2015 at 15:20

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