“The Greater the Power, the Greater the Fall”





During the Golden age of Greece, in 5th Century B.C., the Greeks were fascinated by the thin line between greatness and hubris. Throughout their literature, there is a sense that the same traits that make a man or woman great can lead to their destruction. In the familiar period piece, Medea, the nurse declares that “it’s a bad thing to be born of high race and brought up willful and powerful in a great house unruled and ruling many; then if misfortune comes it is unendurable.” Clearly, the excerpt was the precursor to today’s expression, “The greater the power, the harder the fall.” This illustrious quotation conveys one of the most relevant themes of the time period: hubris. During the Greek Golden Age, the value of hubris was believed by the citizens, as shown in the myth of “Arachne”, Oedipus the King, and Medea.


Mythology, in ancient times, had many purposes: entertainment, praising gods, and mostly, means of teaching priceless lessons. While greatness was admired, hubris was looked down upon; therefore, many of the myths of the century contained a moral in regard to the abuse of power and ego. One eminent tale was about a person named Arachne. Arachne was a young woman who lived in Greece. She was an exceptionally fine weaver and spinner. She wove all sorts of beautiful images into her cloth, and people came from all around to see the beautiful textiles. Arachne began telling people she was more superior at spinning and weaving than the goddess Athena. Due to her hubris, she incurred the wrath of Athena. No matter how skilled people are, they are never any competition for the gods. According to the Greeks of the Golden Age, talent was admired, although excessive pride of abilities led to a downfall. Aristotle once said “All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.” This fall was triggered by most of these causes; hubris fitting into all of them. People need to remember their place, and not try to be stronger or wiser or smarter than the gods, or bad things will happen to them.


One of history’s most admired philosophers, Aristotle, created a set of criteria that fits most any Greek tragedy. In Oedipus The King, Aristotle’s theory of the “tragic hero” couldn’t have been set in a more overt manner. The most prominent of the criteria is the presence of a flaw that eventually creates turmoil. Oedipus’ obvious flaw was his arrogance and abuse of power. Throughout the play, he mistakenly kills his father and sleeps with his mother. Many people try to make him realize that he really did perform the misdemeanors, but he remains ignorant and disregards the possibility that stood true. The tragedy is not so much that Oedipus commits two horrible crimes; after all, he was fated to do so, and committed them unknowingly. It is, rather, that he, like his doomed parents before him, ran headlong into the destiny he was trying to defy, and then compounded his evils by his imperious refusal to believe the prophet's declaration of his guilt. At the end of the book, he becomes conscious of his wrongdoings and curses himself as a result of his conceit. Upon completion of his interrogation of the old shepherd who had saved his life as an infant, Oedipus exclaims in anguish,


"O god-


all come true, all burst to light!


O light—now let me look my last on you!


I stand revealed at last—


cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage,


cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!"


(1306-1310)


Here, Oedipus realizes the error of his confidence in his human knowledge. He recognizes his hamartia at the moment in which he experiences his reversal of fortune. Pride was his downfall. The Greeks had a distinct word for this: "hubris," a heroically foolish defiance; the feeling that one is beyond the reaches of authority or convention.


Hubris is also seen in other works of theater. Euripides plays with the idea of greatness in Medea, often to surprising effects. Medea has some of the makings of a great hero, but Euripides distorts and dislocates these traits, twisting some of the conventions of his art. Her greatness of intellect