What do hubris and nemesis in Homer's Odyssey teach us?   

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noahvox2 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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The concepts of hubris (extreme arrogance), and nemesis (retribution) often become intertwined in Homer's Odyssey.

Book 9 seems like an appropriate place to look for this intertwining. On one hand, the Cyclops behaves hubristically by boasting that the Cyclopes are more powerful than Zeus and the other gods. Retribution for such a statement comes in the form of Odysseus himself, who blinds the Cyclops. In the same book, however, Odysseus' boast to the Cyclops about his blinding of the monster also seems rather hubristic.

So they argued, but could not daunt my ardent spirit, and I shouted to him again in anger: “Cyclops, if any man asks how you came by your blindness, say that Odysseus, sacker of cities, Laertes’ son, a native of Ithaca, maimed you.” (A.S. Kline translation)

In this boast, Odysseus makes the mistake of revealing his name to the Cyclops, which allows the Cyclops to seek retribution from his father Poseidon, who assails Odysseus while he is sailing upon the sea.

Of course, the behavior of the suitors is also thick with hubris, as they trample upon the hospitality of Odysseus' household. As in the case of the Cyclops, retribution comes in the form of Odysseus, who slaughters the suitors with his special bow. In this case, however, Odysseus does not make the mistake of revealing his true identity until just the right moment.

The intertwining of hubris and nemesis offers us many possible lessons. In the world of the Odyssey, acts of hubris are followed by nemesis. Extreme arrogance will be punished. Likewise, I suppose, if we lived in a "perfect" world, we could count upon acts of hubris to be followed by nemesis. Because we do not live in such a world, however, many people have in place the punishments of the afterlife to make sure that any unpunished acts of hubris are meted out in the next world.


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