Greek Mythology

5 Times People were too Prideful in Greek Mythology

“Pride goes before a fall”, or something like that.  That quote comes from a completely different world than the one we’re talking about here, but it still applies. A recurring trope in Greek mythology, pride, or hubris, leads a lot of people to their destruction, or some kind of punishment directly adjacent to ‘destruction’.  It’s part of the basic idea of ‘gnothi seuton’ , know thyself, which means essentially ‘know your limitations’. When it’s violated, the gods get angry. Here are five examples of hubris in Greek mythology.

Table of Contents

Minos

Mosaic panel depicting Theseus and the Minotaur, from the Villa Torre de Palma near Monforte, 3rd-4th century AD, National Archaeology Museum of Lisbon, Portugal (12973979783)

Trying to trick the gods also falls into the category of ‘hubris’. Minos learned this the hard way. He asked Poseidon for a divine white bull so he could prove himself as king, and in return promised to sacrifice the bull. So Poseidon sent him a bull. Which Minos decided to put in his own herd and instead tried to pass off a regular bull as the divine one in a sacrifice. Minos actually got lucky, in the sense that he didn’t get cursed. Poseidon cursed Minos’ wife instead. He gave her an overwhelming lust/love for the bull. This is where the minotaur came from, why the labyrinth was built, etc.

…at least nobody died?

Arachne 

René-Antoine Houasse - Minerve et Arachne (Versailles)

Taking pride in your abilities is great. It’s healthy. But too much can get you turned into a spider. At least, that’s how one version of Arachne’s story goes. 

Arachne was good at weaving. Really good. So good that she thought she could challenge Athena. She also refused to acknowledge that her talent was at least partially given by Athena. So the two had a weaving contest. The exact details vary, but each provided something exquisite. In some versions the content of Arachne’s weave, depictions of the deceptive acts of the gods, enraged Athena. In others, Anthena was angered because she couldn’t find any flaws in Arachne’s work. Either way the result was the same: Athena beat her with a weaving tool and she tried to hang herself. Athena then turned her into a spider.

Niobe

Niobe JacquesLouisDavid 1772 Dallas Museum of Art

If there’s one rule in Greek mythology, one hard and fast axiom to live by, it’s: Never compare yourself to a deity. Just…don’t do it. Ever. The result is usually death. Niobe learned this. She compared herself to the goddess Leto, bragging that she had seven times as many children. This was…ill-advised.

Leto’s children were both major deities: Apollo and Artemis. And they were not happy with the comparison. So they killed most (or all) of Niobe’s kids and Niobe herself turned to stone to mourn forever.

Pentheus

Pompeii - Casa dei Vettii - Pentheus

Pentheus lost his head. Literally.

Let’s back up. So Pentheus was Dionysus’ cousin on his mother’s side. But Pentheus and his mother and her other sister denied his divinity. Long stry short, one day Dionysus shows up in the city, drives the women mad, and sends them to  the mountains to participate in Dionysic rites. He then drives Pentheus insane and leads him to the mountains where he is torn apart by his mother and aunt. His mother walks back to the city, holding his head, which she believes is a lion’s head, until her father tells her the truth and she slowly comes back to her senses.

Cassiopeia

1765 engraving of painting of Andromeda on a rock being rescued by Perseus from the Casa della Danzatrice Pompeii (VI 17, 9-10) cropped

Cassiopeia nearly got her daughter Andromeda killed through her bragging. She was a queen in what is today the lower part of Egypt. The story goes that she bragged that either she or her daughter (stories vary) was more beautiful than the Nereids. Big mistake. Poseidon is offended, so he sends Cetus, a sea monster, to attack the coast of the kingdom. The only way to stop it is to sacrifice Andromeda to the monster. So they chain her to a rock by the sea to be devoured.

This story actually has a happy ending though. Perseus saves her and kills Cetus. As for Cassiopeia? She might be the luckiest person on this list. She remained a queen and nothing happened to her. Some people have all the luck.

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