Pride has always been considered the most serious of human failings. For the ancient Greek dramatists, pride, or hubris, was the flaw that defeated all the tragic heroes because in their heroic desire to do good (bolstered by the admiration of their people) they overstepped human bounds and began to think themselves gods. Often the tragic fall came about because the hero in his pride thought he could avoid his destiny. Oedipus was such a blinded man. Told by the oracle that he would grow up to murder his father and marry his mother, he fled his home and traveled to Thebes, not knowing that the parents from whom he was running had adopted him. Oedipus's predicament evokes pity and fear in us, as Aristotle said all good tragedies must, because he cannot be faulted for trying to evade such a cruel fate. His error was in taking his destiny into his own hands, challenging the gods and thinking he could outwit them.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, pride is the most serious of the seven deadly sins because all others stem from it. Here, too, pride is setting oneself against God, and the consequences of such pride are the subject of many stories in English. The legend of Dr. Faust (as told in Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus [c. 1588]), for example, is the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for superhuman powers. In Milton's Paradise Lost (1667), pride is the devil's sin that results in his expulsion from heaven. Pride is the tragic flaw of many of Shakespeare's heroes, and as in Oedipus Rex (c. 430 B.C.) it is often associated with blindness (Oedipus blinds himself at the end, when at last he sees the truth) because pride is a mental blindness to one's place in creation.
Vanity is less serious than pride. The preacher in Ecclesiastes warns us that the earthly life is all vanity: our petty desires, worries, and con-