Flying too close to the sun

by Alison Stedman
It’s a classic concept. Pride to excess, “sublime arrogance” in the face of the gods, “dangerous overconfidence” (hubris), resulting in retribution and downfall (nemesis). It’s been explored, embraced and challenged in literature, mythology, philosophy, religion, history and in common parlance ("pride cometh before a fall"), and has a simple appeal that resonates across the ages.

For me (and possibly for many others) my first encounter with the term was in learning the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun with his wings constructed from feathers and wax, and who plunged, inevitably, down into the sea and drowned. What was Icarus’ crime? He was merely overcome by excitement. Yet he went where humans must not go. He paid the price.

There’s a slightly cosmic scale to the stories of hubris and nemesis in my memory. It doesn’t seem within the bounds of normal human experience. Yet upon googling the concept, I found that the ancient Greek term is defined by Aristotle as the use of violence to shame a victim. Aristotle recognised it as “revenge” for one’s own gratification and honour, caused by “naïve men” who think that “by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater”. Those who broke the law of hubris may have committed assault, battery, rape, or theft.

I realized that this both broadens and deepens the concept of hubris, allowing for the ordinariness of everyday lived experience. It is less romantic, acknowledging that, while nemesis may come, the perpetrator is not the only victim of his or her own misguided arrogance.

This issue of Halfway Down the Stairs explores these experiences and this complicated concept. We hope you enjoy it. As ever, we thank our authors and readers and everyone who has submitted work to us. Our next issue will be published on December 1 with the theme ‘Spilt Milk’.

This issue marks a change in our submissions practice – from now on we will begin to publish lists of themes in advance, so that our authors can begin to prepare work with more advance notice. See our submissions page for more information about upcoming themes in 2017 and 2018.

We also mark a farewell - and are sorry to say goodbye - to our nonfiction editor, Sarah Wilkinson. We wish her all the best in her next adventures, and thank her for the role she's played in HDtS.
Alison Stedman is a senior editor at Halfway Down the Stairs. For staff biographies, click here.

© 2017, Alison Stedman