Self-Reliance Characters
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Self-Reliance Characters

The figures alluded to in "Self-Reliance" include Socrates, Plato, Jesus Christ, King David, and Zoroaster.

  • Socrates was an Athenian philosopher who promoted original thinking.
  • Plato was an Athenian philosopher whose ideas have deeply shaped Western thought.
  • Jesus Christ was a Jewish religious leader whose teachings gave rise to Christianity.
  • King David was a king of Israel renowned for his wisdom and courage.
  • Zoroaster was a Persian religious leader who founded Zoroastrianism.

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In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson makes frequent reference to great historical figures, as well as a few characters from mythology. All of the following figures appear in the essay, but few are alluded to more than once. Most appear as examples of individualism and originality. For the sake of completeness, all of the figures, historical or mythological, to whom Emerson refers are listed here.


Woden, otherwise known as Odin or Wotan, is one of the principal gods of Norse mythology. He is sometimes regarded as the king of the gods, or the god of wisdom.


Thor is the hammer-wielding god of thunder and lightning in Norse mythology.


Zoroaster was an ancient Persian prophet and religious leader and the founder of Zoroastrianism.


Moses was an Old Testament prophet who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

King David

David was a young shepherd who gained fame by killing the Philistine giant, Goliath. He later became one of the greatest kings of Israel.

The Prophet Jeremiah

Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet, best-known for his lamentations on the destruction of Jerusalem.

Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ was a first-century Jewish religious leader, believed by Christians to be the son of God.

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot was the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ to the Romans.

Saint Paul

Saint Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, was a first-century convert to Christianity and an apostle who spread the gospel of Christ after his conversion.


Pythagoras was an Ionian Greek philosopher and mathematician.


Phidias was a Greek sculptor and architect, best-known for his statue of Zeus at Olympia.


Anaxagoras was an Ionian Greek philosopher.


Phocion was an Athenian statesman and general.


Diogenes was a Greek philosopher and founder of philosophy of Cynicism.


Socrates was a fifth-century Athenian philosopher. He appears in the writings of Plato and Xenophon.


Plato was an Athenian philosopher, principally famous for his dialogues featuring Socrates.

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great was a Macedonian king and general who conquered Persia.

Publius Cornelius Scipio

Publius Cornelius Scipio was a Roman statesman and general and is best known for defeating Hannibal at the Battle of Zama.

Augustus Caesar

Augustus Caesar was the first Roman Emperor and founder of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty.

Caliph Ali

Caliph Ali was a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and ruled as fourth Caliph.

Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great was an Anglo-Saxon king who ruled England at the end of the ninth century.

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri was a medieval Italian poet and is best known for his epic poem, the Divine Comedy.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer and navigator traditionally regarded as the European discoverer of the Americas.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther was a German monk and theologian and is best known for his role in the Protestant Reformation.

Jean Calvin

Jean Calvin was a French preacher and theologian and is known for his role in the Protestant Reformation.

Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus was a sixteenth-century Prussian scientist and originator of the heliocentric theory of the universe.

Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei was a seventeenth-century Italian scientist, often called the father of modern physics.

Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden

Gustavus Adolphus was a seventeenth-century king of Sweden. He is credited with greatly increasing the power and prestige of his country.

Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson was an...

(The entire section is 1,054 words.)