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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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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 English navigator and explorer . He is the namesake of the Hudson River.

Sir Francis Bacon

Sir Francis Bacon was an Elizabethan lawyer, statesman, philosopher and writer. He became Lord Chancellor and is particularly associated with empiricist philosophy and the establishment...

(This entire section contains 1054 words.)

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of the scientific method.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, an English playwright and poet of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, is often regarded as the greatest writer in the English-speaking world. Emerson refers to his work more than that of any other writer.

John Fletcher

John Fletcher was a Jacobean playwright best known for the plays he wrote in collaboration with Francis Beaumont.

John Milton

John Milton was a seventeenth-century poet and politician who is widely regarded as the greatest epic poet in English, principally due to his epic poem Paradise Lost.

Emanuel Swedenborg

Emanuel Swedenborg was a Swedish philosopher, religious leader, and mystic who is best known for his book Heaven and Hell.

Vitus Bering

Vitus Bering was a Danish explorer and cartographer. He is the namesake of the Bering Strait.

George Fox

George Fox was a seventeenth-century English Dissenter who founded the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers.

John Wesley

John Wesley was an eighteenth-century English pastor and theologian who founded the religious revival movement known as Methodism.

Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton was an English scientist who, at the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century, made various important contributions to mathematics and physics.

John Locke

John Locke was a seventeenth-century English philosopher who is widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment and the founder of modern Liberalism.

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham

William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham, was Prime Minister of Britain in the eighteenth century. He is known and revered in the United States for his support of the American colonists in the run-up to the American Revolutionary War.

James Hutton

James Hutton was a Scottish geologist and author of the Theory of the Earth.

Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham was an English philosopher who is often regarded as the founder of Utilitarianism.

Antoine Lavoisier

Antoine Lavoisier was a French scientist who is widely seen as the founder of modern chemistry.

George Washington

George Washington was an American general and the first President of the United States of America.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was a key figure in the early history of the United States of America, one of the Founding Fathers, and a prolific writer and inventor.

John Adams

John Adams was an American statesman and the second President of the United States of America.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was a Corsican general. He became Emperor of France in the early nineteenth century.

Charles Fourier

Charles Fourier was a nineteenth-century French philosopher whose key ideas included feminism and utopian socialism.

Thomas Clarkson

Thomas Clarkson was a social reformer and campaigner against the slave trade in early nineteenth-century England.

Sir John Franklin

Sir John Franklin was a British naval officer, colonial administrator, and Arctic explorer.

Sir William Parry

Sir William Parry was a British explorer, known for his Arctic expeditions in the early nineteenth century.

The Comte de Las Cases

The Comte de Las Cases was a nineteenth-century French author who wrote an admiring memoir of Emperor Napoleon.