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The truth about identity in "The Apology" and "The Iliad"

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  1. Socrates in "The Apology"
  2. Achilles in "The Iliad"
  3. Oedipus in "Oedipus the King"

Greek texts often emphasize the relationship between the community and the individual, and often with tragic results for the individual who chooses to fully express his individuality. The characters who are the centerpieces of ancient Greek literature, then, are those who, alone in that particular story, seek self-knowledge. While it is a common enough trope for a character to seek an understanding of himself, not every character is equally successful. Plato's description of Socrates in "The Apology" conveys an intensely powerful perception of, and defense of, his selfhood, but at the same time something of an unwillingness to see himself honestly as his peers do.

[...] This attitude reeks of self-certainty and, some might say, selfishness, which masquerade as self-awareness. However, Achilles fails to appear self-aware by failing to be consistent. Although Achilles charges back into war for equally selfish reasons, his reentry is matched by a highly symbolic new shield, carved by Haphaestus solely for this purpose and depicting all of Greek society ( 18.558 -709). In this sense Achilles has gone from a man worrying about the petty honor of the spoils of war to one worrying about his own self-worth and individual rights to one fighting on behalf of all of Greek civilization, if only symbolically. [...]


[...] Since he has been charged with heresy and is in fact convicted by a majority of the jury, it is clear that he has offended many and that the establishment feels threatened by him, perhaps rightly so. Admittedly, The Apology may not have been the best forum in which for Socrates to express these honest truths about himself, but the text on its own cannot read as a testament to Socrates' self-knowledge. If he does not understand how important and powerful he and his philosophy are, he is missing a huge element of his true self. [...]

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