History Characters

History Character List

“The First Man”

The abstract identity of the "First Man" Emerson sees as creating all of history. The "First Man" is the Transcendental equivalent of Adam from the Bible. It is from them all humanity emerges and thus culture and history. While lacking a definite personality, Emerson states all of humanity is “enfolded” within the man. All things humanity will do were already present in the “First Man”. All human possibility began with him and continues to modern humanity. From the divine nature of the “First Man”, humanity acquired understanding.


A favorite figure of Emerson to discuss. The French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. In Napoleon, Emerson sees the most defining figure of history. It is Napoleon who excelled at the creation of history. Emerson regards him as one of the “great men” of history. Napoleon stands as one of Emerson's exemplary figures of humanity. It is through natural ambition Napoleon reached an almost divine status. The possibility of being another Napoleon, or matching his achievements, exists in all of humanity.


The ancient Greek poet. While Homer was not a historian, Emerson sees him as the first to be inspired by history. The Iliad and the Odyssey were equal products of myth and history. From history, Homer created fiction and poetry. It is another grand achievement Emerson credits to human nature. The ability to be inspired by the human process or history. Homer was the first to render it in an understandable, written form.


The ancient Greek philosopher. While Emerson does not discuss him much, he credits Plato's philosophy as the first to move humanity back towards a “divine nature”. Emerson's concept of God or the divine was heavily inspired by Plato. Plato thus developed philosophy by the divine nature of humanity to understand God through history.

Herodotus and Xenophon

The two figures with whom Emerson credits the “discovery” of History. Herodotus and Xenophon were the first two to attempt to chronicle history. The study of which Emerson discusses in “History”.

William Shakespeare

The English playwright. Another figure who Emerson credits with the radical reinvention of history by discovery. Emerson places Shakespeare beside Napoleon in his own hierarchy of history. As much as Napoleon created history, Shakespeare wrote it. Shakespeare became the historical, eternal model of the poet to nearly all of Western culture. As with all the others, humanity sympathizes with history through Shakespeare's writing.

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