Allusion in Self-Reliance
According to the New Testament, Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus’s twelve disciples. He betrayed Jesus by revealing his location to the Roman Empire for thirty silver coins. The Roman Empire then nailed Jesus to the cross.
This alludes to Newton’s Third Law that claims “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In this context, Emerson argues that people can look only within themselves to improve their own lives. No amount of money, machinery, or work can achieve progress, only the fact of knowing and being your most accurate, individual self.
Plutarch (46–119) was a biographer from Greece whose work contributed to the popularity of essay and biographical writings in Europe beginning in the 16th century. His two most famous works are Bioi parallēloi, or Parallel lives (stories of Greek and Roman soldiers, government officials, and artists), and Moralia (a book of essays covering a wide variety of topics). Emerson uses this reference to show that although there have been great strides in all the fields of study, the men Plutarch wrote about were all great even without all of those impressive strides to build upon.
This simile alludes to a story in the Old Testament, in which Jacob’s son Joseph goes to Egypt and is falsely accused of raping “the harlot” (the Pharaoh’s wife). She tries to use Joseph’s coat as evidence after he purposefully leaves it behind. The simile means that no matter what you are told to be true, the most important truths come from yourself and not from the mouths of others.
In Greek mythology, Lethe is one of the rivers in Hades and was known as the river of forgetfulness. Emerson uses this allusion to say that once one grows up, one can’t forget the responsibilities and restraints of adulthood that have been thrust upon him.