Achilles epitomizes Homer's conception of a good person: he is a distinguished hero despite his lack of interest in others. In fact, his ego swells in proportion to his indifference for those who surround him, be they friends or foes. He arouses an equal degree of horror and admiration, like Goya's Disasters of War, those graphic scenes of torture, rape, mutilated corpses, firing squads and mass burials. Achilles' ego rests on the use of force, which turns those subjected to it into objects. He slits the throats of twelve Trojan boys as if he were cutting flowers, and after the carnage:
The horses rattled the empty chariots through the files of battle,
Longing for their noble drivers. But they on the ground
Lay, dearer to the vultures than to their wives.
There is a consumerist aspect in Achilles' heroism that gives him complete licence over others, but at the same time leaves him unsatisfied, so that he is pushed relentlessly to cause more horror in order to arouse greater admiration. He wants everything, all the riches of Troy. The palaces, the temples. For slaves, all the women and children; for corpses, all the men. His Homeric ego has no conception of limit, measure, equilibrium. It effaces the very notion that war can be brought to an end. Note another consumerist trait: on the one hand Achilles, though indifferent to others, offers a concrete service to his community in the form of protection from invasions and external attacks. On the other, he artificially creates the need for that service through his devotion to quarrels and wars. His commodified ego responds to a demand he fosters.
Stoicism provides an ideal alternative to Homeric ego, with its emphasis on the natural sociability of humans, the cultivation of collective virtues, justice and mutual trust. Early Stoic political theory is radical and, although utopian, turns to practice when it is called upon to help govern a community. Marcus Aurelius is the exemplar Stoic in government and in his Meditations never tires of advocating "unselfish action", action harmoniously related to the universe and the human community in equal measure.
The ego is turned into the logos, a force that organizes the world in a rational and coherent way, and operates in individuals as the faculty of reason. Thus, unselfish action is such because we are all connected, being all participants in the logos. In its physical embodiment, the logos exists as pneuma, a mixture of fire and air, a vital breath that, unlike Achilles' force, does not make men into objects, but animates animals, humans and everything: the "force that through the green fuse drives the flower".
What is left today of Homeric ego and Stoic logos? We are faced with an unequal battle between the two. The Homeric ego returns in markets, where happiness is unstable, and excitement for achievement and possession denotes perennially unfulfilled yearning. Stoicism reappears at times when genuine human needs are tentatively identified, but such needs may never find satisfaction because egos work at the incessant production of desires. The desire to be admired, for example, is insatiable and resembles the "creative destruction" of the economy, whose inherent necessity consists of making new things quickly obsolete, so that a permanent desire for yet newer things is alimented. Homeric collective ego peeps through GNP figures, which measure everything except what makes life worth living.
At times of recession, Stoicism may timidly raise its head, but ego, by now diseased by excessive consumption, may opt not to recognize or will simply shun it. As Marcus Aurelius observed: "Honey tastes bitter to a man with jaundice".