Szaluta demonstrates the central importance of ego ideals in the writings of Freud and how he came to appreciate the process of idealization. The author also considers the diverse ego ideals who influenced Freud: Hannibal, Cromwell, Brücke, Charcot, Garibaldi, Bismarck, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Leonardo, and Michelangelo.
Freud's first ego ideal was his father, who presented him with a copy of the Bible, filled with ego ideals such as Joseph and Moses. Dr. Samuel Hammerschlag also influenced Freud to look for ideals among the figures of the Bible, combining the spirit of the Jewish people with the ideals of the German classics. Freud eventually came to define the ego ideal as a substitute for a longing for the father and as the germ from which all religions have evolved. The ego falls short of its ideal, which produces a religious sense of humility. It is the role of the father, carried on by teachers and others in authority, to assist the ego in forming conscience and in developing social feelings with those who share the same ego ideal.
Freud returned to the study of the Bible toward the end of his life, as his father had done, though in some ways his father failed to be his ideal. Becoming the ego ideal for many others, Freud positioned himself as Moses over Joshua and experienced all the corresponding defections. The parallel between Freud's exile from Austria and the exodus of his biblical forebears was not lost on him. Ultimately for Freud, the attributes of great men are paternal characteristics: decisiveness of thought, strength of will, energy of action—all forming the picture of the father. Freud idealized the autonomy and independence of the great man: his divine unconcern, which may grow into ruthlessness. Freud held the conviction that the strongest man in the world is the one who stands alone.