The Danfo of Theseus

Muhammed Akinyemi


“Man, know thyself.” – Socrates 

But how does man recognise himself?

Theseus and the youths of Athens had embarked on a fierce voyage to Crete and returned in victory. Upon their arrival, the Ship of Theseus, which returned with thirty oars, was preserved by the Athenians for generations of kings and people.

To maintain this ship, they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places. Over time, all the old planks that made the ship had been replaced with new ones. But an important question has stayed with it; is it still the Ship of Theseus or is it now another ship? 

If it is the Ship of Theseus, does it mean that the introduction of new parts to an old material does not change the old material? If it is not, at what point did it stop being the Ship of Theseus? Would it still be the Ship of Theseus if a splinter, or a plank, remained from the original material?

Plutarch, a Greek philosopher, remarked that “insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”

Man’s mandate is to “know thyself” but how will man distinctively define the “self”? Is the man still true to himself through the sagacity of other men, or does man cease to be himself when he wears the wisdom of other men?

Whatever opinion you hold about this, hold it tightly to your chest. You will need it soon.


Of Danfos and Theseus

Lagos, Nigeria: where insanity is breakfast and aggression is the air that drives feet to work; where curiosity is rewarded with disappointment and the air holds your throat in submission to its foxiness; where you are reminded that the city will break you if you stop moving, while it also sets traps to prevent mobility. Lagos, whose identity card is the yellow danfo buses that transport insanity across its clusters of land. It is in this Lagos that I saw the Ship of Theseus but as a Danfo bus. 

This Danfo retains a portion of its yellow, but not many of its original parts. Its windows have been transformed by time and its handles replaced with punches. In it, the benches do not synchronise, and the steering wheel is older than the gear. But unlike the Ship of Theseus, this Danfo, whose ownership we shall assign also to Theseus, is not alone. Unlike the Ship, there are many Danfos of this type in Lagos, with parts married together by grime and time. 

The Danfos are seen sometimes with a different colour, sometimes with a different door; sometimes as a rainbow, sometimes as a warship. There are many of them in Lagos, these Danfos of Theseus. There are almost more Danfos like this than there are Danfos that maintain their original forms.

Are these Danfos still the same, or have they ceased to be Danfos? If they are different, does that mean they should be taken off the roads? If they are Danfos, does that mean that replacing parts does not create new objects?

The next question, importantly presuming you agreed that they are still Danfos, and also presuming your acceptance is because there are many of themdoes the commonality of many Danfos of Theseus give validity to their existence?

If there were two Ships of Theseus, and their parts had been interchanged over time, would they have still been the same ship or different ships? 

Again, hold your answers to your chest. 


The Migrant’s Tale

A man steps into Lagos with a bag in his hand and hopes in his pocket. His eyes are laced with a passion to discover himself in the city, and his heart is filled with desire. This man spends two days, then two years, and then two decades in Lagos. Though soft-spoken, he soon becomes verbally aggressive. He no longer walks like the earth is made of wool, but like his feet glide on thorns. His eyes are now red with anger, and his pockets are filled with wealth. His heart loses desire but finds love, and he soon becomes one with the city. 

The man blossoms into three generations of men, each a product of the man, and each a man unto himself. 

Using your initial positions on the Ship of Theseus and Danfos of Lagos, will the first man still identify as a stranger in Lagos, or will he now identify as a Lagosian? 

If the man is not a Lagosian despite his transformation, what about the commonality of his offspring? Does it also mean that both the Danfo and the Ship are still of Theseus, in their original form?

If he is a Lagosian, either due to the presence of his offspring or because he has absorbed the city, does it mean that the introduction of new materials to both the Danfo and the Ship means they are no longer of Theseus? For if a stranger can become transformed into a Lagosian, then why are the Danfo and Ship still regarded as being of Theseus?

Whatever your answers are, man, do you now know yourself? Can you, yet, recognise the true self? Is the self discovered because of changes or despite the changes?

Muhammed Akinyemi is a creator from Nigeria. He enjoys trying out different art forms in his leisure time and doing serious writing when he can. He works for HumAngle Media as an editor and journalist.

Sign up for our newsletter

Sign up to get our latest stories, poems and essays!