Discovering the Balance: the Golden Mean

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Discovering the Balance

Jessica Rodgers
ID: 1518306

In the book The Golden Mean, author Annabel Lyon explores the relationship between the Greek philosopher Aristotle and young Alexander. Through the eyes of Aristotle she illustrates the oldest and most infamous student-mentor relationships in history. Aristotle is portrayed as an unpleasant, often cold-hearted philosopher, disciplined in his studies. Alexander is described as proud, extremely stubborn and impulsive. Despite his ruthless exterior, Alexander takes an interest in philosophy and medicine and develops a connection with Aristotle. Although there are vast differences in the personalities and temperament of these two characters; there is a common thread: both men suffer from mental disorders. Alexander suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, described in the novel as “soldier’s heart” (Lyon 166). Aristotle suffers from bi-polar disorder and depression; which he describes as moving “from black melancholy to golden joy” (Lyon 156). They each suffer in different ways. Alexander’s suffering is more outwardly displayed; while Aristotle suffers more internally. Together they lean on their love of philosophy to assist in managing and coping with their disorders. Both share a passion for nature, discovery, and affection for the unknown. Aristotle tries to instil balance in the young prince. He teaches Alexander the golden mean: a middle point between life’s extremes which will lead to the ultimate goal of true happiness. It is clear in the novel that Aristotle himself has not reached the Golden Mean, possibly due to his bi-polar disorder. In teaching Alexander, Aristotle inspires in himself a search for balance, a life of virtue and ultimately true happiness. Early in the novel we learn of Aristotle’s struggles with bipolar disorder. He details his shifts in moods and temperament claiming to “cry easily, laugh easily, and get angry easily” (Lyon 30). He states, “There’s no name for this sickness, no diagnosis, no treatment mentioned in my father’s medical books” (Lyon 11). Although he is unable to place name to his condition, he manages to counteract his extreme moods by busying his mind. Aristotle battles privately and internally to overcome his bipolar episodes. On many occasions throughout the novel Aristotle secludes himself in his study, surrounded by his book, away from others. Admitting “Every time I start to feel something, I dove back into the books and stayed down as long as I could” (Lyon 84). Aristotle uses his love for philosophy to cope with his bipolar episodes. Although his mood is unstable, his brilliance endures. This is not an unusual finding among individuals suffering with this disorder. There has been much research into the connection between brilliance and bipolar disorder (Andrews 63). Scholars claim there is a “link between genius and madness”, many have discovered a “connection between artistic creativity and bipolar disorder” (Andrews 63). Aristotle is a prime example of this connection. Aristotle has learned to use his bipolar symptoms to his advantage. He uses his love of knowledge as a coping mechanism during his manic episodes. Common symptoms during these episodes include “decreased need for sleep”, “racing thoughts”, “increased activity or restlessness”, as well as high irritability (Andrews 63). It is during theses time when Aristotle finds himself most productive. He uses these times of personal chaos to uncover and pursue the Golden Mean and a life of virtue. Struggling with this disorder can also cause great conflict in one’s personal life and relationships with others. Aristotle struggles with his personal relationships and with finding connections to other people. From an early age he struggled with forming strong bonds with his parents and siblings. Later in life he struggled with his relationships with his spouse and family members; and eventually with Alexander. In the...
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