Does The Byronic Hero Suffer From Severe Bipolar Disorder?

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The nineteenth century saw the birth of a new kind of literary hero, or, perhaps, one had better say, “anti-hero.” The old heroes, as found, for example, in medieval romances, were temperate, considerate, kind, and not particularly illogical. When misfortune beset these heroes, it was always sort of external misfortune.

Oedipus is an example of the older type of hero. His life fell apart because he became sexually involved with his mother, without knowing it. Lancelot is another example of the older type of hero, whose life (along entirety of King Arthur’s court, and a whole way of life) fell apart because he conceived an adulterous passion entirely out of his control.

However, the tragedy that the Byronic hero suffers falls upon him because of his own psychological make-up. The Byronic hero does not need fate to suffer tragedy. Rather, the same qualities that make they Byronic hero great constitute his downfall.

For an example of the Byronic hero, consider Lord Byron’s Manfred, the hero of his epic poem, Manfred. Manfred is passionate and talented above other men. Yet, his passionate soul is the very thing that sets him apart, causing him to shun their company. Manfred deeply distrusts authority and makes decisions on the spur of the moment. He feels himself, like Milton’s Satan, opposed to every from of life in the world.

In hopes of carving out a place in the world for himself, Manfred traffics with supernatural–or, perhaps, unnatural–beings. Yet, these beings reject him as well. He is still a mortal person. He stands in opposition to world for no reason than to stand in opposition to the world. He stands in opposition to the world because it is his nature.

Perhaps the Byronic hero’s personality can be expressed in modern medical terms. Consider this: the most distinguishing feature of the Byronic hero’s personality is his (and it is always a “he”) fluctuating, wildly unstable moods. At moments Manfred feels himself to be triumphant, and speaks grandiosely about his destiny, using world-historical terms. However, before too long, Manfred is plunged into doom and gloom. For Manfred, the only way out of this wildly fluctuating emotional roller-coaster, which seems so disconnected from reality, is to die.

Alas, that is also the fate of too many people today, who suffer from severe bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder, otherwise known as bipolar manic-depression, is a severe mental illness whose sufferers undergo severe, uncontrollable mood swings. One moment the bipolar sufferer is gambling away his life savings, the next moment he is cutting himself and contemplating ending his or her life.

Bipolar manic-depression must be treated with combination of competent psychotherapy and a regimen of medications. Otherwise, the chance of a bipolar patient committing suicide is somewhere around 15%. Although it may be romantic to read, in a work of fiction, about a person with bipolar disorder ending his life, it is anything but romantic to live through.

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