Midlife crisis is a transformational phase in a person's life that touches deeply on their emotions, self-confidence and an evaluation of their achievements in life and is experienced from around the age of 35 to 65 years. Notably, it is more of a psychological crisis or confusion as some would put it, that happens as a result of the realisation that one's lifetime is elapsing and they face the inevitable fact of mortality, yet their given desires and accomplishments may not have been met either wholly or partially. Thus, this stage of life is characterised by various aspects including; Panic over health issues, Comparison of achievements against those of age-mates, hopelessness, and anxiety, confusion, disinterest in aspects of life that were previously otherwise, as well as insensitivity. Thus, this phase of life may be so pronounced or not based on how one had fulfilled their goals and purpose. Individuals who set out to achieve these goals tend to be less prone to anxieties and confusion since the comparison of their expectation against what they achieved reflects success. On the other hand, people who have not quite exhausted their achievements are vulnerable to the extreme aspects of midlife phenomenon, which is known to vary based on gender, usually prompting women to venture further into achieving unaccomplished goals while most men tend to be prone to the fears and anxieties of non-achievement. Thus, literal minds have incorporated this phenomenon in their works of art to present the effects and characteristics thereof. Therefore, this essay seeks to explain how and why authors present the midlife crisis in their characters with essential reference to the books Iliad and Odyssey by Homer, as well as explain the purpose that their sense of loss of self-serves in this critical works.
Iliad by Homer
Iliad is a Narration by a Greek poet, Homer. The poem describes the final days of the Trojan War in which the warrior, Achilles fought along with his closest companion, Patroclus, who he so loved. At a time when the Greek had Troy under siege, Achilles is dishonoured by his King, Agamemnon and decides not to fight. However, Patroclus chooses to put on his armour and fight like him. The result is that he is killed in the war by Hector and this has an effect on Achilles such that he seems to have lost his sense of self.
Homer presents Achilles as an arrogant and proud warrior who should instead exhibit nobility and integrity. He has lost the aspect the respectability that is associated with the kind of fighter he is as depicted by the writer in explaining how he cannot swallow his pride and fight for his army at the time when King Agamemnon slights him. He loses his sense of self by losing sight and interest in the goals he had initially set out to achieve, which included winning the Trojan War. The writer draws a scene of him even wishing that his comrades die at the hands of the Trojans.
Achilles is portrayed as confused and anxious in the narrative when King Agamemnon offers him a deal, and he accepts to fight saying “Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.” (Keith 22). Also, after the death of Patroclus, he mourns so deeply, and his pride's consequences are laid bare. Patroclus' death presents a crisis to Achilles, but also serves the build-up to the end of the Trojan War by being an eye opener that forced his return to battle.
The principal purpose for Homer to present him as having lost his sense of self and after realising his mistakes is to construct his shortcomings and the much of a crisis they are to him and to perpetuate his need to achieve the goals, which he had initially vested heavily in.
Homer also presents the character of Achilles as very ambitious with the need for glorification. He so desperately seeks fame, success in combat, as well as the urge to be in control depicted by his rage when he disagrees with King Agamemnon. He is, however, generally impeded by his flaws. He is illustrated as being opportunistic when the chance to solve his challenges shows up through deals offered to him by the king, as well as through Patroclus' death. In this aspect, the writer uses his characterisation to evoke the mood of the reader in connection to the mood of the narrative in that instance. Homer seeks to achieve a relatable perspective of the reader's life and that of the character of Achilles.
The loss of sense of self by Achilles in Iliad explains why Homer presented these challenges of emotional breakdown and the rage that engulfs him. In real functionality, midlife crisis facilitates the plot, diction, and characterisation in the narrative. Thus, it enhances the various stylistic devices that keep the theme of the narrative prime and restricted to the purpose of the poem.
The Odyssey by Homer
The Odyssey is a mythical poem written by Homer. Odyssey is set in the context associated with approximately a decade after the Trojan War. The song describes the return journey of a fallen King, Odysseus, whose kingdom was overrun and he was taken away from his home, Ithaca. Odysseus had been kept captive in an island named Ogygia by a lady who loved him possessively, and he continuously sought ways and means of escape to reunite with his wife Penelope and son Telemachus.
The poet presents Odysseus as a leader with courage, nobility and a thirst for glory. Homer portrays his loss of sense of self in various dimensions. In his midlife crisis, he ends up entangled in an extramarital affair with the lady, Calypso who is so possessively in love. In his usual self-based on the context of the poem, he is, however, declared courageous, meaning that in his state under the imprisonment of Calypso, he had already lost himself.
The poet describes the loss of a sense of direction and enlightenment that occurs through one's midlife crisis by illustrating that Odysseus desired to return to his homeland, but could not come to terms with finding a distinct way and a means to an end up there. He even admits to being bound by the lady Calypso by saying "how canst thou bid me be gentle to thee, who has turned my company into swine within thy halls" (Agathe 32). The poet uses this line to describe a lack of Odyssey's enlightenment that he can vacate the halls of the lady if he was willing to go through with that decision. However, since he was incapable finding direction, he stayed on. His hopelessness is enshrined in the poem through scenarios when he has to stay as a beggar to sustain humility and not be recognised by the suitors in his Ithaca Kingdom who would have otherwise killed him on realisation. Highlighted in such lines of the poem is the fact that it is humiliating and with a lost sense of self to be as he was in a land where he was King.
Odysseus is also poised as having a midlife crisis and a loss of self-sense through the continued fluctuations of activities in his life. He has so many engagements in his quest for glory and the desire to get home to Ithaca. The fame as depicted by the writer draws the sense of maturity that he has to achieve through only experiences such as the treacherous journeys he had to partake. He is confused concerning decisions to take and has to be guided by many, including gods Zeus and Athena to find a sense of direction. The counsel he so desperately seeks, is used by the poet to show how hopeless and anxious he was during his journey. Precisely, it points to a lack of inward trust and self-confidence, which is contrary to whom he was, a courageous leader.
The reason the writer uses the loss of sense of self and the recollection of it, thereof, can be explained in various ways. For instance, it is a means of extending understanding in a society of the challenges that one undergoes in a midlife crisis and the effort to de-stigmatize the whole myth of this phenomenon. In daily lives, it would take a very keen eye to note the characteristics of anyone in this phase of life. Mainly, there exists misjudgement and lack of behavioural comprehension by those around the lives of people who have lost the sense of self. Therefore, the poet consistently lays open the attributes of confusion and indecisiveness of a once very specific person, Odysseus, to teach the reader the importance of comprehending midlife crisis.
The realisation of the loss of sense of self is a critical aspect that Homer passes across as a message to the reader and in literal, devising to serve as the construct to develop the narrative further. Realization of the faults and changes in the midlife crisis as shown in the poem changes perspectives of the character, Odysseus. Notably, this aspect is used to introduce the importance of redemption in our day to day lives, the turning back point. The author draws Odysseus as having realised he missed his homeland and his people to the extent that he felt homesick. By portraying his need to be home, the poet shows that he had finally discovered a way back, that the crisis in his middle age was solvable. The fallen King is then scribed as having gone through much turmoil, but finally reached home and overcame the suitors in his palace through the test of an arrow contest, courtesy of his wife, Penelope. The family is then reunited after over a decade.
Midlife crisis is a phenomenon characterized by much turmoil in one’s life on the realisation that mortality is inevitable and achievements and desires have not been satisfied. The Greek poet, Homer, in his two poems, Odyssey and Iliad, extensively highlights the challenges and aspects experienced through this phase. In many dimensions, midlife crisis creates a loss of sense of self-leading to rush decisions, hopelessness, anxiety, and aggression among many other reactions. On the positive note, the realisation of what aspects of life to change enables a positive outcome that transforms one into maturity.
Agathe, Thornton. People and themes in Homer's Odyssey. London: Routledge, 3 (2015): 32 Print.
Keith, Stanley. The Shield of Homer: Narrative Structure in the Illiad. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2014. Print.
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- Dr. Amos Wesonga (Author), 2016, Midlife Crisis: Iliad and Odyssey by Homer, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/439510