Monday, February 23, 2009

Teiresias (Tiresias)

While reading, “Oedipus Rex”, by Sophocles, I came to know of Teiresias, also known as Tiresias. Teiresias, a blind soothsayer appeared in many Greek stories such as Oedipus Rex, Antigone, Odyssey, and etc. In the story, “Oedipus Rex”, by Sophocles, Teiresias was from the city of Thebes and played a major role in the story of Oedipus. Teiresias is an old man, a very wise old man, when we meet him in the Oedipus tragedies of Sophocles. When Oedipus asked Teiresias how to lift the plague from Thebes, Teiresias replied that Oedipus was the cause of all their problems. This answer would had caused cost Teiresias his life but Oedipus had sympathy for Teiresias’ age and blindness and spared him. Besides, Teiresias was asked by Oedipus of who the murderer of King Laios. Teiresias did not tell the truth as King Oedipus was the murderer he was seeking. He did not tell because he knew he would either bring trouble to himself or to the King. There is said to be ironic as Teiresias, who was blind could see clearly, while Oedipus, who had the sight could not see the truth clearly. In the end of the story, Oedipus found out the truth that he was the murderer of his own father, Laios and even married his own mother and children. He could not stand to see his wrong doings and so he blinded himself and lived a life as a beggar.

In Greek Mythology, Tiresias (also transliterated as Teiresias) was the most famous soothsayer of Greece, was born at Thebes. He was the son of Eueres and Chariclo, and the descendant of Udaeus of Sparti. He was blinded for his seventh year but lived up to a very old age. There were many versions of stories and beliefs to how Teiresias was blinded.

Firstly, Teiresias was believed to be born with the gift of foretelling. The gods feared that Teiresias would see too much that the gods wished to keep conceal. So the gods took his eyesight, depriving the soothsayer of physical vision.

Secondly, according to the poem Bath of Pallas by Callimachus, Teiresias was believed to have been blinded by Goddess Athene because Teiresias saw her bathing. She could not remove her curse so she in return gave Teiresias a seven generation long life, the power to understand the voices of the birds, and gave him a staff, with the help of which he could walk as safely as if he had his eyesight.

Thirdly, Teiresias was believed to be blinded by Hera because Teiresias did not side on her but on Zeus. The issue was that whether male had the most pleasure in sex or a female. As Teiresias had both the experience of being a male and female, so he was questioned. Teiresias agreed that female had the most pleasure and it was believed to have offended Hera and so Teiresias was blinded but given the gift of seven long generation of life.

How was it that Teiresias had both the experience of being a male and a female? According to the more popular version by Hesiod and Ovid, It was a belief that one day, while Teiresias was out in the country, at the foot of Mount Cithaeron, he came upon two snakes mating. With his staff, he killed the female snake, which caused him to transform into a young woman. For seven years, he lived his life as a woman, married and had children. Then he came upon the same snakes, and this time, he killed the male snake instead and was immediately transformed back into a man.

Teiresias had a daughter named Manto, who was also a gifted seeress.
Teiresias died after he was struck by an arrow of Apollo after he drank the water from the spring Tilphussa.


  1. Well done gal! Can see u did the research thouroughly. Now readers like me have a better insight of Teiresias based on the several versions you gave =) hm.. since there are so many versions? which is true and which not? but then again, this is why we call them legends.haha. have a pleasant weekend ahead =)

  2. hahahah...thanks for the praise...ya..legends..erm..there is actually something i do not really understand.. why is the killing of the snake made teiresias blind? i thought he became a woman, not blind after he killed the snake.. so because i am confused, i did not put that under the reason why teiresias was blind. hehehe...

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