Tiresias

Odysseus, seated between Eurylochus (left) and Perimedes, consulting the shade of Tiresias Photo Credit- www.Britannica.com

Odysseus, seated between Eurylochus (left) and Perimedes, consulting the shade of Tiresias Photo Credit- www.Britannica.com

It seems like every Greek myth has a seer that must peer into the darkness of the future or the underworld or something to put the hero on his path to destiny.  The go-to seer for many myths was Tiresias.  It seemed like he was so good at his job, they couldn’t even let him alone when he was dead.  Someone was always going into the underworld to bring him up for a prophecy of some kind.

Tiresias was born to the nymph Chariclo and a shepherd, Everes.  Chariclo was a favorite of Athena, and in one myth Tiresias got his power of prophecy from Athena.  He was said to have stumbled upon Athena bathing as a child, and she blinded him.  Then when his mother went to Athena to ask for forgiveness for her son, Athena pitied him but could not undo her actions.  Instead she gave him the gift of prophecy.  Another myth attributes his blindness to being drug into an argument between Zeus and Hera, never a good place to be.  This one takes a bit of explaining.

So apparently, one day Tiresias was out for a hike and found two snakes coupling.  For some unknown reason, Tiresias was annoyed by this and hit the pair of snakes with a stick.  Hera saw this and was mightily offended as the goddess of marriage because apparently the snakes were married.  Who knew there was snake marriage?  Why not?  Anyway, she did some deity magic and Tiresias was turned into a woman.  As a woman, Tiresias served his time as a priestess of Hera and even married and had children.  Some legends say that Tiresias as a lady was a prostitute of great skill and fame as well.  Seven years later, Tiresias was out for a walk on the same mountain and saw two snakes coupling.  Depending on which story you read, Tiresias either left them alone or stepped on them.  This released Tiresias from the spell, and he was transformed back into a man.  Because Tiresias had spent time as both a man and a woman, this gave him a unique perspective, which drug him into the argument between Hera and Zeus.  They were arguing about who had the most pleasure during sex- men or women.  Ironically, Zeus said women had more pleasure and Hera said men.   This may say something about Zeus and Hera’s relationship more than anything else, but that is another post.  So they brought in Tiresias to settle the bet.  He agreed with Zeus saying, “Of ten parts a man enjoys one only.”  As usual, when Hera was not agreed with she was pissed and struck him blind.  Zeus could not undo what Hera did, so as a consolation prize, he gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy and a lifespan of seven generations.

Tiresias appears to Odysseus by Johann Heinrich Füssli, c. 1780-85.

Tiresias appears to Odysseus by Johann Heinrich Füssli, c. 1780-85.

No matter how he got it, Tiresias quickly became one of the most sought after prophets.  He was extensively involved in the tragic events in Thebes, which were outlined in the story of Oedipus, it’s aftermath and ending with the stories of Seven Against Thebes.  Please see this post for more information on Oedipus http://www.historynaked.com/oedipus/ .  He obtained his oracular knowledge through various means- sometimes receiving visions, interpreting the songs of the birds and pictures appearing within burnt offerings to the gods.  His advice and visions were generally correct, but rarely followed.  His advice did save the city of Thebes as he prophesied a voluntary death of a Theban would save the city, prompting Megareus to kill himself.

Tiresias died himself after drinking water from the tainted spring Tilphussa.  This was the spring of the nymph who sent Apollo against the Python, and he covered her spring with rocks afterward.  After his death, Tiresias was sent to the first level of Hades, the Asphodel Meadows, but even then he was not left in peace.  In the Odyssey, Odysseus visits the underworld to find out how to return safely home.  Tiresias tells him to not eat the cattle of Helios and how to escape Scylla and Charybdis.  As usual, Odysseus’ men disregard this advice and eat the cattle and are killed by Zeus’ thunderbolt extending Odysseus’ journey.  I imagine somewhere in the Asphodel Meadows, Tiresias was doing the “I told you so” dance.
ER