Odysseus consulting the shade of Tiresias. Sid...
Odysseus consulting the shade of Tiresias. Side A from a Lucanian red-figured calyx-krater, 4th century BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Greek myth Tiresias is a Theban, the son of a shepherd and a nymph, who unintentionally sees the chaste Athena bathing. She immediately punishes him with blindness but he is compensated, to some extent, with the gifts of wisdom and prophecy, along with a lifespan of seven generations.

In another mythic cycle Tiresias becomes blind after seeing two snakes coupling. Killing one of the snakes, he is transformed into a woman. Seven years later he again sees two snakes coupling. In one variant of the myth he kills the snakes, in another he leaves them alone. But in both versions he’s changed back into a man.

At this point Zeus and Hera ask him who enjoys sex more, men or women. Tiresias, having experienced both, says women receive nine time more pleasure than men. Hera doesn’t like this answer and strikes him blind. But Zeus gives him the gift of prophecy to compensate for his loss.

Two strange sounding stories, they point to the idea that losing things in life is often replaced or rewarded by something else of a higher or subtler nature.

In Homer‘s Odyssey, the seafaring hero Odysseus asks Tiresias, who’s departed and in the underworld, about his return sea journey home. Tiresias warns Odysseus of many dangers, facilitating his safe return.¹

In pop culture the British progressive rock band Genesis speaks of “father Tiresias” in the song, The Cinema Show (1973):

Take a little trip back with father Tiresias,
Listen to the old one speak of all he has lived through.
I have crossed between the poles, for me there’s no mystery.
Once a man, like the sea I raged,
Once a woman, like the earth I gave.

On the Web:

¹ See Wikipedia for more variations and depictions in art »

Related Posts » Hephaestus, Seer, Wisdom


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