Tiresias of the Odyssey is quite peculiar in Greek mythology. He is one of the most celebrated characters in Ancient Greek literature. The Tiresias Odyssey prophecy made him a most sought-after prophet in the realm the Greek mythology. He is not a god, but he is god-like because of his great gift in forecasting future events. It may seem to be ironic, but he is a blind seer.
Who Is Tiresias of the Odyssey?
Tiresias is famously known as the Theban seer or blind prophet in many pieces of literature. He is a rather interesting character featured by great authors of the ancient classics, with the likes of Sophocles, Euripides, Homer, and Ovid and up to the modern works of T.S. Eliot.
Tiresias, also spelled Teiresias, hailed from Thebes. His mother is Chariclo, touted to be Athena’s favorite nymph, while his father is the shepherd Everes.
Nothing was special about the boy when he was younger; nor was he blind, however, his gift of prophecy surfaced when his blindness came into being. The saying that something extraordinary could come out of things that are ugly or mundane was truly exemplified in the life of Tiresias. This event resulted in him becoming Apollo’s most favored and popular prophet. For the longest time in his life, he served in the Delphi of Apollo.
Tiresias is often portrayed in an unbecoming fashion: old and feeble, with lifeless and sunken eyes. Perhaps his appearance led to him being rejected whenever someone needs his advice. It is ironic that people sought his wisdom, but his wisdom was seldom followed. Thus, it was good for Odysseus that he really listened to Tiresias.
Quite the complex one, aside from being a blind seer, Tiresias story also became famous in Greek mythology, for he was able to experience becoming a woman and being one for seven long years.
Not so many characters have had the chance to be able to live and experience being male and female in one lifetime. Indeed, Tiresias is one unique person.
How Did Tiresias Become Blind?
There are at least two versions of the legend that explains how Tiresias became blind.
First Version How Tiresias Became Blind
One story states that Tiresias became blind because his eyes were picked out by the goddess Athena. It was said that one day, while the magnificent goddess Athena, together with her favorite nymph Chariclo, was taking a bath, Tiresias unintentionally saw the goddess in her nakedness. This was an accident that was punishable by death. With her mother’s imploration, Athena spared his life and instead made him blind. Accordingly, the goddess justified that by his blindness, he would be able to see more.
Another account about his blindness happened after Tiresias had already lived the life of a woman for seven years. It was quite known to all that Tiresias, after an incident with a snake, was transformed into a female being and later on shifted back to being male again. It is by this time that the next account of his becoming blind happened.
Second Version How Tiresias Became Blind
The second version, however, states that there was one time when Zeus and Hera were having a fight. They wanted to find out who between the male and the female had more gains in sensual pleasures. From their choices, one could assume that Zeus believed that it is the girls who enjoyed the act more, whereas Hera assert that in fact, it is the boys who enjoyed most in a sexual act.
Having gained popularity as someone who was able to live as a man and as a woman, it was truly impartial to let Tiresias be the adjudicator of the said battle of wits.
Zeus and Hera allowed Tiresias to be the judge of the matter at hand. Candidly, he answered that it is indeed the female being who gains more pleasure from erotic acts. However, Tiresias’ answer displeased Hera, so she immediately struck him blind. To lessen the blow, Zeus gifted him with extraordinary skills in prophecy and a long life.
Whichever story appeals to you the most, how Tiresias became blind doesn’t really matter at all. What matters is the fact that through his blindness, Tiresias was able to see more. He sees visions long before they happen. He can read a person’s mind without actually looking into their eyes or being. Indeed, it is a gift that anyone would aspire to have.
Tiresias: The Man and The Woman
It was mentioned earlier that before becoming blind, Tiresias had undergone some kind of a phenomenon; he was turned into a woman. It is not usual for an individual to experience living both as a man and a woman in one lifetime, but Tiresias had become both. It was a serendipitous event that other great persons hadn’t been lucky (or unlucky) enough to experience.
Legend has it that one day, in the kingdom of Thebes or Arcadia perhaps, Tiresias was walking in the woods armed with a stick. While walking, he chanced upon the coupling of intertwined snakes. Unable to resist himself, he hit the mating creatures, which made Hera unhappy as she had seen the whole incident. Due to the incident that Hera has witnessed, the goddess vengefully turned him into a woman.
For seven long years, Tiresias lived as a woman. He became the priestess of no less than Hera herself. It was during this respite that he bore the child Manto, who in return became a famous priestess herself, and two other children.
Other works of literature described Tiresias as a prostitute, always willing and on the go as long as the price is right. Priestess or prostitute? The answer did not matter at all, as Tiresias only lived as a woman for seven years. During this time, he coincidentally passed by the same pair of snakes in the act of mating.
Having learned his lesson, Tiresias never bothered the animals, no matter what they were doing. Furthermore, with his lesson learned, the gods granted him back his masculinity, freeing him from being a woman.
With a life full of unexpected tweaks and turns, one could say that Tiresias’ life was an epic in itself. He was an epic hero of his own, facing obstacles and challenges with pride and honor.
The question is, how did Tiresias die? On his way to Delphi, Tiresias had drunk fouled water from the springs of Tilphussa, which caused his death, ending his 175 long years of living.
Tiresias was already dead when Odysseus went to him to ask for pieces of advice.
Tiresias and Odysseus
His reputation as a great future seer did not only spread in the land of the living but also in the land of the underworld. This blind seer was truly favored by the gods, as even as a spirit in Hades, he still had the power to see incoming events.
At one point in his long travel towards Ithaca, Odyssey needed to consult Tiresias (now in spirit only) to succeed in his quests.
However, the need to see Tiresias wasn’t figured out solely by Odysseus. Instead, it was suggested by Circe for Odysseus to seek him. Circe in the Odyssey, was a bewitching woman who enticed men on her island.
Unlike Calypso in the Odyssey, who is quite domineering and forced Odysseus to stay by her side for seven years; Circe was more diplomatic. Aside from turning Odysseus’ men into pigs, which she immediately reverted, Circe served them well.
As soon as Odysseus had lived with Circe for a year and due to his insistence, she instructed him that in order for him to go home, he must go and ask for advice from Tiresias in the underworld.
After successfully arriving in the land of the underworld, Odysseus met several great souls. Among them was Tiresias Odyssey Book 11; in this encounter, Tiresias advised Odysseus on what to do to avoid mishaps in his travel home, as shown in his visions.
Tiresias’ Odyssey Prophecy
Once the offering of Odysseus has been made and accepted in the underworld, Tiresias was bound to help him succeed in coming home to his kingdom and his wife, Penelope. Odysseus took heed of Tiresias prophecy. Tiresias informed Odysseus that as his journey progresses, so will the difficulties Poseidon will bring along; this is in revenge for the damage made to the eyes of Poseidon’s son Polyphemus. Thus, extra care and gumption are necessary, it is best not to anger the gods of the sea, or else, rough seas and bad travel may be encountered.
Tiresias then told him that the sun god Helios is very fond of his herd grazing freely on an island, so he warned Odysseus to not touch the cattle of Helios or they will be severely punished. Odysseus took heed, but his men didn’t. This arrogance led to the death of all Odysseus’ men, leaving him all by himself to travel.
Another was that upon arriving home, Odysseus must be wise enough to discern who among his constituents was still loyal to him and who was not. With his cunning, upon arrival in Ithaca, Odysseus hid his identity by becoming a beggar. There, he identified the character of Eumaeus in the Odyssey, his loyal swine herder. He also discovered that Melantho Odyssey, Book 19, one of the favorite slaves of his wife, was ill-mannered and even spent the night with the other suitors of Penelope.
Although Odysseus continued his disguise as a beggar, his dog and his son Telemachus were still able to recognize him. On the other hand, another character, Eurycleia in the Odyssey, recognized the scar on his leg; thus, their hunch that it was Odysseus turned out to be correct.
Eventually, Odysseus joined and won the archery contest organized by Penelope. In this contest, it was hoped that Penelope would marry whoever won the contest as it seems that her husband might not come home after all.
Then, it was revealed that the person who won the contest was not a beggar but the long lost husband of Penelope
Tiresias in the Kingdom of Thebes
As Tiresias was gaining more fame as a great prophet, in the kingdom of Thebes, Oedipus rex, or the King Oedipus asked him if he knew who killed King Laius. Tiresias found it difficult to reveal the truth without incarcerating Oedipus.
Although it was already known by the oracle, Oedipus had not easily recognized that he was the murderer of his own father and that he married a woman that was his mother. After realizing that he killed his own father and made his mother his wife, Oedipus rex went and punished himself.
Thus, in psychology, there is the term called Oedipus complex, which refers to the strong emotional attachment a son has toward his mother while being hateful toward his father.
Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)
What Is Tiresias pronunciation?
Tiresias is pronounced as tai-ree-see-uhs.
How Long Did Tiresias Live?
He lived for 175 years.
What Is Tiresias’ Role in the Odyssey?
Through his vision, Tiresias helped Odysseus overcome the challenges he met as he went nearer to his home by instructing him on what to do and what not to do.
Who Turned Tiresias into a Woman and Why?
He was turned into a woman by Hera as a punishment for disturbing and striking a pair of snakes in the act of copulating.
Is Tiresias really blind?
Yes, but he wasn’t born blind.
Tiresias as a character has undergone a lot of transformations; these transformations ultimately led him to become more self-aware, as well as more helpful to the main character:
- He became blind; through it, he has lived a bigger life compared to that when he had his sight.
- Favored by gods, he sometimes irked them, but this didn’t stop him from receiving special rewards from them that benefit him.
- Without this prophecy, Odysseus may have not returned home.
- Tiresias lived for a very long time: 175 years.
- He died a commoner rather than having a peaceful way of dying.
He was not a god nor a warrior, but Tiresias helped the epic hero Odysseus in achieving his goal: to be back in his home, the kingdom of Ithaca, and in the arms of his lovely wife, Penelope. That being said, we could still become successful even though we are just playing backstage as long as we are ready to offer help to others.