Tiresias, Blinded by the Gods and Blessed with Second Sight

Tiresias, Blinded by the Gods and Blessed with Second Sight

According to Greek mythology, Tiresias, the blind prophet of Apollo, was well-known as much for his clairvoyance as for being transformed into a woman for seven years. He was present for seven generations in Thebes - beginning as advisor to Cadmus, the founder and first king of Thebes, all the way to the tragic unfolding of events surrounding the divine hero King Laius and his son Oedipus. Tiresias died soon after the expedition of the Seven Against Thebes in which Polynices, son of Oedipus, and six allies attacked Thebes because his brother, Eteocles, refused to give up the throne. Pliny the Elder even credits Tiresias with the invention of augury.

The Greek mythological prophet Tiresias is transformed into a woman by the goddess Hera, after striking two copulating snakes with a stick. Engraving taken from Die Verwandlungen des Ovidii: in zweyhundert und sechs- und zwantzig Kupffern (The metamorphoses of Ovid) by Johann Ulrich Krauss, circa 1690. (Public Domain)

The Greek mythological prophet Tiresias is transformed into a woman by the goddess Hera, after striking two copulating snakes with a stick. Engraving taken from Die Verwandlungen des Ovidii: in zweyhundert und sechs- und zwantzig Kupffern (The metamorphoses of Ovid) by Johann Ulrich Krauss, circa 1690. (Public Domain)

Presented in some depictions as a man, while others as a woman, still having his sight in some and blind in others, Tiresias is presented as a complexly transitional figure, mediating between humankind and the gods, male and female, blind and seeing, present and future, this world and the underworld. Tiresias’ methods of prophecy varied. He would either receive visions or rely on his understanding of the language of birds and could divine the future from indications in fire. However, Tiresias relied the most on his ability to communicate with the dead, sometimes even menacing them when they were late to attend him.


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