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{{other uses}}{{Redirect|Everes|the butterfly genus|Cupido (butterfly)}}{{citations needed|date=March 2019}}File:Pietro della Vecchia - Tiresias transformed into a woman.jpg|thumb|Pietro della VecchiaPietro della VecchiaIn Greek mythology, Tiresias ({{IPAc-en|t|aɪ|ˈ|r|iː|s|i|ə|s}}; , Teiresias) was a blind prophet of Apollo in Thebes, famous for clairvoyance and for being transformed into a woman for seven years. He was the son of the shepherd {{ill|Everes|el|Ευήρης}} and the nymph Chariclo.Of a line born of the dragon's teeth sown by Cadmus (Bibliotheke, III.6.7); see also Hyginus, Fabula 75. Tiresias participated fully in seven generations in Thebes, beginning as advisor to Cadmus himself.


Eighteen allusions to mythic Tiresias, noted by Luc Brisson,Luc Brisson, 1976. Le mythe de Tirésias: essai d'analyse structurale (Leiden: Brill). fall into three groups: one, in two episodes, recounts Tiresias' sex-change and his encounter with Zeus and Hera; a second group recounts his blinding by Athena; a third, all but lost, seems to have recounted the misadventures of Tiresias.

Blindness and gift of prophecy

File:Tiresias striking the snakes.png|thumb|300px|right|Tiresias strikes two snakes with a stick, and is transformed into a woman by Hera. Engraving by Johann Ulrich KrausJohann Ulrich KrausLike other oracles, how Tiresias obtained his information varied: sometimes, he would receive visions; other times he would listen for the songs of birds, or ask for a description of visions and pictures appearing within the smoke of burnt offerings or entrails, and so interpret them. Pliny the Elder credits Tiresias with the invention of augury.Gaius Plinius Secundus, Naturalis Historia 7.203.3On Mount Cyllene in the Peloponnese,Eustathius and John Tzetzes place this episode on Mount Cithaeron in Boeotia, near the territory of Thebes. as Tiresias came upon a pair of copulating snakes, he hit the pair with his stick. Hera was displeased, and she punished Tiresias by transforming him into a woman. As a woman, Tiresias became a priestess of Hera, married and had children, including Manto, who also possessed the gift of prophecy. After seven years as a woman, Tiresias again found mating snakes; depending on the myth, either she made sure to leave the snakes alone this time, or, according to Hyginus, trampled on them.Hygini Fabulae, LXXV As a result, Tiresias was released from his sentence and permitted to regain his masculinity. This ancient story was recorded in lost lines of Hesiod.According to Bibliotheke III.6.7, and in Phlegon, Mirabilia 4.In Hellenistic and Roman times Tiresias' sex-change was embellished and expanded into seven episodes, with appropriate amours in each, probably written by the Alexandrian Ptolemaeus Chennus,{{Citation needed|date=March 2012}} but attributed by Eustathius to Sostratus of Phanagoria's lost elegiac Tiresias.Eustathius, Commentary on Homer's Odyssey 10.494. Tiresias is presented as a complexly liminal figure, mediating between humankind and the gods, male and female, blind and seeing, present and future, this world and the Underworld.Fully explored in structuralist mode, with many analogies drawn from ambivalent sexualities considered to exist among animals in Antiquity, in Brisson 1976.According to the mythographic compendium Bibliotheke,Bibliotheke III.6.7. different stories were told of the cause of his blindness, the most direct being that he was simply blinded by the gods for revealing their secrets. An alternative story told by the poet Pherecydes was followed in Callimachus' poem "The Bathing of Pallas"; in it, Tiresias was blinded by Athena after he stumbled onto her bathing naked.This, readable as a doublet of the Actaeon mytheme, was the version preferred by the English poets Tennyson and even Swinburne. His mother, Chariclo, a nymph of Athena, begged Athena to undo her curse, but the goddess could not; instead, she cleaned his ears, giving him the ability to understand birdsong, thus the gift of augury. In a separate episode,The episode is briefly noted by Hyginus, Fabula 75; Ovid treats it at length in Metamorphoses III. Tiresias was drawn into an argument between Hera and her husband Zeus, on the theme of who has more pleasure in sex: the man, as Hera claimed; or, as Zeus claimed, the woman, as Tiresias had experienced both. Tiresias replied, "Of ten parts a man enjoys one only."Bibliotheke III.6.7. Hera instantly struck him blind for his impiety. Zeus could do nothing to stop her or reverse her curse, but in recompense he did give Tiresias the gift of foresightThe blind prophet with inner sight as recompense for blindness is a familiar mytheme. and a lifespan of seven lives.He is said to have understood the language of birds and could divine the future from indications in a fire, or smoke. However, it was the communications of the dead he relied on the most, menacing them when they were late to attend him.WEB,weblink Lives of the Necromancers, William Godwin, 1876, 46–47, Tiresias makes a dramatic appearance in the Odyssey, book XI, in which Odysseus calls up the spirits of the dead (the nekyia). "So sentient is Tiresias, even in death," observes Marina Warner "that he comes up to Odysseus and recognizes him and calls him by name before he has drunk the black blood of the sacrifice; even Odysseus' own mother cannot accomplish this, but must drink deep before her ghost can see her son for himself."Warner, Marina. Monuments and Maidens: the allegory of the female form. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. p. 329As a seer, "Tiresias" was "a common title for soothsayers throughout Greek legendary history" (Graves 1960, 105.5). In Greek literature, Tiresias' pronouncements are always given in short maxims which are often cryptic (gnomic), but never wrong. Often when his name is attached to a mythic prophecy, it is introduced simply to supply a personality to the generic example of a seer, not by any inherent connection of Tiresias with the myth: thus it is Tiresias who tells Amphytrion of Zeus and Alcmena and warns the mother of Narcissus that the boy will thrive as long as he never knows himself. This is his emblematic role in tragedy (see below). Like most oracles, he is generally extremely reluctant to offer the whole of what he sees in his visions.

Tiresias and Thebes

missing image!
- Johann Heinrich Füssli 063.jpg -
Tiresias appears to Odysseus during the nekyia of Odyssey xi, in this watercolor with tempera by the Anglo-Swiss Johann Heinrich Füssli, c. 1780-85.
Tiresias appears as the name of a recurring character in several stories and Greek tragedies concerning the legendary history of Thebes. In The Bacchae, by Euripides, Tiresias appears with Cadmus, the founder and first king of Thebes, to warn the current king Pentheus against denouncing Dionysus as a god. Along with Cadmus, he dresses as a worshiper of Dionysus to go up the mountain to honor the new god with the Theban women in their Bacchic revels.In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Oedipus, the king of Thebes, calls upon Tiresias to aid in the investigation of the killing of the previous king Laius. At first, Tiresias refuses to give a direct answer and instead hints that the killer is someone Oedipus really does not wish to find. However, after being provoked to anger by Oedipus' accusation first that he has no foresight and then that Tiresias had a hand in the murder, he reveals that in fact it was Oedipus himself who had (unwittingly) committed the crime. Outraged, Oedipus throws him out of the palace, but then afterwards realizes the truth.Tiresias also appears in Sophocles' Antigone. Creon, now king of Thebes, refuses to allow Polynices to be buried. His niece, Antigone, defies the order and is caught; Creon decrees that she is to be buried alive. The gods express their disapproval of Creon's decision through Tiresias, who tells Creon 'the city is sick through your fault.' Tiresias and his prophecy are also involved in the story of the Epigoni.


Tiresias died after drinking water from the tainted spring Tilphussa, where he was impaled by an arrow of Apollo.His shade descended to the Asphodel Meadows, the first level of Hades. After his death, he was visited in the underworld by Odysseus to whom he gave valuable advice concerning the rest of his odyssey, such as how to get past Scylla and Charybdis. He even gave him advice where he should not eat the cattle of Helios on Thrinacia (advice which Odysseus' men did not follow, which led to them getting killed by Zeus' thunderbolts during a storm).

The caduceus

Connections with the paired serpents on the caduceus are often made (Brisson 1976:55–57).

In the arts

  • The figure of Tiresias has been much invoked by fiction writers and poets. At the climax of Lucian of Samosata's Necyomantia, Tiresias in Hades is asked "what is the best way of life?" to which he responds, "the life of the ordinary guy: forget philosophers and their metaphysics."JOURNAL, Branham, R. B., 1989, The Wisdom of Lucian's Tiresias, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 109, 159–60, 10.2307/632040, 632040,
  • The Breasts of Tiresias () is a surrealist play by Guillaume Apollinaire written in 1903. The play received its first production in a revised version in 1917.Brockett and Hildy (2003, 439). In his preface to the play, the poet invented the word "surrealism" to describe his new style of drama.Banham (1998, 1043). The French composer Francis Poulenc wrote an opera with the same name based on Apollinaire's 1917 play. It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in 1947.Albert Bermel, "Apollinaire's Male Heroine" Twentieth Century Literature 20.3 (July 1974), pp. 172–182 .
  • "Tiresias" the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, narrated by the persona Tiresias himself, incorporates the notion that his prophecies, though always true, are generally not believed.BOOK, Tennyson's Rapture: Transformation in the Victorian Dramatic Monologue, Pearsall, Cornelia, Oxford University Press, 2007, 9781435630468, Oxford, 303-306,
  • Tiresias is featured in T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land (Section III, The Fire Sermon) and in a note Eliot states that Tiresias is "the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest."BOOK, Harold Bloom, T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land,weblink 2007, Infobase Publishing, 978-0-7910-9307-8, 182,
  • Tiresias appears in Three Cantos III (1917) and cantos I and 47 in the long poem The Cantos by Ezra Pound.BOOK, A. David Moody, Ezra Pound: Poet: I: The Young Genius 1885-1920,weblink 11 October 2007, OUP Oxford, 978-0-19-921557-7, 315, BOOK, Carroll Franklin Terrell, A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound,weblink 1980, University of California Press, 978-0-520-03687-1, 1, 2, 184,
  • Virginia Woolf's (Orlando: A Biography|Orlando) is a modernist novel that uses major events in Tiresias' life.WEB,weblink Orlando – Modernism Lab,, 31 January 2019, Androgyny in Modern Literature, Tracey Hargreaves, 2005, p. 91.Museum Skepticism: A History of the Display of Art in Public Galleries, David Carrier, 2006, p. 4.
  • Tiresias is a ballet choreographed by Frederick Ashton to music by Constant Lambert first performed at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London, on 9 July 1951.Alexander Bland, The Royal Ballet: The First Fifty Years. London: Threshold Books, 1981, p286.
  • Tiresia, a 2003 French film directed by Bertrand Bonello uses the legend of Tiresias to tell the story of a modern transgender person.WEB, BBC - Movies - review - Tiresia, BBC, Dawson, Tom,weblink 14 October 2017,
  • Tiresias is mentioned in the song "Cinema Show" by Genesis, which also includes lines from his point of view about his experience as both man and woman.WEB,weblink cinema show lyrics - Google Search,, 31 January 2019,
  • From November 5 to 7 2018, on the stage at the Greek Theater of Syracuse will be presented the show Conversation with Tiresias performed by Italian writer Andrea Camilleri and directed by Roberto AndòWEB,weblink Andrea Camilleri: "L'odio non avrà la meglio, in questo mondo vincono le donne", La Repubblica, October 30, 2018, IT,




  • Robert Graves, 1960 (revised edition). The Greek Myths
  • Luc Brisson, 1976. Le mythe de Tirésias: essai d'analyse structurale (Leiden: Brill) Structural analysis by a follower of Claude Lévi-Strauss and a repertory of literary references and works of art in an iconographical supplement.
  • N. Loraux, The Experienctersuchungen zur Figur des Sehers Teiresias, Tübingen, 1995
  • E. Di Rocco, Io Tiresia: metamorfosi di un profeta, Roma, 2007
  • EB1911, Teiresias, 26,

External links

  • {{Commons category inline|Tiresias}}
{{Characters in the Odyssey}}{{Authority control}}

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