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Tiresias
Τειρεσίας

RV-0201 detail: Tiresias. Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (Göttingen, 1845- Dresden, 1923), Ausfürliches Lexikon der griechisches und römisches Mythologie, 1884.

"How terrible it is to have wisdom when it does not benefit those who have it." (Tiresias. Sophocles, Oedipus the King 315).

"We mortals have no cleverness in the eyes of the gods." (Tiresias. Euripides, Bacchanals 200).

"Come, tell me, where have you proved yourself a seer? Why, when the Sphinx was here, did you say nothing to free the people? Yet the riddle, at least, was not for the first comer to read: there was need of a seer's help, and you were discovered not to have this art, either from birds, or known from some god. But rather I, Oedipus the ignorant, stopped her, having attained the answer through my wit alone, untaught by birds." (Oedipus to Tiresias.Sophocles, Oedipus the King 390).

"What is a seer? A man who with luck tells the truth sometimes, with frequent falsehoods, but when his luck deserts him, collapses then and there." (Achilles. Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 955).

"The man who practices the prophet's art is a fool; for if he happens to give an adverse answer, he makes himself disliked by those for whom he takes the omens; while if he pities and deceives those who are consulting him, he wrongs the gods." (Tiresias to his daughter. Euripides, Phoenician Women 955).


The Theban seer Tiresias, son of the shepherd Everes 1, was given by Zeus the art of soothsaying. Tiresias is said to be a descendant of Udaeus, one of the SPARTI who rose from the ground after the teeth of a certain dragon had been sown by Cadmus.

Tiresias' blindness (I)

Tiresias was blinded by the gods because, as some say, he disclosed their secrets to mortal men.

Tiresias' blindness (II)

Others say that Athena blinded the young Tiresias by covering his eyes with her hands when he surprised her naked. Tiresias' mother, the nymph Chariclo 1 who was dear to Athena and one of her attendants, asked the goddess to restore his sight, but Athena, not being able to do so, cleansed instead his ears in such a way that she caused him to understand the sounds of birds. Athena also gave Tiresias a staff made of cornel-wood with the help of which he could walk like those who can see. It is also said that Athena did not take the sight of young Tiresias; as the goddess explained to Chariclo 1, these were the old laws of Cronos, which inflicted the penalty of blindness on any mortal who beheld an immortal without consent. Since Tiresias' blindness could therefore not be taken back, Athena bestowed on him the power to utter oracles, to understand the birds (the bird-observatory of Tiresias could still be visited many generations after his death), to live a long life, and after his death, to keep his understanding among the dead.

Tiresias' blindness (III)

Still others affirm that Tiresias was once watching two snakes copulating, and when he wounded the female he was turned into a woman; but later he saw the same snakes copulating again, and having wounded the male, he was transformed into a man. Tiresias remained a woman for seven years, and became a man again in the eighth. It is told that when Zeus and Hera once disputed whether the pleasures of love are better enjoyed by women or by men, they referred to Tiresias for a decision on account of his knowledge of both sides of love. Tiresias then told them that

"Of ten parts a man enjoys one only, but a woman enjoys the full ten parts in her heart." (Apollodorus, Library 3.6.7).

For this utterance, they say, Hera blinded him, but Zeus bestowed on him the power of a seer.

Long Life

Tiresias is said to have lived an exceptionally long life. According to some, he lived for seven generations, whereas others say nine. In any case, he lived from the times of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, to the times of the war of the EPIGONI. This war followed the one of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES in which Oedipus' sons quarrelled for the throne when their father left Thebes, after having learnt from Tiresias that he had killed his own father and wedded her mother.

Tells Oedipus the truth

For Oedipus, wishing to deliver Thebes of a plague which the oracle attributed to blood-guiltiness. He looked for the murderer of Laius 1, ignoring that he himself was the murderer. It was Tiresias who revealed this sad circumstance, when forced by Oedipus' insults to come forth with the truth:

"The man whom you have been seeking … proclaiming a search into the murder of Laius, is here, ostensibly an alien sojourner, but soon to be found a native of Thebes…A blind man, though now he sees, a beggar, though now rich, he will make his way to a foreign land, feeling the ground before him with his staff. And he will be discovered to be at once brother and father of the children with whom he consorts; son and husband of the woman who bore him; heir to his father's bed, shedder of his father's blood. So go in and evaluate this, and if you find that I am wrong, say then that I have no wit in prophecy." (Tiresias to Oedipus. Sophocles, Oedipus the King 450).

His method to save the nation

The quarrel of Oedipus' sons resulted in the expedition of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES and its sequel, the war of the EPIGONI. During the war against the SEVEN, the Thebans sought counsel of Tiresias, who declared that they would win the war if Menoeceus 2 offered himself freely as a sacrifice to Ares.

Tiresias: Then hear the intent of my oracle; if you observe it, you will save Thebes. You must sacrifice Menoeceus, your son here, for your country…
Creon 2: O great evil, spoken so briefly!
Tiresias: Evil to you, but to your country great salvation.
(Euripides, Phoenician Women 911).

Later Menoeceus 2, son of Creon 2 and Eurydice 12, slew himself before the gates of Thebes.

Gives practical advice

When at the end of the second Theban war, the EPIGONI were close to take Thebes, Tiresias advised the citizens to send a herald to negotiate with the Argives, and in the meantime, to mount their women and children in wagons, and take to flight.

Death

The same night the Thebans fled, they came to a spring called Telphussa (near Haliartus in Boeotia) where Tiresias died after having drunk from its waters.

His daughter Daphne 2

When the EPIGONI, who are the sons of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES, took the city of Thebes and sacked it, they captured Tiresias' daughter Daphne 2. The EPIGONI, following a certain vow, dedicated her to the service of the sanctuary at Delphi. It is said that her knowledge of prophecy was far greater than her father's, and that during her life in Delphi she developed her skill even more. It is also told that besides writing oracular answers of all sorts, she also was a great poet. Some have even said that Homer himself took from her many verses, which he appropriated as his own. The vow of the EPIGONI was that, if they took Thebes, they would dedicate to Delphi the fairest of the spoils. And this was Daphne 2, according to some, but according to others, the name of this daughter of Tiresias was not Daphne 2 but Manto 1.

His daughter Manto 1

After Tiresias' death in Haliartus, his daughter Manto 1 and the Thebans who were with her, crossed the sea and came to Clarus, a city in Ionia near Ephesus in Asia Minor, where they were attacked by Cretans led by Rhacius. This Rhacius, who started the colonization of Caria, took her to wife, and she gave birth to Mopsus 2. Mopsus 2, who also was a diviner, helped to drive the Carians out of their country, and is also known for having defeated the seer Calchas in the art of divination. Some affirm that Manto 1 was the daughter of Tiresias who was sent to Delphi by the EPIGONI. They tell that the oracle commanded her to marry whomsoever she might meet, and this proved to be Rhacius.

His daughter Historis

It was Tiresias who told Amphytrion that, during his absence, Zeus had enjoyed his wife Alcmena. And Historis, another daughter of Tiresias, is said to have helped Alcmena to deliver Heracles 1. For Hera had sent witches to hinder the birth-pangs of Alcmena, and keep her from giving birth. But Historis, pretending that Alcmena had given birth, uttered a loud cry of joy. Thus she caused the witches to withdraw, and Alcmena could give birth to Heracles 1.

Still a seer after death

The witch Circe told Odysseus to descend to Hades, visit the spirit of Tiresias, and consult him about his return to Ithaca. Tiresias then warned him of the wrath of Poseidon, who was angry at him because Odysseus had blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus 2, a son of the god. Tiresias advised him not to harm the cattle of Helius in Thrinacia (Sicily). He also warned Odysseus about what was taking place at his home in Ithaca—where many SUITORS, wishing to marry his wife, lived at his expenses—and what was bound to happen on his arrival. He also prophesied that Odysseus' death would come in his old age, far from the sea, and in a gentle way. The mind of Tiresias was unchanged in Hades, as Persephone granted him reason even in death, that he alone should have understanding among the dead.


Family 

Parentage

Mates

Offspring

Notes

Everes 1 & Chariclo 1


Tiresias' grandparents are unknown. Chariclo 1 was called a Nymph.

unknown

Manto 1

Historis

Daphne 2

See main text above.


Related sections
Sources
Abbreviations

Apd.3.6.7, 3.7.3-4.; Cal.BP.67, 80; Cic.ND.2.7; Dio.4.66.5; EPIG.3; Eur.Bacc. passim; Eur.Phoe. passim; Hes.Mel.2, 3; Hom.Od.10.492, 11.90; Hyg.Fab.75; Lib.Met.17; Nonn.5.337, 44.82; Pau.7.3.1, 9.10.3, 9.11.3, 9.18.4, 9.33.1; RET.1; Soph.Ant. passim; Soph.OT. passim; Stat.Theb.4.408;

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