Lux Nova
The Secret Vault: Lux Nova


Please complete the highlighted fields

Register Password Reset

Greek Gods and Goddess: Tiresias

[ Home ] [ Books ] [ Encyclopedia ]


Tiresias was reportedly a blind seer, or oracle of Apollo in Thebes, famous not just for his predictions but also for being transformed into a woman for a period of seven years. He was the mythical son of the shepherd Everes and the nymph named Chariclo. It is pretended that Tiresias was the principal seer to no less than seven generations in Thebes, beginning as advisor to Cadmus himself.

I truly suspect that he or she was never a living person but the oracular personification of an Oracle site, that is to say the resident spirit pertaining to a particular place where divination took place.


It is reported that Tiresias mother, the nymph Chariclo was a devotee of Athena, which could easily make her a priestess of the shrine or oracle. Although the Greeks seemed to have softened Athena’s image, there is reason enough to think she was originally a snake goddess, thus, would certainly have connections to divination, and this ties in rather neatly with the mythical story of Tiresias. For it is said that he was struck blind when he stumbled across Athena when she was bathing naked, and saw what no man should see, but whether he saw a naked woman, or perhaps a serpent we can only speculate. Nevertheless, Athena blinds him for it. His mother protests and pleads for her son, but as they say,

‘Chose faitte consell prins.’
A thing once done cannot be undone,
the care is already taken. Or,
a word spoken is beyond redemption;
past recalling or retraction.
Just ask Thomas Becket.

So, Athena decides to compensate him by giving the gift of prophecy, to do this she must clean out his ears. Athena takes the serpent Erichtonius from her aegis and tells it to cleanse his ears with his tongue. Once again, we have a connection to snakes, for the ‘opening of the ears’ is usually performed by a snake or pair of snakes licking out the ears with their forked tongues, which allows the person involved to understand what animals, especially birds are saying. This very same thing happened to the seer Melampus, of whom is reported that he found two orphaned snakes next to their dead mother who had been crushed under the wheels of a passing cart. Rather than leave them, he buried the mother and took the young snakes home and reared them, to reward him they licked out his ears allowing him to understand the language of animals. It is suspected by some that this is way Heracles received the gift of understanding what animals were saying, especially vultures. (see separate files on both.)


Probably the best remembered aspect of Tiresias’ life is that of transformation of a man to a woman, this apparently occurred because he came across a pair of mating snakes and hit them with a stick, this angered Hera, (although it would make more sense if it was Athena, (and some accounts do say it was Athena) but we must not forget that Hera was fond of snakes, for she sent two to kill, Heracles and his brother Iphicles, the affinity between women and snakes has always been there, even in the story of Adam and Eve.) indeed, we cannot forget the Python priestesses who resided at so many Oracle sites especially those connected to Apollo. In his new role as a woman, which he seems to have taken too, like a duck to water, he becomes a priestess of Hera, and even marries apparently, being the mother of Manto, who was herself a renowned oracle. This in itself seems odd as priestess were rarely allowed to marry and remain in office, however in a myth anything can happen. Indeed, other sources say he-she became a notorious whore. Seven years after the change of life, Tiresias while out walking comes across another pair of mating snakes, this time she does nothing, or at worst stumbles on or over them and is instantly transformed back into a man. In real terms the myths directly surrounding his life story end with his death after drinking poisoned water at a spring at Tilpussa, where it is said he was struck by arrow by Apollo.


However, that brings me back to my first suspicion, that Tiresias (a female name) was neither man or woman. For oracles, are of dual natures by necessity, giving both good and bad news. How Tiresias obtained his information varies greatly either by oracle, or visions; sometimes by birds, Augury as it is known; sometimes by divination of the sacred smoke of burnt offerings, but most notoriously through Anthromantie, divination by the raising of the dead. Necyomance (Greek ‘Nekyia’); divination by conference with dead bodies raised, or Sciomance.{ scyomantie] Divining by conference with the shades, shadows of dead men.  According to the Bibliotheca, GK, Bibliotheke, by Pseudo Apollodorus different stories are told concerning the blinding of Tiresias, one states he was blinded for revealing secrets only known to the gods. But we hear no evidence of it, for it was his job to give truthful answers to questions asked. In another 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." Hera instantly struck him blind for his disrespect. Zeus could do nothing to stop her, but gave him the gift of prophecy and a lifespan of seven lives. This again goes against the grain of the story unless we are to think he was only blinded much later in the story. However, it is not always that any author on any myth is totally wrong, it is a case of time, the sea god Nereus, became Oceanus, who became Poseidon and later Neptune, they were gods representing exactly the same understanding, history as it passed simply kept renaming them, thus many writers used the names that were simply current at their time of learning and writing.


The name Tiresias appears over and over in different myths, for in some senses it is but a word associated with prophecy, not a man who lived for three hundred odd years. You will find the name occurring in a number of myths, but I will mention it, where it occurs. End.