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Tiresias



Greek mythology is filled to overflowing with oddball characters, whack-job weirdos and over-the-top gods and goddesses; never is there a story where someone isn't up to something we would today consider bizarre or even inappropriate in social circles! That's certainly no different when one looks at the crazy story of TIRESIAS, the blind seer and prophet (a person who can see the future), and all of the messed up junk he went through in his long, twisted life. Tiresias began his career as a shepherd (he came from a long line of fantastic, skilled shepherds!), just doing his simple thing, tending to his fleecy, bleating flock of sheep and minding his own dang business when oddness came into his life like a runaway freight train smashing through a brick wall...

The son of another shepherd named Everes and a bright, sunny-personality-filled nymph named Chariclo, you'd think Tiresias was all set for a life of kicking back in meadows, chillin' with his rambunctious flock and taking the easy path through his days; he probably thought so too. The shepherd wandered the grassy slopes of Mount Cylene uneventfully until one fateful day when he came across a couple of rather naughty snakes. What were these snakes up to? Well, according to the stories, they were busy making baby snakes, however that happens to be done. Tiresias freaked out immediately, as snakes were a sure-fire way to get sheep bitten and killed, so he busted out his long, olive-wood staff and soundly whacked the female snake upside its serpentine head, killing it flat-out.

Hera, the Queen of the Olympians had been glancing down Tiresias' way at that exact moment, and for some unknown reason was highly offended that the shepherd had sent the snake's soul a-packin'. Why? Hera, even on good days, never needed a good reason to be offended or ticked off by someone else. Maybe the snakes were pets? Maybe it was because he hit the female one instead of the male one? (as if he could have known...). Whatever the reason, Hera decided to give Tiresias the shock of his life; in a quick and painless transformation, he suddenly became a "she." Yep, that's correct. Hera turned him into a WOMAN!!! Talk about an extremely bad day...

Now being a woman, Tiresias had fewer job options to look at; women were not permitted to be shepherds, so "he" went to work as a priestess for a time in the temple of Hera, attempting to work off "his" punishment. No dice. According to some of the tales, Tiresias even tried "his" luck as a "lady of the night," and became quite famous in that line of work (big difference from the old job of following sheep around all day!). Somewhere in "his" questionable career adventures, Tiresias managed to get married, get pregnant and have kids, including a son, Manto, who went on to become a seer later in his life.

For seven whole years Tiresias spent "his" days as a woman, until one afternoon "he" was traipsing about town when "he" once again (what a co-wink-ee-dink!) ran into two snakes doing what snakes do to produce young. All of the rage of the last seven years bubbled up, Tiresias briefly flew off of the deep end and "he" stomped the perhaps-innocent snakes into tenderized snake paste. Presto, and instantly, the spell was broken; Tiresias was joyfully a dude once more!

Oh, but just wait, as Tiresias' adventures in weirdness weren't over quite yet! Going back to his old, familiar job as a shepherd, Tiresias once again found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was called upon by none other than the mistress of all of his original pain and suffering, Hera, to settle a bet that she had made with her husband Zeus. At this point, Tiresias really was hoping that the gods would just leave him alone and allow him to live the simple life he was craving, but THAT wasn't going to happen!

Hera and Zeus were arguing over something that people have been arguing about since probably the beginning of the human race; the question of who enjoyed physical love more, the male or female? Sheesh. Talk about the last thing you'd want to be asked to decide between a husband and wife who already have a dysfunctional marriage and who both have wicked tempers if wronged. But since Tiresias had the unique experience of having been both a man AND a woman, he was the best choice for the tie-breaker.

Hera said that it was the man who received all of the fun and Zeus swore up and down that it was the woman; Tiresias, being dead honest, had to agree with Zeus - after having BEEN a woman, he would know! Hera, acting as her regular, uncontrollable and spiteful self, struck Tiresias blind for siding with Zeus. The Queen strikes again! Zeus, feeling a little bit badly for the now-blind shepherd's condition (all because of the little wager that he and Hera had going), decided that while he couldn't undo what Hera had done, he had to do SOMETHING for the poor guy.

So, Zeus gave Tiresias the powers of a seer and prophet; using his "inner mind," he could now see the future and be able to tell others what he had seen. He took his visions in a whole ton of different ways; he could receive messages directly from the gods, he could hear the future through the songs of the birds (he could actually understand the language of birds!), or could see visions of animals and faces in specially prepared fires that let off thick smoke. He could talk to dead spirits and shades in the underworld and receive info that way, too. As an added bonus, Zeus gave Tiresias the lifespan of seven people (so roughly, he was good for several hundred years!)

Now able to talk to the dead and answer questions that no others could, Tiresias became quite the well-known celebrity, and a personal oracle for Apollo, the god of music and prophecy (Apollo, when he had something juicy to say, would speak through the old blind shepherd, sort of "possessing" him!). He served the kings of the nearby city-state of Thebes for the hundreds of years he lived, beginning with the most famous of them, King Cadmus. the actual founder of the city. Because of Tiresias, thousands of people traveled to Thebes to get a glimpse into their futures, bringing fame and fortune to the city, and due to the crazy, weird things that in turn happened to Thebes over his long life, Tiresias saw and got involved with quite a lot!

He warned King Pentheus about giving Dionysus such a hard time when the god was traveling through the area (which the guy didn't listen to and paid the price for...bloodily), he had a rocky personal relationship with hero-then-king Oedipus when he tried to convince Oedipus that he had unknowingly and accidentally murdered another man (Oedipus thought that Tiresias had done it!), and a mess of other situations where his prophecies helped (or screwed up) the reigns of the different Theban kings.

Tiresias wound up getting his time cut short off of his promised life-span when he drinks polluted water from the tainted spring of Tilphussa, and is then put out of his misery by an arrow shot from his long-time employer, Apollo. Now totally stone dead, the blind seer found himself in the blah and shadowy underworld, stranded in the Fields of Asphodel, wandering aimlessly around the vast, dreary meadow with millions of shades and ghost, but still a powerful seer, even in death! In fact, Tiresias plays a HUGE part in the adventures of the Greek king and hero Odysseus, when the lost hero actually sails his boat and crew INTO the underworld (through a secret, magical entrance shown to him by the witch, Circe) to seek the seer out; only Tiresias can give him the answer on how to return home, which included finding the lonely island that contained the sacred cattle of Helios, the god of the sun.

Tiresias tells Odysseus much about the future of his quest (especially stating that none of his men were to even THINK about eating the Cattle of Helios, or nasty things would happen to them all! And of course, later they do it anyways...), and introduces Odysseus to his now-dead shade of a mother, who tells the hero about his poor wife Penelope and how she is fighting off the gross, slobbish suitors who want to marry her in Odysseus' absence. Tiresias shows himself as a gaunt, scrawny, bearded and hooded character, surrounded by the mists of the Asphodel Fields...quite sinister and ghost-like to the terrified Greek sailors!

So, to close off the story of Tiresias, it has to be said that a person just never knows exactly what they have in store for themselves when they wake up each morning. The seer was definitely proof positive of that! The fact that the poor guy got started one morning to tend to his sheep, killed some snakes, became a woman, had a questionable career as one, killed more snakes and became a man again, got stuck in a wager between two tricky gods, got blinded for saying the wrong thing and then wound up as a powerful seer who lived several hundred years and who could even do his thing as a dead soul? Pretty danged impressive!!!

[1]

Sources

[1] "Mrpsmythopedia"




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