Teiresias’ early adventures took place on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. Stumbling across two copulating snakes, he thrashed them with his stick, which made Hera so livid that she changed him into a woman. After seven years of promiscuity, Teiresias found two more snakes, similarly entwined, and thrashed them too, at which Zeus changed him back into a man. Later, when he was arguing with Hera about whether men or women derive greater pleasure from sex, Zeus suggested they ask Teiresias. His reply – a woman’s pleasure is nine times that of a man’s – so angered Hera that she struck him blind. As compensation, Zeus let him live for seven generations, and gave him the power of prophecy.

Teiresias Photo Gallery

Others attributed Teiresias’ blindness either to divine vengeance because he had revealed more than was permitted, or to Athene’s anger because – before he could foretell the future – he accidentally saw her bathing naked. Remorsefully, the goddess allowed her serpent-son Erichthonius to lick his eyelids, and so bestowed the gift of prophecy. Still others said that Aphrodite turned Teiresias into an old woman because he failed to award her first prize in a beauty contest.

Teiresias first appears in the Odyssey, when Odysseus consults his ghost in Hades, but he is most closely associated with the mythology of Thebes. In historical times Teiresias’ ‘Observatory’, where he deduced the future by listening to the twittering of birds, was shown on the Cadmeian Hill, while outside nearby Haliartus was the spring where he died as he drank its waters. In Greek tragedy Teiresias regularly warns misguided heroes of the errors of their ways, be they Pentheus in Bacchae, Oedipus in Oedipus the King or Creon in Antigone.

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