I have always loved Greek Mythology, which is probably why I enjoy writing retellings. A little while back, I asked my subscribers which goddess deserved the next happily-ever-after in a survey sent out. Their response was overwhelmingly in support of Athena, and my first thought was… what have I done? I am generally up for a challenge, after all, Book 2 of my Goddesses In Love series gives Medusa a HEA, but giving one to the virgin goddess of war? Who would I find that would be a good match for her? Then Tiresias came along and I knew right away they would be perfect together.
My story uses myth as a starting point, but Tiresias’ story in Athena’s Challenge is nothing like how he was written in myth. If you haven’t heard about him, stay tuned, because I would like to share the few stories I came across as I did my research. His roots run deep, and his ties to Athena just couldn’t be denied.
Origins of Tiresias
Long before Tiresias (Teiresias) was a blind prophet, he was a child born to Athena’s dear friend Chariclo (Khariklo) and her Theban lover, Everes. In one version of the myth, Tiresias’ father was said to be a descendant of Udaeus who was one of the Spartoi “sown men” and one of the five men who assisted Cadmus in the construction of Thebes. If you have some time to go down the Spartoi rabbit hole, I would highly recommend it, there is a link under resources to get you started. His father was also described as a shepherd, a prince, or even the son of Hercules. For the purposes of my post today, I am going to stick with the connection to Thebes due to Tiresias’ connection to the city in his prophet days.
Tiresias is said to have lived over several generations, and the versions of his story are as varied as any you will find for any of the gods and goddesses which we will get to below. He wasn’t born blind, and there are a few versions of how his sight was taken when he was older. It seems that his gift for prophecy wasn’t something he was born with either and that it actually coincided with the loss of his sight. It seems a longer lifespan was gifted at that time as well.
He was a well-known prophet and gave advice to Kings and gods alike. The advice wasn’t always understood or heeded as it often came in riddle form or was cryptic and hard to grasp. He experienced life as both a man and a woman, which allowed him to look at each situation from both perspectives, something that found its way into my story, Athena’s Challenge. Even after his death, he retained his gift of prophecy and aided Odysseus in his escape from the Underworld.
Tiresias in Myth
One of the stories to explain his blindness takes place when he is a young man and comes upon Athena bathing with his mother, Chariclo. It is said that seeing Athena naked was punishable by death, so in one story his mother pleads with her friend, who agrees to blind him, instead of killing him. In another story, Athena blinds him as a quick reaction in order to preserve her virgin status and modesty. Chariclo argues that the punishment is too harsh, and pleads with her to restore it. Athena doesn’t give him his sight back, she does grant him the gift of prophecy and long life. There are some references to her giving him the ability to understand birds as well.
There is also a story of him in adulthood settling an argument between Hera and Zeus, which I will describe in more detail below. Ultimately, Hera didn’t like his answer and struck him blind, and Zeus sided with him and granted him the gift of prophecy and longevity. There are references to Tiresias being blinded by the gods due to the fact that he disclosed their secrets to humankind, an idea which seems tie in with this myth.
Most of the stories agree that his prophetic powers came around the same time that he went blind, however, there are some differing stories on that front as well. The story involving Athena is one of them, but the other involves Hera who was also known to be somewhat of a hothead. One day, while on a walk, Tiresias came upon two snakes mating, and for whatever reason decided to hit them with a stick (injuring or in some cases killing them). This upset Hera, who presumably, changed him into a woman for a period of seven years. During this time as a priestess, Tiresias had children (one a well-known Prophetess, Manto), although I did find references to Tiresias working as a prostitute during this time as well. What most stories agree on, is that after seven years, the snakes were seen and ignored (or killed) on a walk, the curse was reversed and his masculinity was restored.
There is another story with Hera in which he is called to settle an argument between her and her husband, Zeus. After Tiresias had lived as both a man and woman, he was asked which sex received the most enjoyment during the act of making love. He responded that women enjoyed the act more, which upset Hera to the point where she blinded him on the spot. Zeus was happy with the response, so to soothe his wife’s curse, he gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy and long life.
There are references to Tiresias having children and, in some cases, being married while living as a woman. However, I haven’t been able to locate a name for the father. The Prophetess Manto, like her father, served Apollo at Delphi, and her sister Historis was in the service of Alcmene when Hercules was born. It was clear that after his death Tiresias retained his gift of prophecy, which may have been granted to him by Persephone once he reached the Underworld. The alternative would have been to drink from the river of forgetfulness, so he avoided that fate through some means, which was very lucky for Odysseus who Tiresias helped along his journey.
No matter how Tiresias came to his sexuality, it is a refreshing thought in my mind that they were able to see both sides of each argument. I believe what they symbolize is unbiased assistance in any situation which a human, or god, could possibly find themselves. In that way, they are most like a god, able to give support and hope to all beings, in all situations, in life, and in death.
Their understanding of all human experiences makes them the best person to go to when you have questions or need guidance. That the gods granted them an eternity of keeping their memories and mind, shows that they appreciated their wisdom as well.
For more about this fascinating character, you can check out the resources below.
Resources to check out:
For more of my posts on Mythical Creatures, Goddesses & Witchcraft, head here: https://dahenneman.com/welcome/about/mythicalcreaturemonday-posts/
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