The Myth

tiresias snakes

In Greek mythology, Tiresias was a blind prophet of Apollo in Thebes, the son of Everes, a shepherd, and the nymph Chariclo. Arguably the greatest seer of his time, Tiresias acted as a mediator between gods and humans, men and women, past and future, and life and death. There are two well-known myths about this unique character:

Transformation from Man to Woman

While on Mount Cyllene in the Peloponnese, Tiresias came upon two copulating snakes, and struck them with his stick. The goddess Hera was displeased by this action, and cursed Tiresias by transforming him into a woman. Tiresias subsequently became a priestess of Hera; she married and bore children. Some sources say she became a prostitute of great renown. For seven years, Tiresias lived as a woman until she again came across two snakes copulating — this time she did not strike them, but instead let them be. This act undid the curse, and Tiresias was transformed back into a man.

The Blindness of Tiresias

There are two different stories told of the cause of Tiresias’ blindness. One story recounts how Tiresias stumbled upon the goddess Athena while bathing. So enraged was she to be seen naked by a mortal, she struck Tiresias blind. His mother, Chariclo, a nymph of Athena, begged the goddess to undo the curse; she could not, so instead gave Tiresias the gift of understanding birdsong. In a second story, Zeus and Hera were arguing over who received more pleasure from sex: the man, as Hera claimed; or the woman, as Zeus believed. Tiresias was brought before them to settle the matter, as he had experienced sex as both a man and woman. When Tiresias claimed women enjoyed sex more, Hera struck him blind in her anger. Zeus, who could not undo Hera’s curse, compensated Tiresias by bestowing upon him the gift of prophecy.