Tiresias in Oedipus Rex

Instructor: Rachel Noorda
Tiresias is a character in 'Oedipus Rex', a blind prophet who prophesies that King Oedipus is Laius's killer and that one day King Oedipus will be dressed in rags, blind, and wandering in exile.

Overview of Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Rex is an ancient Greek play written by Sophocles. The play tells the tragic story of King Oedipus, the king of Thebes, who seeks the advice of an oracle, someone who knows the future. Meanwhile, a plague threatens Thebes. The oracle tells King Oedipus that the plague will only go away if King Oedipus finds the killer of the previous king, King Laius, and brings the killer to justice. King Oedipus decides to save his city by seeking out Laius's killer.

The blind prophet, Tiresias, accuses Oedipus of being King Laius's murderer. King Oedipus is outraged by this accusation. As he begins his interrogation of others to understand what happened to King Laius, he slowly uncovers the truth. The truth is that Oedipus killed King Laius years ago in a fight at a crossroads, but he did not know that it was King Laius. Later on, Oedipus saved Thebes and married King Laius's widow, Jocasta. Once King Oedipus discovers the truth, he leaves Thebes, self-blinded and alone.

Who Is Tiresias?

Tiresias was the son of a shepherd and a nymph. He became blind when he accidentally saw the goddess Athena bathing, and she took his sight away for this. When Athena blinded Tiresias, she also gave him foresight, the ability to see into the future. He is often portrayed as the oracle of Apollo, a man who could see the future and the will of the gods. It is in this role, as a prophet and an oracle who possesses the gift of foresight, that Tiresias appears in Oedipus Rex.

Tiresias was a blind prophet.

Tiresias's Role in Oedipus Rex

Tiresias drives the plot of Oedipus Rex by providing prophesies that spur King Oedipus to action. Tiresias could see the future. He provides glimpses of this future to King Oedipus. Two particular prophesies from Tiresias are especially important to the story. First is Tiresias's prophesy that Oedipus was Laius's killer. This prophesy made King Oedipus even more determined to find Laius's killer and prove his own innocence. The second prophesy by Tiresias was that King Oedipus would leave Thebes in rags, blind, and exiled. This is a foreshadowing of the tragic end of the play in which Tiresias's prophesy comes to pass.

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