Tiresias of The Odyssey: Mythology, Overview

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  • 0:04 Tiresias
  • 0:23 The Myths
  • 2:48 The Death of Tiresias
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson we'll learn who Tiresias was in Greek mythology. Together, we'll take a closer look at his myths and his legacy. We'll also examine Tiresias' role in 'The Odyssey.'


Tiresias was a mythological Greek figure who was famous for his prophecies and for transforming into a woman for seven years. Tiresias was a blind prophet in Thebes, a city in central Greece. He existed through seven generations in Thebes and was a prophet of Apollo.

The Myths

There are many allusions to Tiresias in mythology. Several myths revolve around his sex change. The myths hold that Tiresias came upon a pair of mating snakes. He hit both snakes with his stick, angering Zeus' wife Hera. Hera, therefore, transformed him into a female. Tiresias married and had children and seven years later came upon another set of mating snakes. This time, Tiresias left them alone and was transformed back into a male.

Several myths revolving around Tiresias were included in the Bibliotheca. The Bibliotheca was an ancient Greek compilation of myths and legends that was arranged into three books. Two sets of myths in the Bibliotheca revolve around the cause of Tiresias' blindness. The most prevalent explanation was that he was blinded by the goddess Athena when he saw her bathing naked. His mother, Charclo, was a nymph, or a lower female deity, of Athena. Charclo begged Athena to give Tiresias his vision back. Instead of restoring his vision, Athena gave Tiresias the ability to understand birdsong.

The other myth states that Tiresias was called up by Zeus and Hera when they were arguing about who was most pleasured during sex - a man or a woman. Zeus and Hera believed that because Tiresias had been both a male and a female that he would have the answer. Tiresias agreed with Zeus, that women got much more pleasure during sex. This angered Hera, who in return blinded him, but Zeus felt bad and gave Tiresias the gifts of a long life and prophecy. This theory explains Tiresias' lifespan of seven generations.

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