Greek MythologyMythology

LGBTQI+ Themes in Mythology: Tiresias the Seer

The idea of changing genders isn’t new. It’s probably been around as long as humans have been, and it has a prominent place in world mythology. Gods and Goddesses of course can naturally transform into whatever they want, but it’s a bit rarer for mortals. Tiresias did it though. Twice.

In most stories, he wasn’t born a seer. In fact had a lifetime of experiences before he was blessed by Zeus with prophecy.

Tiresias striking the snakes

As a youth, he comes across two snakes mating and, for some reason, decides to hit them. This angers Hera, to whom snakes are sacred. She responds by turning him into a woman. I’m not sure why that’s supposed to be a punishment, but just go with it.

Tiresias becomes a priestess of Hera for seven years in penance and, in that time, has a daughter who also ends up being a seer.

Sometime later she happens across two snakes again. Stories vary a bit here. In one she hits them again. In another she leaves them alone. Either way, the same thing happens. She turns back into a man.

His story doesn’t end there though. His experience as both a woman and a man was viewed as an attribute, something that gave him a sort of mystic wisdom that even gods sought.

Juno en Jupiter gaan te rade bij Tiresias Ovidius' Metamorfosen (serietitel), RP-P-1882-A-6389

One of the stories explaining how he went blind is that Hera didn’t like an answer he gave. During an argument between Zeus and Hera about whether men or women enjoy sex more, they both agree to ask Tiresias because of his experience.

He says that women enjoy it more and Hera blinds him. Zeus, happy to win the argument, gives him the gift of prophecy and he goes on to aid the city of Thebes for generations.

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