There are at least three things it seems most folk know about Teiresias and might logically expect to find treated in any novel about him:
1. Hera and Zeus asked which gender enjoyed sex more.
2. Striking a snake could result in a change in gender.
3. Blindness was imposed as penalty.
Regarding the 1ˢᵗ item – in the argument between the Queen and King of Olympus, the central question grew to me to seem too adolescent (if not actually juvenile) for deities to ask. In what may be the most well-known version of the story (in Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus), Teiresias is purported to have replied, “Of ten parts a man enjoys one only.”
First of all, how could any author know? The audience must accept that answer for the sake of the story. In Ancient Greece, given the status of women, the point was not to empower or honor women. Besides, I would like to think, my Teiresias is more wise and clever than that. He might have more to say.
As to the 2ⁿᵈ – it seemed wise to interview women, both natural-born and trans, about how they experience a wide range of life and living. What was shared and resulting discoveries have been fascinating to me. Along with two books not previously mentioned in this blog, and in combination with years of listening to and observation of humans in their native environment, I think I’ve been able to craft a more comprehensive answer for Teiresias to provide for Jove and Juno.
Gender and the Interpretation of Classical Myth by Lillian E. Doherty
The Experiences of Tiresias: The Feminine and the Greek Man by Nicole Loraux
On the 3ʳᵈ – I’m not going to reveal the nature of the penalty of blindness before the release of A Song Heard in the Future.
After Bulfinch’s Mythology and Mythology by Edith Hamilton, there have been four stand out books while researching my novel about Teiresias.
- The Seer in Ancient Greece by Michael Attyah Flower
- Forms of Astonishment: Greek Myths of Metamorphosis by Richard Buxton
- Magic in the Ancient Greek World by Derek Collins
- Thebes in the Fifth Century: Heracles Resurgent by Nancy H. Demand
Perhaps more importantly, I have so far interviewed about a dozen good folk who have different experiences than my own regarding philosophy, religion, life and living.
For purposes of the story, I have been assuming Teiresias would have lived about 2750 to 3000 years ago. I decided that he was born two generations after Deucalion’s Deluge. Though it’s largely the same story, the date doesn’t quite match what James Ussher calculated as the time of Noah’s Flood – 4359 years ago.
Mythological stories still resonate with us for at least two reasons:
- They are reinterpreted by each generation according to the Zeitgeist and
- Regardless of how long it may have been since the Flood, the deity, and the survivors – the myths tell us that – in some important ways – no one’s life experience now is very different from that of the people who heard those tales first.
It probably won’t be long before there’s a trend analysis app that helps us anticipate aspects of the future. I predict it won’t be called Teiresias.
And so – as I approach this story – it matters to me to try to understand the characters and how they live. There is some evidence in scholarly text that Teiresias had an observatory.
“Fantastic!” I thought. “I love astronomy.”
But it’s not that kind of observatory. More reading showed that it was an oinoskopeion or a site for ornithomancy: divination by means the flight and songs of birds.
Some of the sources hinted that a map existed showing the tower. I’ll admit to becoming a bit distracted by this. I had to find the map. Sometimes items for sale on ebay can be valuable for research – whether they are purchased on not. One seller had offered a page from the atlas produced in 1660 by Joannis Laurenberg. A rough map of Ancient Thebes was featured and one of the dozen or so buildings included, all ringed by seven temples and seven gates, was the Tiresiæ Auguraculum. (With apologies to the seller, the Buy It Now price was/is $120. There was no chance I’d buy a copy.)
In the image below, the site of the Bird Observatory of Teiresias is shown near the center and toward the lower left. It would have been to the east of the Citadel of Thebes and the main market forum. The tower, if it existed, would likely have been taller than most of the Citadel. By comparing it with another (hypothetical) map* of Ancient Thebes, it might have stood on the northern lobe of the Ismenian Hill.
* a topographical map from William Smith‘s “A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography”