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[7] Now there was among the Thebans a soothsayer, Tiresias, son of Everes and a nymph Chariclo, of the family of Udaeus, the Spartan,1 and he had lost the sight of his eyes. Different stories are told about his blindness and his power of soothsaying. For some say that he was blinded by the gods because he revealed their secrets to men. But Pherecydes says that he was blinded by Athena2; for Chariclo was dear to Athena ... and Tiresias saw the goddess stark naked, and she covered his eyes with her hands, and so rendered him sightless. And when Chariclo asked her to restore his sight, she could not do so, but by cleansing his ears she caused him to understand every note of birds; and she gave him a staff of cornel-wood,3 wherewith he walked like those who see. But Hesiod says that he beheld snakes copulating on Cyllene, and that having wounded them he was turned from a man into a woman, but that on observing the same snakes copulating again, he became a man.4 Hence, when Hera and Zeus disputed whether the pleasures of love are felt more by women or by men, they referred to him for a decision. He said that if the pleasures of love be reckoned at ten, men enjoy one and women nine. Wherefore Hera blinded him, but Zeus bestowed on him the art of soothsaying.“ The saying of Tiresias to Zeus and Hera.
Of ten parts a man enjoys one only;
But a woman enjoys the full ten parts in her heart.
5 ” He also lived to a great age.

So when the Thebans sought counsel of him, he said that they should be victorious if Menoeceus, son of Creon, would offer himself freely as a sacrifice to Ares. On hearing that, Menoeceus, son of Creon, slew himself before the gates.6 But a battle having taken place, the Cadmeans were chased in a crowd as far as the walls, and Capaneus, seizing a ladder, was climbing up it to the walls, when Zeus smote him with a thunderbolt.7


1 That is, one of the Sparti, the men who sprang from the dragon's teeth sown by Cadmus. See above Apollod. 3.4.1.

2 The blinding of Tiresias by Athena is described by Callimachus in his hymn, The Baths of Pallas. He tells how the nymph Chariclo, mother of Tiresias, was the favourite attendant of Athena, who carried her with her wherever she went, often mounting the nymph in her own car. One summer day, when the heat and stillness of noon reigned in the mountains, the goddess and the nymph had stripped and were enjoying a cool plunge in the fair-flowing spring of Hippocrene on Mount Helicon. But the youthful Tiresias, roaming the hills with his dogs, came to slake his thirst at the bubbling spring and saw what it was not lawful to see. The goddess cried out in anger, and at once the eyes of the intruder were quenched in darkness. His mother, the nymph, reproached the goddess with blinding her son, but Athena explained that she had not done so, but that the laws of the gods inflicted the penalty of blindness on anyone who beheld an immortal without his or her consent. To console the youth for the loss of his sight the goddess promised to bestow on him the gifts of prophecy and divination, long life, and after death the retention of his mental powers undimmed in the world below. See Callimachus, Baths of Pallas 57-133. In this account Callimachus probably followed Pherecydes, who, as we learn from the present passage of Apollodorus, assigned the same cause for the blindness of Tiresias. It is said that Erymanthus, son of Apollo, was blinded because he saw Aphrodite bathing. See Ptolemy Hephaest., Nov. Hist. i. in Westermann's Mythographi Graeci, p. 183.

3 According to the MSS., it was a blue staff. See Critical Note. As to the cornel-tree in ancient myth and fable, see C. Boetticher, Der Baumkultus der Hellenen (Berlin, 1856), pp. 130ff.

4 This curious story of the double change of sex experienced by Tiresias, with the cause of it, is told also by Phlegon, Mirabilia 4; Tzetzes, Scholiast on Lycophron 683; Eustathius on Hom. Od. 10.492, p. 1665; Scholiast on Hom. Od. x.494; Ant. Lib. 17; Ov. Met. 3.316ff.; Hyginus, Fab. 75; Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Theb. ii.95; Fulgentius, Mytholog. ii.8; Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini, ed. Bode, i. pp. 5, 104, 169 (First Vatican Mythographer 16; Second Vatican Mythographer 84; Third Vatican Mythographer iv.8). Phlegon says that the story was told by Hesiod, Dicaearchus, Clitarchus, and Callimachus. He agrees with Apollodorus, Hyginus, Lactantius Placidus, and the Second Vatican Mythographer in laying the scene of the incident on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia; whereas Eustathius and Tzetzes lay it on Mount Cithaeron in Boeotia, which is more appropriate for a Theban seer. According to Eustathius and Tzetzes, it was by killing the female snake that Tiresias became a woman, and it was by afterwards killing the male snake that he was changed back into a man. According to Ovid, the seer remained a woman for seven years, and recovered his male sex in the eighth; the First Vatican Mythographer says that he recovered it after eight years; the Third Vatican Mythographer affirms that he recovered it in the seventh year. All the writers I have cited, except Antoninus Liberalis, record the verdict of Tiresias on the question submitted to him by Zeus and Hera, though they are not all agreed as to the precise mathematical proportion expressed in it. Further, they all, except Antoninus Liberalis, agree that the blindness of Tiresias was a punishment inflicted on him by Hera (Juno) because his answer to the question was displeasing to her. According to Phlegon, Hyginus, Lactantius Placidus, and the Second Vatican Mythographer the life of Tiresias was prolonged by Zeus (Jupiter) so as to last seven ordinary lives. The notion that it is unlucky to see snakes coupling appears to be widespread. In Southern India “the sight of two snakes coiled round each other in sexual congress is considered to portend some great evil” (E. Thurston, Ethnographic Notes in Southern India, Madras, 1906, p. 293). The Chins of Northeastern India think that “one of the worst omens that it is possible to see is two snakes copulating, and a man who sees this is not supposed to return to his house or to speak to anyone until the next sun has risen” (B. S. Carey and H. N. Tuck, The Chin Hills, vol. i. Rangoon, 1896, p. 199). “It is considered extremely unlucky for a Chin to come upon two snakes copulating, and to avoid ill-fortune he must remain outside the village that night, without eating cooked food; the next morning he may proceed to his house, but, on arrival there, must kill a fowl and, if within his means, hold a feast. If a man omits these precautions and is found out, he is liable to pay compensation of a big mythun, a pig, one blanket, and one bead, whatever his means, to the first man he brings ill-luck to by talking to him. Before the British occupation, if the man, for any reason, could not pay the compensation, the other might make a slave of him, by claiming a pig whenever one of his daughters married” (W. R. Head, Haka Chin Customs, Rangoon, 1917, p. 44). In the Himalayas certain religious ceremonies are prescribed when a person has seen snakes coupling (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1884, pt. i. p. 101; the nature of the ceremonies is not described). In Timorlaut, one of the East Indian Islands, it is deemed an omen of great misfortune if a man dreams that he sees snakes coupling (J. G. F. Riedel, De sluik- en kroesharige rassen tusschen Selebes en Papua, The Hague, 1886, p. 285). Similarly in Southern India there prevails “a superstitious belief that, if a person sees two crows engaged in sexual congress, he will die unless one of his relations sheds tears. To avert this catastrophe, false news as to the death are sent by the post or telegraph, and subsequently corrected by a letter or telegram announcing that the individual is alive” (E. Thurston, op. cit. p. 278). A similar belief as to the dire effect of seeing crows coupling, and a similar mode of averting the calamity, are reported in the Central Provinces of IndiaM. R. Pedlow, “Superstitions among Hindoos in the Central Provinces,” The Indian Antiquary, xxix. Bombay, 1900, p. 88).

5 These lines are also quoted by Tzetzes (Scholiast on Lycophron 683) from a poem Melampodia; they are cited also by the Scholiast on Hom. Od. 10.494.

6 As to the voluntary sacrifice of Menoeceus, see Eur. Ph. 911ff.; Paus. 9.25.1; Cicero, Tusc. Disp. i.48.116; Hyginus, Fab. 68; Statius, Theb. 10.589ff.

7 As to the death of Capaneus, compare Aesch. Seven 423ff.; Eur. Ph. 1172ff.; Eur. Supp. 496ff.; Diod. 4.65.8; Hyginus, Fab. 71; Statius, Theb. x.827ff.

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