Tiresias Disrobes


photo and text by Mark Blickley






“A prayer for the wild at heart kept in cages.”

                  — Tennessee Williams




         One day in ancient Greece, Tiresias was walking down a path when he was interrupted by two snakes copulating on the road, blocking his way.  Tiresias got so angry that he took his staff and killed one of the snakes.  It turned out to be the female serpent.  What Tiresias didn’t know was that these snakes were guarding Hera’s sacred tree with golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides.  Hera’s rage, upon learning of the death of her beloved female guardian snake, was to turn Tiresias into a woman. 


         For ten years Tiresias lived as a woman.  And not just as any woman, but the town whore.  One day the female Tiresias was walking down a path and once again came upon two snakes copulating.  She killed one and this time it turned out the slain serpent was male, so Hera changed him back to a male.  These gender transformations made Tiresias the only man in the history of the world to have been both a man and a woman. 


         Years later, Zeus and Hera were having a terrible fight on Mount Olympus about who enjoys sex more, the man or the woman.  Hera had caught her insatiable husband once again cheating on her.  Zeus roared females enjoy sex more than men.  Hera called him a liar and claimed females accommodate the male out of duty, not pleasure. 


         Zeus called her a liar. Hera screamed back that her husband was a Trickster and a vicious rapist.  Their battle over which gender derives the greatest satisfaction from carnal knowledge went on for days.  A frustrated Hera finally decided to summon Tiresias to Mount Olympus to settle their heated dispute.  Tiresias’ unique experience of indulging in sexual intercourse as both a man and a woman could supply the definitive answer. 


         Poor Tiresias was summoned to the foot of their thrones where Hera ordered him to respond to the question of whom achieves more satisfaction from sexual intercourse—the man or the woman. 


         Tiresias drew a breath, fearful of the consequences for any opinion he would admit.  But he decided to tell the truth and answered, “It is nine parts female, one part male.” 


         An enraged Hera did not allow Tiresias to explain which nine parts favored women and what single part favored men because she immediately blinded him for exposing her feminine truth to Zeus, thus losing their argument. 


         One god cannot undue the spell of another god, not even the King of the Gods, Zeus.  Yet taking pity on Tiresias, Zeus decided to give the poor man the gift of inner version, the prophetic insights of a seer, to compensate for his wife physically blinding Tiresias due to his honesty. 


         This is how Tiresias became the blind seer who foretold Oedipus that he would kill his father and copulate with his mother.









Mark Blickley grew up within walking distance of the Bronx Zoo.  He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center.  His latest book is the text-based art collaboration with fine arts photographer Amy Bassin, Dream Streams. 



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