How the heck did it get to be Thursday already? Where did my week go? I’d like it back, please? In fact, I’d like June back. Maybe May as well. The whole year–no, the last 20 years, while you’re at it!
Today’s myth has been chosen for virtue of being short. And I don’t have to look anything up.
When he was a young man, Tiresias was not different from the other young men of Thebes in any way. This was not a good thing, but it was not a bad thing, either. He was not remarkable, and if he had stayed that way, no one would remember him.
One day, while he was still a very young man, barely at the age where his beard was beginning to grow in, he was wandering in the woods outside Thebes, and came across two snakes copulating. Frightened by the unusual sight–men are instinctively frightened of snakes, you know, and two of them are even more frightening than one by itself–he struck at them with a stick, and the female snake was killed.
Tiresias felt a sharp pain on the back of his neck, and fell to the ground unconscious. When he awoke, it was to the sound of a man inquiring about a woman’s health, which he didn’t see as at all relevant to him. Opening his eyes and looking about, he saw that he was just where he had been, and that the dead snake lay nearby. He also saw that there was a man kneeling beside him, peering down at him and looking worried. It was this man’s voice he was hearing.
“Are you all right, young lady?” the man asked.
“Who are you talking to?” Tiresias asked, looking around. He didn’t see any women anywhere.
“You, of course,” the man answered, sounding confused.
Tiresias looked down at himself, and was horrified to see that he had been transformed into a young woman. How disappointed his father would be! Ashamed and confused by his current predicament, he explained to the man what had happened, and the man comforted him, telling him that it was clearly the punishment of the gods for having interfered with the snakes, and there was nothing to do but accept it.
Soon enough, the man was helping Tiresias up, and escorting him–her–back to Thebes, offering the newly made young woman a place to stay in the city, since the father of a young man would be unlikely to welcome his son back home now that he had become a daughter. And by nightfall the man was also offering to make the surprisingly lovely Tiresias into his wife.
With no other options, and since the man was actually rather handsome, Tiresias accepted the offer.
Many years later, after Tiresias had become a mother, she came across two more snakes copulating. Having by this point become tired of the way her society oppressed its women, Tiresias struck the snakes again, this time killing the male snake. Again, her body was struck from behind with a sharp pain, and she lost consciousness.
When Tiresias woke again, a quick self-survey assured him that he was once again male.
His husband was not pleased to learn that his wife had returned to his original male body, but what could he do about it? The children were very confused, to say the least, but were at least able to tell their friends that their mother had suddenly died.
Some years later, Zeus and Hera were having an argument, as was their wont. This time, they were arguing about who was more fortunate in the act of love. Zeus insisted that women were luckier in love, and that was why men were allowed to have all the affairs they wanted. Hera insisted that men should not be allowed to have their affairs precisely because they already had all the breaks, and didn’t need any more luck. No other god was willing to take sides in their argument, fearing the wrath of the one they sided against, so they decided to ask a mortal, because only mortals are stupid enough to earn the wrath of a god. They turned to Tiresias, since he had experienced the act of love as both a man and a woman.
So the king and the queen of the gods appeared before Tiresias–who was by now a middle-aged man with a wife and several children by her–and explained their argument to him. He nodded sagely, as if he was inherently wise, and then smiled at them. “Both of your arguments have merit,” he admitted, “but of course you are the more correct, Lord Zeus,” he claimed. “A woman’s pleasure is much greater than a man’s, and she can feel it more times than a man can, too. So it’s only fair that we can have mistresses and–”
He didn’t get to finish his statement before Hera struck him blind. “If you were ever truly a woman, then you were blinded with lechery!” she shouted. “Most women feel no pleasure in the act at all! Most women are forced into the marriage beds of total strangers by their families, given husbands they don’t want, old men who terrify them! If you had been a true woman you would have known that! May you be cursed for all eternity by the hatred of all women everywhere!” With that, she stormed back up to Olympos.
Tiresias asked Zeus to return his sight, but Zeus didn’t dare to restore that which his wife had taken away.
“Instead, I’ll give you a different type of sight. From this day forward, you will be the most powerful of seers, capable of seeing the destinies of all men, and never wrong,” Zeus told him, setting his hand on Tiresias’ forehead to grant him that gift.
As soon as Tiresias received that terrible gift, he wished he hadn’t, but he could hardly return it, so he thanked Zeus humbly, lest his ingratitude lead to some even worse punishment.
He went home, vowing to himself that he would never again abuse any snakes, and remembered to teach his children to leave snakes alone, for their own safety…
Okay, that ending was a bit abrupt. But as to why Tiresias wished he hadn’t received the gift of prophecy, well, who knows how much of the Theban cycle he’d have learned about right away as soon as he got it, y’know? He might have seen the whole thing in one massive info-dump, and that would have been horrible. Or it might have been more gradual, who knows.
Some versions have him also receive long life, but I didn’t really see a need for that.