Currently, I’m reading Dante’s The Divine Comedy. I’m about two-thirds way through the first book, Inferno. Many people only read the first book. I wonder about that. The second book, Purgatorio, and the third book, Paradiso, seem much more inviting. I wonder if the first book is the most popular because it is the first book, and that would naturally be the way to start, or if people just have a fascination with all the tortures that Dante creates in his Hell.
That is an aside. What I really wish to talk about is Tiresias. I mentioned Dante’s The Divine Comedy because Tiresias makes an appearance in Hell in Canto 20, where all the diviners and soothsayers are tortured. So who is Tiresias?
I think there are many references to him in ancient Greek and Roman literature. However, I’ll just stick to Ovid’s story in his Metamorphoses.
Tiresias saw two snakes mating and decided to hit them. The snakes were magical snakes, and as a punishment, they transformed Tiresias from a man to a woman. She lived as a woman for seven years. At last, she saw the same two snakes, and thought that if she hit them again, they may decide to make her a man (seems logical enough). And lo, it happened just as she, now he, planned.
Coincidentally enough, it was at this time that Hera and Jupiter were having an argument over sex. Hera was certain that Jupiter had the most fun, while Jupiter insisted the Hera derived the greater pleasure. They decided that Tiresias, having been both sexes, was the only authority on the subject. They asked him to decide the argument.
Tiresias was in a pickle to be sure. He was sure to infuriate one of them. After much thinking, he said the Hera did, indeed, derive the most satisfaction from sex.
She was angry and blinded Tiresias as punishment. Jupiter was thankful, so as recompense, he gave Tiresias the ability to see the future. Thus was born your first soothsayer.