Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tiresias: Gender Outlaw in Greek Mythology

Ovid tells how Hera and Zeus once argued over whether men's or women's pleasure in lovemaking was greater. They called on the ancient seer Tiresias to settle their playful disagreement for he had experienced both.

Once as a youth he [Tiresias] had come upon two serpents making love; upon striking them with his staff he was immediately turned into a woman.
(Hera didn't like the disrespect.)

As a woman, Tiresias became a priestess of Hera, married a guy and had children!

7 or 8 years later Tiresias again came upon two serpents copulating, and this time she either stomped them or left them alone (the stories are unclear on this point...)

Anyway, what she did pleased Hera this time, and Tiresias was returned to his masculine form.

Tiresias told the divine pair that women had nine times as much pleasure as men, an answer that so infuriated Hera that she struck him blind. In recompense Zeus gave him the gift of foretelling the future and a long life as well. (Met. 3.322-50) Though the tales that emphasis Tiresias's prophetic insights in later years make no reference to these events of his youth, one could still play with the notion that some part of his wisdom derives from perspectives gained during the years he spent as a woman.
It's fascinating that this example of fluidity of gender comes to us from the mythic underpinnings of our culture. In the same tradition of native shamen, and two-spirit people possessing qualities both male and female, it's a great reminder of why alternate gender identity - the "T" in GLBTQ, is so much part of our community.

We are all different - and in the very things that make us different, lay our strengths.


The quotes above are found on pgs. 182-183 of the chapter "Same-Sex Love in the Age of Heroes" in "Myths and Mysteries of Same Sex Love" by Christine Downing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh! I totally forgot that one in my list. But I still think you might be interested. Check out the post I wrote on Transgender Myths to Know on my women in Greek myths blog: blog.paleothea.com.

I'm gonna scoot over and update it with Tiresias before I forget again!