Ans. In Greek mythology, there are many versions of the story of Teiresias. One version has it that Teiresias had seen two serpents in the act of coupling. When both attacked him, he struck at them with his staff, killing the female. He was immediately turned into a woman, and a celebrated harlot: But seven years later he happened to see the same sight at the same èpot. He killed the male serpent, and regained his manhood. Another version says Zeus and Hera had a dispute on the question who derives more pleasure from sexual act, male or female. Zeus said the female did, while Hera demanded that the male did. Teiresias was summoned to settle the dispute from his personal experience, and he supported Zeus. Hera was so exasperated that he blinded Teiresias, but Zeus compensated him with inward sight, and a life extended to seven generations.
Teiresias figures as a blind prophet in King Oedipus. Oedipus sends for the blind prophet Teiresias, to ascertain the truth about the polluter of Thebes who has brought the plague and untold sufferings of the people. Teiresias comes to the court of Oedipus, led by a boy, and canying a golden staff, which is the symbol of his power of prophecy. Oedipus greets him with great respect, and requests him to speak the truth and thereby to resêue the city from the curse. Teiresias knows the truth, and since the truth is too horrible for the king to know, he remains discreetly silent about the fact at first. Oedipus misinterprets this silence on his part, and suspects that he is in a heinous conspiracy with Creon against him (Oedipus), their object being to overthrow him. He is exasperated, and gives vent to his feelings, though he does not spell out his accusation of conspiracy:
Insolent scoundrel, you would rouse
A stone to fury! Will you never speak?
You are determined to be obstinate to the end?
Teiresias still keeps his, temper in control, and gives him an answer which, though cryptic and oblique, should be clear enough for an intelligent king like Oedipus. He says:
Do not blame me; put your own house in order.
Teiresias asserts, “I tell no more.” Now Oedipus loses control of his temper and openly accuses him of plotting against him (Oedipus):
I tell you I do believe you had a hand
In plotting, and all but doing this vely act.
This provokes Teiresias, and he is now rather compelled to speak out a bit more specifically about Oedipus’s position. He says:
from this day forth
Never to speak to me or any here.
You are the cursed polluter of this land.
When Oedipus, still more in rage, demands that Teiresias should
be more clear, he says: –
I say that the killer you are seeking is yourself.
Teiresias is no god, but he knows the secrets of human destiny. In the beginning of his encounter with Oedipus he purposely remains ambiguous, and tries to veil the truth in dark hints and riddles. This bespeaks of his essential humanity. He feels very hesitant to tell Oedipus that he is the murderer of his own father, and is now guilty of incest with his mother. It would be too much for him, and so he has recourse to riddles and hints. He does not clearly and specifically tell that Oedipus himself is the sinner till he is provoked to the extreme limit. Even when Oedipus is in a fit of frenzy Teiresias has a sort of sympathy for him.
Teiresias appears to be courageous, and remains firm even when Oedipus threatens him with the punishment of death. He speaks out firmly that the truth will be his defence.
Teiresjas contributes greatly to the dramatic irony which is present throughout the play. He knows the full import of what he says, as does the audience, though Oedipus does not understand for the moment the impact of Teiresias ‘s prediction. Teiresias comes out quite alive in the role that he plays in the drama.