Sex Prophet: The Origin of Teiresias’ Power

Phlegon of Tralles writes about the rape and sex change of Kaineus and records a series of intersex stories from the ancient world. He also includes an account of Teiresias’ sex changes.

Phlegon of Tralles, On Marvels 4

“Hesiod—along with Dikaiarkhos, Klearkhos, Kallimakhos and some others—relates these things about Teiresias. When Teiresias the son of Euêros in Arcadia was a young man he saw snakes copulating, he wounded one and immediately changed his form. He changed into a woman from a man and then had sex with a man.

But after Apollo prophesied to him that, if he saw snakes copulating again and wounded one in the same way, he would be as he was before, Teiresias took care to do the things which were prophesied by the god and thus regained his older form.

When Zeus was fighting with Hera and saying that in sex a wife surpassed her husband in the pleasures of intercourse—even while Hera was claiming the opposite—it seemed right to them to send for Teiresias because he had tried out both ways. When they questioned him, he responded that if there were ten portions, a man took pleasure in one and a woman took pleasure in ten.

In her rage over this, Hera took out his eyes and made him blind. But Zeus gave him the gift of prophecy and to live for seven generations.”

῾Ιστορεῖ δὲ ῾Ησίοδος καὶ Δικαίαρχος καὶ Κλέαρχος καὶ Καλλίμαχος καὶ ἄλλοι τινὲς περὶ Τειρεσίου τάδε. Τειρεσίαν τὸν Εὐήρους ἐν ᾿Αρκαδίᾳ [ἄνδρα ὄντα] ἐν τῷ ὄρει τῷ ἐν Κυλλήνῃ ὄφεις ἰδόντα ὀχεύοντας τρῶσαι τὸν ἕτερον καὶ παραχρῆμα μεταβαλεῖν τὴν ἰδέαν· γενέσθαι γὰρ ἐξ ἀνδρὸς γυναῖκα καὶ μιχθῆναι ἀνδρί.

 τοῦ δὲ ᾿Απόλλωνος αὐτῷ χρήσαντος ὡς, ἐὰν τηρήσας ὀχεύοντας ὁμοίως τρώσῃ τὸν ἕνα, ἔσται οἷος ἦν, παραφυλάξαντα τὸν Τειρεσίαν ποιῆσαι τὰ ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ῥηθέντα καὶ οὕτως κομίσασθαι τὴν ἀρχαίαν φύσιν.

 Διὸς δὲ ἐρίσαντος ῞Ηρᾳ καὶ φαμένου ἐν ταῖς συνουσίαις πλεονεκτεῖν τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τῇ τῶν ἀφροδισίων ἡδονῇ, καὶ τῆς ῞Ηρας φασκούσης τὰ ἐναντία, δόξαι αὐτοῖς μεταπεμψαμένοις ἔρεσθαι τὸν Τειρεσίαν διὰ τὸ τῶν τρόπων ἀμφοτέρων πεπειρᾶσθαι. τὸν δὲ ἐρωτώμενον ἀποφήνασθαι, διότι μοιρῶν οὐσῶν δέκα τὸν ἄνδρα τέρπεσθαι τὴν μίαν, τὴν δὲ γυναῖκα τὰς ἐννέα.

 τὴν δὲ ῞Ηραν ὀργισθεῖσαν κατανύξαι αὐτοῦ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ ποιῆσαι τυφλόν, τὸν δὲ Δία δωρήσασθαι αὐτῷ τὴν μαντικὴν καὶ βιοῦν ἐπὶ γενεὰς ἐπτά.

The tale occurs most famously in book 3 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (339-510).  But, as this fragment indicates, we have fragments of a Hesiodic version as well. Apollodorus also reports the version favored by Pherecydes and Callimachus–that Teiresias was blinded after seeing Athena naked.

What is a little different about this version is the presence of Apollo and the claim that Zeus lengthened Teiresias’ life as part of his ‘reward’. This second part helps to explain Tiresias’ presence from the birth of Dionysus to the fall of Thebes with the Epigonoi.

Teiresias abusing snakes, Johann Ulrich Kraus, 1690


Magic Men: Poets, Healers, Prophets and Mages, Another Wondrous Wednesday

Apollonios the Paradoxographer is credited with a text of 51 anecdotes usually dated to the 3rd or 2nd century BCE.

Apollonios Paradoxographus,  Historiae Mirabiles 3

1 Epimenides of Crete is said to have been sent by his father and uncles to the field to bring sheep to the city. Once night came upom him he varied his custom and slept for 57 years as many others have written and Theopompos records this in his histories about amazing things in regions.

After this it happened that Epimenides’ family believed he was dead in the intervening years. When he woke from sleep he went in search of the sheep he had been sent for. When he did not find it he went to the field. He was imagining that he had woken on the same day on which he went to sleep. When he came upon a ruined field and a a decaying shelter, he went to the city. After he arrived at he home he recognized everyone there among those who were there in the time when he disappeared.

The Cretans claim—as Theopompos says—that he lived 150 years and then died. There are not a few other impossible stories told about the same man.”

᾿Επιμενίδης ὁ Κρὴς λέγεται ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τῶν ἀδελφῶν τοῦ πατρὸς ἀποσταλεὶς εἰς ἀγρὸν πρόβατον ἀγαγεῖν εἰς τὴν πόλιν· καταλαβούσης αὐτὸν νυκτὸς παραλλάξαι τῆς τρίβου καὶ κατακοιμηθῆναι ἔτη ἑπτὰ καὶ πεντήκοντα, καθάπερ ἄλλοι τε πολλοὶ εἰρήκασιν, ἔτι <δὲ> καὶ Θεόπομπος ἐν ταῖς ἱστορίαις ἐπιτρέχων τὰ κατὰ τόπους θαυμάσια.

ἔπειτα συμβῆναι ἐν τῷ μεταξὺ χρόνῳ τοὺς μὲν οἰκείους τοῦ ᾿Επιμενίδου ἀποθανεῖν, αὐτὸν δὲ ἐγερθέντα ἐκ τοῦ ὕπνου ζητεῖν ἐφ’ ὃ ἀπεστάλη πρόβατον, μὴ εὑρόντα δὲ πορεύεσθαι εἰς τὸν ἀγρόν—ὑπελάμβανεν δὲ ἐγηγέρθαι τῇ αὐτῇ ἡμέρᾳ, ᾗπερ ἔδοξεν κεκοιμῆσθαι—καὶ καταλαβόντα τὸν ἀγρὸν πεπραμένον καὶ τὴν σκευὴν ἠλλαγμένην ἀπαίρειν εἰς τὴν πόλιν. καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν ἐκεῖθεν πάντα ἔγνω, ἐν οἷς καὶ τὰ περὶ τοῦ χρόνου, καθ’ ὃν ἀφανὴς ἐγένετο.

λέγουσι δὲ οἱ Κρῆτες, ὥς φησιν ὁ Θεόπομπος, ἔτη βιώσαντα αὐτὸν ἑκατὸν πεντήκοντα <καὶ ἑπτὰ> ἀποθανεῖν.  λέγεται δὲ περὶ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τούτου καὶ ἄλλα οὐκ ὀλίγα παράδοξα.

Epimenides is famous for his sleeping trick in the ancient world–but he was also known for composing a Cretan Theogony.

2 “It is said that Aristeas the Prokonnesian died on some early morning in Prokennesos and on that same day and hour was seen by many in Sicily teaching reading. From there, because this sort of thing occurred with him and he appeared over many years and the phenomenon grew more frequent, the Sicilians built a temple to him an sacrificed to him as a god.”

2᾿Αριστέαν δὲ ἱστορεῖται τὸν Προκοννήσιον ἔν τινι γναφείῳ τῆς Προκοννήσου τελευτήσαντα ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ὥρᾳ ἐν Σικελίᾳ ὑπὸ πολλῶν θεωρηθῆναι γράμματα διδάσκοντα. ὅθεν, πολλάκις αὐτῷ τοῦ τοιούτου συμβαίνοντος καὶ περιφανοῦς γιγνομένου διὰ πολλῶν ἐτῶν καὶ πυκνότερον ἐν τῇ Σικελίᾳ φανταζομένου, οἱ Σικελοὶ ἱερόν τε καθιδρύσαντο αὐτῷ καὶ ἔθυσαν ὡς ἥρωϊ.

Aristeas is also believed to have been an epic poet who traveled great distances.

I have posted Apollonios’ similar tales about Hermotimos (Wonder 3) and Pythagoras (Wonder 7) before.

4 “Abaris was from the Hyperboreans and he himself was a theologer. He also composed oracles as he traveled around the lands, and these survive even to our times. That guy also prophesied earthquakes and famines and similar things and events in the sky.

It is said that he appeared in Lakedaimon and told the Lakonians to make some preventive sacrifices to the gods. And from that time on there was no famine in Lakedaimon.”

4῎Αβαρις δὲ ἐξ ῾Υπερβορέων ἦν μὲν καὶ αὐτὸς τῶν θεολόγων, ἔγραφε δὲ καὶ χρησμοὺς τὰς χώρας περιερχόμενος, οἵ εἰσιν μέχρι τοῦ νῦν ὑπάρχοντες· προέλεγεν δὲ καὶ οὗτος σεισμοὺς καὶ λοιμοὺς καὶ τὰ παραπλήσια καὶ τὰ γιγνόμενακατ’ οὐρανόν. λέγεται δὲ τοῦτον εἰς Λακεδαίμονα παραγενόμενον εἰρηκέναι τοῖς Λάκωσι κωλυτήρια θῦσαι τοῖς θεοῖς, καὶ ἐκ τούτου ὕστερον ἐν Λακεδαίμονι λοιμὸς οὐκ ἐγένετο.

Abaris was also a poet and healer.

5 “Some tales like the following are presented concerning Pherecydes. Once on the island Suros when he was thirsty he  asked for water from one of his relatives. While he was drinking, he said that there would be an earthquake on the island on the third day. Because this happened, the man earned great fame.

When he was returning to Samos to see the temple of Hera and his ship was being taken into the harbor, he said to his fellow passengers that the ship would not make it into the harbor.  As he was still saying this, the darkness fell all around and finally the ship disappeared.”

5 Τὰ δὲ περὶ Φερεκύδην τοιαῦτά τινα ἱστορεῖται. ἐν Σύρῳ ποτὲ τῇ νήσῳ διψῶντα ὑδάτιον αἰτῆσαι παρά τινος τῶν γνωρίμων· τὸν δὲ πιόντα εἰπεῖν σεισμὸν ἐσόμενον ἐν τῇ νήσῳ μετὰ τρίτην ἡμέραν. τούτου δὲ συμβάντος μεγάλην δόξαν αὐτὸν ἀπενέγκασθαι.

πάλιν δὲ εἰς Σάμον πορευόμενον εἰς τὸ τῆς ῞Ηρας ἱερὸν ἰδεῖν πλοῖον εἰς τὸν λιμένα καταγόμενον, καὶ εἰπεῖν τοῖς συνεστῶσιν, ὡς οὐκ εἰσελεύσεται ἐντὸς τοῦ λιμένος· ἔτι δὲ λέγοντος αὐτοῦ καταρραγῆναι γνόφον καὶ τέλος ἀφανισθῆναι τὴν ναῦν.

Like Epimenides, Pherecydes was credited with composing a cosmogony.



Sacred Tree, Speak to Me

Appendix Proverbiana

“The oak’s pollution”: A riddle in Euripides’ Erekhtheus about the transgression of the Thebans against the oracle in Dodona. The proverb “Boiotian prophets” also comes from this.

Μίασμα δρυός: παρ’ Εὐριπίδῃ ἐν ᾿Ερεχθεῖ αἰνιττόμενον τὸ Θηβαίων παρανόμημα εἰς τὸ ἐν Δωδώνῃ μαντεῖον, ἀφ’ οὗ καὶ παροιμία Βοιωτοῖς μαντεύσαις.

Does anyone know what the Thebans did to Dodona? Herodotus talks about the oracle being founded by women abducted from Egyptian Thebes…

Suda, s.v. Δωδώνη

“Dodonê: A city in Pelasgian Thesprotia. An oak tree stood in it near which there was an oracle of women prophets. When people approached for prophecies, the oak tree moved, making sounds. Then the women intoned that “Zeus says these things”. A statue stood in a high place, holding up a staff. A cauldron stood near it too. The statue used to hit the cauldron and it would issue a melodious ring. But the voices of the demons are senseless.”

Δωδώνη: πόλις ἐν τῇ Θεσπρωτίδι Πελασγίᾳ. ἐν ᾗ ἵστατο δρῦς, ἐν ᾗ μαντεῖον ἦν γυναικῶν προφητίδων. καὶ εἰσιόντων τῶν μαντευομένων ἐκινεῖτο δῆθεν ἡ δρῦς ἠχοῦσα: αἱ δὲ ἐφθέγγοντο, ὅτι τάδε λέγει ὁ Ζεύς. καὶ ἀνδριὰς ἵστατο ἐν ὕψει ῥάβδον κατέχων, καὶ παρ’ αὐτὸν λέβης ἵστατο: καὶ ἔπαιεν ὁ ἀνδριὰς τὸν λέβητα, ἐξ οὗ ἦχός τις ἐναρμόνιος ἀπετελεῖτο. αἱ δὲ τῶν δαιμόνων φωναὶ ἄναρθροί εἰσιν.

The oracle is mentioned in the Iliad and the Odyssey 19.296-299:

“He was claiming that he went to Dodona so he might hear
The will of Zeus from the high-leafed divine tree
How he might making his homecoming to his dear paternal land
When he has been away for long already, either openly or secrely”

τὸν δ’ ἐς Δωδώνην φάτο βήμεναι, ὄφρα θεοῖο
ἐκ δρυὸς ὑψικόμοιο Διὸς βουλὴν ἐπακούσαι,
ὅππως νοστήσειε φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ἤδη δὴν ἀπεών, ἢ ἀμφαδὸν ἦε κρυφηδόν.

From Fritz Graf’s entry on Dodona in Brill’s New Pauly:

“Our literary sources only partly concur with this. Hom. Il. 16,233-235 is familiar with the Selli, barefooted and living on the ground, as guardians of the oracle, Od. 19,296-299 with the (talking) oak as the source of knowledge about Zeus’ will (similarly Hes. fr. 240,8; 319; Aesch. PV 832). The oak’s ability to speak is presupposed in the myth of the talking beam made of Dodonian oak which was part of the ship Argo (Apollod. 1,110). Soph. Trach. 171f. indicates two doves on the Sacred Oak as the source of the oracle; likewise, the myths of the sanctuary’s origins link the Sacred Oak with a (talking) dove (Proxenos FGrH 703 F 7; Philostr. Imag. 2,33; Schol. Il 16,234). Hdt. 2,54-57 on the other hand interprets the doves allegorically as priestesses, and in several later sources ‘dove’ (peleiás) is explained as a term for the priestesses of D.

If the early testimonies speak of oak and doves as the givers of signs, that tallies with the ancient view that D. gave oracles in signs and not in words (Str. 7 fr. 1 Chr.), but is not consistent with extant texts and other information on oracles in prose (Dem. Or. 21,53) or hexameters (Paus. 10,12,10). This suggests an originally very archaic and perhaps pre-Greek oracle (Zeus Pelasgikos: Hom. Il. 16,233; Pelasgians: Hdt. 2,54), that was cared for by a priesthood characterized by its particularly marginalized ritual and that expressed itself through natural signs (oak), later switched to priestesses (thus Str. 7,7,12) and provided answers in textual form, in keeping with Greek practice elsewhere.”


Image result for Sacred Oak at Dodona
There is an Oak in Dodona now. Probably not the original!