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TSE  February 2003

TSE February 2003

Subject:

Re: Fisher King

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Tue, 11 Feb 2003 10:07:55 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (87 lines)

"Rickard A. Parker" wrote:
>
> In one version of the Tiresias myth he is blinded when he sees Pallas Athena
> the goddess of wisdom.  I'm tossing up the thought of an analogy for
> consideration.
>

Sometimes when trying to focus the use of a mythological allusion or
reference it is useful to have all the details in front of one at once.
(See below.) Notice that the two versions of his blindness both focus on
prophecy (second sight) as _compensation_. Both also feature that
peculiar "groundrule" of olympian religion that the deities cannot undo
their own acts or those of another deity.

I don't remember now whether Canto I existed in its final form early
enough for Eliot to have known it while working on the Wasteland. But if
it did, then the following lines _might_ be part of the context of
Eliot's usage:

And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
"A second time? why? man of ill star,
"Facing the sunken dead and this joyless region?
"Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody beaver
"For soothsay."
        And I stepped back,
And he strong with the blood, said then: "Odysseus
"Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
"Lose all companions." And then Anticlea came.
Lie quiet Divus. I mean . . . .

(I remember Professor Copley of the Michigan classics department
commening that in this canto Pound Out-Homered Homer.)

The dead (as in the case of Divus) are _forced_ to speak, but in Homer
and in this Canto Tiresias does not even wait to be asked but volunteers
his prophecy. In Sophocles he also speaks under duress rather than
voluntarily. (That would be understandable, seeing that, in one version,
he loses his sight for being uppity in giving judgment.) It seems
dangerous to see.

I don't know how much of this is relevant to Eliot. But one can't assume
that any one feature of an original text is relevant to any later use of
that text or story. The relevance must be determined from the text in
which it occurs.

But the use of Tiresias in a sexually charged context points to
transexuality rather than homosexuality.

Carrol

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/t/tiresias.html
Tiresias
by James Hunter

Tiresias was the son of Everes and the nymph Chariclo; he was a blind
prophet, the most famous soothsayer of
ancient Greece.

The most famous account of the origin of his blindness and his prophetic
talent is as follows. When Tiresias was walking in the woods one day, he
came upon two great serpents copulating; he struck them with his staff,
and was thereupon transformed into a woman. Seven years later, she/he
passed by the same place and came upon the same two serpents copulating;
she/he struck them again with the staff and was turned back into a man.
Some time later, Zeus and Hera were arguing over who had more pleasure
in sex, the man or the woman: Zeus said it was the woman, while Hera
claimed men got more pleasure from the act. To settle the argument, they
consulted Tiresias, since he had experienced life as both sexes, and
Tiresias sided with Zeus. In her anger, Hera struck Tiresias blind.
Since Zeus could not undo the act of another deity, he gave Tiresias the
gift of prophecy in compensation.

Another account says that Tiresias accidentally saw Athena naked, and
she covered his eyes with her hands, thus rendering him blind. When
Tiresias' mother Chariclo asked Athena to restore her son's sight, the
goddess could not undo her own action but gave him the gift of prophecy
as compensation.

There are many tales about individual prophecies of Tiresias: he
predicted the manner of Narcissus' death; he tried to warn Oedipus of
the rashness of that king's inquiries about his parents; he predicted
that the sacrifice of Menoeceus, son of Creon, would permit the forces
of Eteocles to repulse the army of the Seven Against Thebes. Tiresias
eventually died from drinking from the spring Tilphussa, but even after
death his shade was able to offer valuable prophecy to the hero
Odysseus.

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