There are two main sources/variations for this story/myth. Generally,
Tiresias is either blinded by Hera for siding with Zeus on the question of
who enjoys the physical aspects of love more, men or women; or version
two he is blinded by Athena for watching Athena bathe in the Hippocrene
fountain--the font of poetic inspiration and sacred to the nine muses by
the way--and his mother ( an attendant to the goddess) intercedes on his
behalf, and because mother is a favorite of Athena, and to prove She does
not go around blinding children at a whim, the goddess grants the young
Tiresias the gift of prophecy. The first story is related by Ovid; the second
is related by the poet Callimachus in his 5th hymn, and I go on at length here because I want to
both champion Callimachus as a wonderful poet and
possible source for Eliot/Waste Land and to show his details for the blinding
of Tiresias (and to say, if we take Call's account to be authoritative, "no,
Tiresias is not blinded by light," instead:
...Tiresias alone whose cheeks
were just darkening with down still roamed
with his hounds the sacred spot. With unspeakable thirst
he came to the flowing spring, poor wretch,
and unwittingly saw the things unlawful to see.
Though angered, still Athena said to him,
"What god, O son of Everes, led you to take
this harsh road so that never again will you
take back your eyes?" She spoke and night took away
the eyes of the boy. He stood speechless, for pain
stiffened his knees and distress checked his voice.
I love the image of night taking away Tiresias' sight, but whether this may be
a whim of the translator, I couldn't say for sure. The better point is in neither
story/myth nor in any reference to Tiresias in Ovid, Homer, Sophocles,
or Callimachus do I see light being specified as the "implement" by which
T's sight is removed. I believe Pindar may also have a direct reference to
one of the versions of the story/myth but I can't track it down. I'm not as
familiar with him as I am with the other writers above. Only Call. and
Ovid have direct accounts of the blinding among those four mentioned above.
Again, translations may vary enough to prove me wrong here, but in those
I have--I'll spare you and others any more length in this post and skip which
ones--there's no light mentioned. Others may want to check out the potential
similarities between Callimachus and E. as poets. Only six full poems of C.
still survive and many fragments, but he wrote much more than that.
He was a profound scholar of poetry, among other things, and he was
considered the "exemplar of sophistication" by Roman poets. He preferred
and generally wrote shorter, distinct or sequenced works, rather than the
more highly regarded epic, and according to the Oxford Classical Dictionary
(source for most of this background) he "commands an extraordinary variety
of tone...[and] scholarship is integral to the poetry, which even quotes its
own sources." The scholarship, sources, and deeper issues of history, biography
etc. are beyond me, but I can say I've read the hymns and some fragments, and
he is highly allusive, ironic, and complex. If anyone knows for sure whether E.
was familiar with him, there is a potential paper in it I'd say!
My source for the lines above is again Callimachus, Hymn Five--often
called "On the Bath of Pallas" or "The Blinding of Tiresias"--
translated by Barbara Hughes Fowler in _Hellenistic Poetry: An Anthology_
U of Wisconsin Press: 1990
Peter Montgomery wrote:
> The exploring the waste Land site is down.
> Lines39/40 I was neither living nor dying obviously reflect the
> the sybil and the state of the fisher king.
> The wound comes from light. Tiresias is blinded.
> Yes? No?
> Dr. Peter C. Montgomery
> Dept. of English
> Camosun College
> 3100 Foul Bay Rd.
> Victoria, BC CANADA V8P 5J2
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