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Tiresius

or
“I’VE LOOKED AT LIFE FROM
BOTH SIDES NOW”

by
Pamela Jaye Smith

DATELINE: GREECE, +/-1300 B.C.

It was a pleasant but hot afternoon and Tiresius was strolling home down a wooded path in Greece, minding his own business. Stretched across the pathway were two snakes copulating. “Interesting,” he thought to himself as he stepped over their writhing bodies.

Tiresius suddenly felt rather odd. A few steps and his body began to weird out on him. A few more steps and he looked down in astonishment — his formerly masculine body was now feminine, complete with all the accouterments, and missing those of the masculine gender. “What tha–?” his own voice startled him with it’s higher, softer timbre.

Running his now softer, finer hands over his softer, finer form, Tiresius was faced with the inevitable conclusion that he had suddenly transmogrified (morphed) into a female. And he didn’t even have to go to Sweden! What a predicament. How was he going to explain this to his wife!? How had this happened? Suspicious, he looked back for the intertwining snakes — but they were gone.

Stories vary as to whether Tiresius figured out a way to stay with her/his family in her/his new form or simply disappeared and made a new life as a woman. Whatever, she/he lived as a woman for seven years.

Then one day she/he was walking through the same forest along the same path and lo and behold she/he came across two snakes copulating. “Aha!” he/she said, and scurried to step across the snakes, just to see if perhaps that was the magic that had caused the gender transformation.

Voila! Sure enough, after a few steps, the change occurred in reverse and Miss Tiresius was once again Mister Tiresius.

If you follow the story of him having been gone for seven years, it must have been a tumultuous reunion with his family. If the version that she’d blended into the system, how was he doing to deal with this new change? Any way you dealt with it, this was going to be difficult.

We’re not told what happened to the husbands, wives, and children who went through the sex-changes with him, but if they’d had therapy in those days, no doubt these people would’ve been in it.

Anyway, time passed and Tiresius was a good guest at dinner parties where “Viva la Difference” was being discussed. In higher realms, however, it was being discussed with a vengeance.

Hera, Queen of the Gods, was adamantly insisting to her eternally philandering husband Zeus that all those immortal, half-immortal, and mortal women he was boffing right and left as himself, a bull, a swan, a shower of gold, etc. were not pleased by his intentions. She contended that women did not enjoy sex at all and the King of the Gods was forcing his attentions on females who’d be happier and better off without them.

“Nonsense”, countered Zeus, who counted an incredibly large number of females among his conquests. “Women enjoy sex. I please them. In fact, women enjoy sex more than men do, so just get over it.”

The argument escalated until all of Mount Olympus had taken sides in the debate over whether or not women enjoyed sex more than men and whether Zeus was accused of either sexual harassment or consensual sex. (Sound familiar?)

How to settle the argument?

Someone mentioned this mortal fellow Tiresius who through a weird twist of nature-magic had spent seven years as a woman. Surely he, who had been both, would have first hand experience on whether men or women enjoyed sex more. Tiresius got an invitation to Mount Olympus.

Now as anyone who has received a summons to a Congressional Hearing knows, this is not exactly good news. But how can you decline? So Tiresius trudged up to Mount Olympus, curious about and at the same time dreading the reason and the results of his call.

Tiresius stood before the gods. The question was posed. The mortal man knew he was in a heck of a fix. On one side was Hera, the obsessively jealous and insanely vindictive Queen of the Gods and those who sided with her. On the other side was the omnipotent King of the Gods Zeus and all who sided with him. What was a mortal to do?

Tiresius decided to tell the truth.

“Well….” he hemmed and hawwed. “Actually….”

“Yes…?” the gods all breathed in anticipation.

“Women. Women enjoy sex more than men. Lots more. In many more different ways. For longer periods of time. So much more in fact that lots of societies go out of their way to be sure they can’t enjoy it. Terrifies them, you see. Did you know that in the country of — ”

“Enough!!!” shrieked Hera, dismayed and furious at his answer. “You’re obviously blind to the truth, therefore blind you shall be.” And with a wave of her godly hand, struck the mortal blind.

As furor broke out among the inhabitants of Mount Olympus, now-blind Tiresius tumbled down from the heights, blinded as a result of having told the truth as he had seen it.

Some time later he was bumbling around in the bushes trying to make his way home and he heard a crack of thunder. Alert, he “looked’ around, sensing a presence. It was Zeus. Tiresius, as you might imagine, had had quite enough of the Olympians and turned his back on where he thought Zeus might be.

“Listen, Tiresius,” Zeus sighed. “I appreciate what you did and all, but you know the rules. I can’t take back what another god does, but I can give you a blessing to counteract the curse.”

Tiresius listened up.

“You were brave enough to tell the truth, and that’s a rare thing among mortals, as well as immortals. Hera took your sight. A shame, that is. In recompense, I gift you with another kind of sight. Prophecy.”

Oh, great…. Tiresius was smart enough to graciously thank Zeus for the gift and let him be on his way. As everyone knows, being a prophet is not exactly a cool gig. People tend either not to believe you or to loathe and detest you for telling the truth.

Basically though, it served Tiresius fairly well; he became the famed prophet of Thebes and participated in some of the famous events centered around that city. One of his bad days was when he was forced to reveal Oedipus’s fate to him. Just as had been prophesied before the young king was born, Oedipus had indeed killed his own father, married his own mother and had four children with her. (An early version of the “Chinatown” subplot “My mother, my sister, my mother, my sister”.)

Tiresius died in a siege of Thebes at a very old age. Still blind. Still a man.

*****

DATELINE – HERE & NOW

People who’ve been on the inside of a closed system can bring great insights of beauty and understanding to the rest of us. They can also reveal corruption, injustice, or simple inadequacies.

19th century English explorer and author Sir Richard Francis Burton spent his life shifting identities. He spoke over forty languages, disguised himself as an Arab and infiltrated the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, searched for the source of the Nile, and translated “The 100l Arabian Nights” into English. There are implications that Burton crossed and re-crossed the lines of sexual inclination as well. After his death his wife burned his journals, finding them way too erotic. Postmortem censorship, what a shame. See the film “Mountains of the Moon” and find Burton’s many books in the library.

T. E. Lawrence, sometimes of Arabia, was an English intelligence officer in WWI who joined Faisal al Husein’s Arab forces against the Turks. His ability to blend European military tactics and desert warfare brought victory, but he was unsuccessful in gaining independence for the Arabs at the Paris Peace Conference which partitioned out the peninsula to oil-hungry Europe and “created” the countries of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, etc. Perhaps his exotic appearance in flowing desert garb put off the dark-suited conservative Europeans; he was demoted and drifted into relative obscurity. See the movies “Lawrence of Arabia” and by the BBC, “A Dangerous Man”, as well as his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Former CIA agent Philip Agee first exposed the Central Intelligence Agency in Inside the Company and was condemned by those who felt he had placed them and their system in danger. The list of moles, double- and triple-agents in secret services is legion, with varying results.

Retired Army Colonel turned author and reporter David Hackworth brought attention to the Army’s foibles in “About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warriors”and calls for more reform in his latest book, “Hazardous Duty”. Not everyone agrees with Hackworth’s assessments or suggestions for improvement. He was the reporter questioning Navy Admiral Mike Boorda’s medals. Boorda committed suicide over the affair and in a weird twist of shifting identities, it was recently revealed that Hackworth himself has been wearing some medals to which he was not entitled. His response was casual, not suicidal.

Corruption scandals are currently rattling a small Kentucky town. A young councilwoman married into a prominent family shocked the system by corroborating accusations that city fathers were engaging in graft, extortion and prostitution. Her evidence was first hand… she was a prostitute at the local whorehouse before she went legit and changed her life. What a courageous stand, to risk her current situation in order to bring out the truth.

Scandals in the Church and the Military, paedophile and sex-ring charges across the world, and the whistle-blowers in industry and government all partake some of this Tiresius syndrome.

We’re all familiar with the kiss-and-tell books and exposes of celebrities and would-be celebs. These views from the inside out can often be rather tawdry and pointless. However, lots of daring people have found that shifting identities, going behind the lines, and speaking the truth about it can be fraught with peril if, like Hera to Tiresius, the powers-that-be don’t like what they hear.

For some, though the price for telling the Truth may be harsh there are often great rewards. One of the immeasurable rewards is internal and has to do with integrity. The beauty of that is that like Zeus’s gift of prophecy, it’s always with you and none can take it way.

VOICE TO REMEMBER:

“Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make ye Free.” John 8:32 New Testament, The Bible

This quote is inscribed above the entrance to the Library of the University of Texas at Austin and also over the entrance to Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters at Langley, Virginia.