Oedipus Rex Teiresias
by Sophocles

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Teiresias

Extended Character Analysis

Teiresias, also spelled "Tiresias" in some translations, is a blind prophet of Apollo, called to Thebes by Oedipus in the hopes that he will reveal who murdered King Laius. Teiresias refuses to reveal the murderer’s identity. This frustrates Oedipus, who then accuses Teiresias of treason and mock his blindness. In response, Teiresias tells Oedipus that Oedipus will regret pursuing this knowledge. He also predicts Oedipus’s blinding and exile.

Teiresias introduces the motif of sight and blindness that runs throughout the play. Though physically blind, Teiresias is able to see reality more clearly because of his prophetic powers. When Oedipus mocks Teiresias’s blindness, Teiresias accuses Oedipus of being blind to the truth. The implication is that physical sight is separate from insight into the world and into oneself. Though Teiresias is blind and Oedipus “hast eyes,” Teiresias is clear-sighted about reality while Oedipus is ignorant. This distinction foreshadows Oedipus’s decision to blind himself after learning the truth about his parentage. Oedipus sacrifices his physical sight in atonement for his ignorance. 

Teiresias also offers insight into the play’s conflict between fate and free will. He is a prophet, privy to visions of the future and thus Teiresias believes that fate is set in stone, telling Oedipus that “it will come what will.” Teiresias initially refuses to tell Oedipus because he understands that revealing his knowledge will make little difference. Teiresias knows that discovering the identity of the murderer will only bring pain to Oedipus. He attempts to spare Oedipus, only revealing the name of the murderer after Oedipus has angered him. However, Oedipus does not believe Teiresias and accuses him of being an accomplice to Creon.

If Teiresias’s dictum that “it will come what will” is to be believed, then Laius, Jocasta, and Oedipus are doomed from the start. Fate decrees that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother, both of which come true. Ultimately, for all that he can see the future, even Teiresias cannot change fate. This calls into question the purpose of knowledge and prophecy when the outcome is out of mortal hands.