Tiresias in Antigone
Tiresias, the blind prophet appears both in The Oedipus Rex and The Antigone. In The Oedipus Rex, he was summoned by the Ring to reveal the truth about the pestilence in Thebes. Tiresias knew the whole truth, and yet he refused to answer. Endowed with divine vision, he was, after all, human, and did not, in the fitness of things like to speak the truth, which would be staggering blow to the king. But as he was wrongly charged with sedition and conspiracy, he flared up and cried out:
“Thou art the man.”
In The Oedipus Rex, Tiresias had a confrontation with Oedipus, and ruthlessly and unsparingly rallied him. He was equally ruthless and unsparing in his treatment of Creon, who by edict had questioned the majesty of the divine laws. Antigone was led away to be buried alive. It was then that Tiresias appeared. Unfalteringly he said to Creon:
“The blight upon us is Your doing.
Mark this, my son all men fall into sin.
By sinning, he is not for ever lost
Hopeless and helpless, who can make amends
And has not set his face against repentance.
Only a fool is governed by self-will.
Pay to the dead his due. Wound not the fallen.
It is no glory to kill and kill again.
My words are for your good, as is my will,
And should be acceptable, being for your good.”
Creon was impervious to the wise counsel of Tiresias. In the stubbornness of his pride and egoism, he uttered sacrilegious words. History repeats itself. Oedipus reached in the same way to Tiresias.
Tiresias, when wrongly charged, gave Creon a bit of his mind. He was not a seeker of any earthly favours, and, therefore, he said:
“All Kings, say I, seek gain unrighteously,
Tiresias was the conscience of the King.”
It is the gods who spoke through him. Had Creon listened to Tiresias, perhaps the tragedy could be averted. While speaking to Oedipus, Tiresias was rather tongue tied. But he spoke his mind to Creon without any reservations. Without having recourse to soft pedaling, he said that the gods had refused sacrifice only because of Creon’s sin. Tiresias was the mouthpiece of the gods. Actuated by the best of intentions, Tiresias counselled him. Creon’s refusal to accept the counsel heightened the irony of the play. A sin must be inevitably followed by Nemesis, which became articulate in Tiresias’ voice:
“Then hear this. Ere the chariot of the
Sun Has rounded once or twice his wheeling way,
You shall have given a son of your own loins
To death, in payment for death-two debts to pay:
One for the life that you have sent to death,
The life you have abominably entombed:
One for the dead still lying above ground
Unburied, unhonoured, unblest by the gods below.
You cannot alter this. The gods themselves
Cannot undo it. It follows of necessity
From what you have done.”
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