Tiresias in Oedipus Rex

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Tiresias has been a staple in classical literature, a go-to oracle for the ages: his guest appearances range from advising Odysseus in Homer's The Odyssey to walking the eighth circle of hell in Dante's Divine Comedy. In Oedipus Rex, however, Tiresias takes on a brief but starring role, portraying the significant themes of sight and truth in a single meeting with the troubled Oedipus. Motivated by the search for Laius' murderer, Oedipus seeks Tiresias' divine aid. At first, Oedipus trusts that Tiresias "canst not see the city, but knowest no less what pestilence visits it" (11), and addresses him with respect, recognizing his ability to communicate with those in heaven and on the earth. Tiresias, reluctant to reveal what he has seen, advises Oedipus that he would rather bear the load of the fulfilled prophecy than "display [Oedipus'] sorrow" (12). Branded a traitor for withholding his knowledge from Oedipus, Tiresias exclaims that Oedipus sees nothing, even in his own home, yet blames him for being blind to the plight of the city. Having had enough of Oedipus' shortsightedness, Tiresias reveals the truth, simple and clean: Oedipus himself is "the abominable contaminator" (13) of the land. And Oedipus does not accept this. In Plato's The Republic, the allegory of the cave presents truth as the sun, so pure and powerful that it blinds us. We cannot even look upon it directly for the physical and emotional pain it causes. Accordingly, the truth that Oedipus himself has brought the plague upon the city is laid so plainly for him that he cannot recognize it as the truth, not seeing the shame in which he lives with those nearest him. "If the truth has any force at all" (14), says Tiresias, then he has nothing to fear in repeating to Oedipus that he is the very man he searches for. Infuriated, Oedipus accuses Tiresias of conspiring with Creon to take the throne, and mocks Tiresias as born blind in both sight and Sight. He, Oedipus, didn't need the help of the gods to...
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