Academic journal article Helios

Tiresias/Teresa: A "Man-Made-Woman" in Ovid's Metamorphoses 3.318-38

Academic journal article Helios

Tiresias/Teresa: A "Man-Made-Woman" in Ovid's Metamorphoses 3.318-38

Article excerpt

Quite simply, the women don't know what they are saying; that's the whole difference between them and me.

--Lacan, Seminaire XX

The first thing that strikes the careless observer is that women are unlike men. They are "the opposite sex" (though why "opposite" I do not know; what is the "neighbouring sex"?). But the fundamental thing is that women are more like men than anything else in the world.

--Dorothy Sayers, The Human-Not-Quite-Human(1)

Tiresias is rare among the characters of the Metamorphoses. He is one of few figures in Ovid's poem of transformation whose metamorphosis is impermanent. (2) He is a man made woman made man again, and it is on the premise of this transsexual experience that he is introduced to Ovid's narrative. (3) Having lived as both man and woman--his temporary sex change being the result of once striking two copulating snakes with his staff--Tiresias is assumed to have direct knowledge of the different voluptas (sexual pleasure) experienced by men and women. He is considered to be doctus (learned) about men, women, and sex, and also to possess a privileged "authority of experience" when it comes to questions of sex and gender. Thus, when the gods disagree over whether men or women experience greater sexual pleasure--Jupiter says women do, Juno disagrees--Tiresias is called in as arbiter:

   forte Iovem memorant diffusum nectare cures
   seposuisse graves vacuaque agitasse remissos
   cum Iunone iocos et 'maior vestra profecto est         320
   quam, quae contingit maribus' dixisse 'voluptas.'
   illa negat, placuit quae sit sententia docti
   quaerere Tiresiae; venus huic erat utraque nora.
   nam duo magnorum viridi coeuntia silva
   corpora serpentum baculi violaverat ictu               325
   deque viro factus, mirabile, femina septem
   egerat autumnos; octavo rursus eosdem
   vidit et 'est vestrae si tanta potentia plagae,'
   dixit 'ut auctoris sortem in contraria mutet.
   nunc quoque vos feriam.' percussis anguibus isdem      330
   forma prior rediit genetivaque venit imago.
   arbiter hic igitur sumptus de lite iocosa
   dicta Iovis firmat; gravius Satumia iusto
   nec pro materia fertur doluisse suique
   iudicis aeterna damnavit lumina nocte.                 335
   at pater omnipotens (neque enim licet inrita
   cuiquam facta dei fecisse deo) pro lumine adempto
   scire futura dedit poenamque levauit honore. (4)

   It happened that Jove, they say, mellowed with nectar
   put aside his heavy cares to goad leisured Juno
   with gentle jokes. "Your voluptas is definitely
   greater than that which men experience," he said.
   She denied it. It pleased them to ask the opinion
   of learned Tiresias: he knew both sides of Venus.
   For once he had disturbed two huge snakes,
   mating in the green forest, with a blow from his staff,
   and from man (amazingly) he was made a woman,
   spending seven years so; in the eighth s/he saw the same snakes
   again and said, "If in striking you there is such power
   to change the sex of that striker to the opposite,
   now I will strike you again." Striking the snakes,
   his/her former shape was restored, and s/he took on the shape with
   which s/he'd been born. So he, appointed as judge in this playful
   dispute, confirmed Jove's words: Saturnia was aggrieved, they say,
   unreasonably and more seriously than the subject deserved,
   and she condemned the eyes of her judge to eternal night.
   But the omnipotent father (for it is not permitted that any god
   can undo what another god has done) for his loss of sight
   gave Tiresias power to know the future, lightening the punishment
   with this honor.

While these things are said to have happened on Olympus, on earth it happened, so they say, that Lacan, not necessarily mellowed with wine but under the influence of the traditions of the symposiums and without (absolute) seriousness, goaded Irigaray with (gentle) jokes. …

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