Tiresias, a blind prophet who can see the future, appears in both Oedipus the King and Antigone. Different versions of his character also appear throughout Greek mythology and other ancient plays. Although the individual circumstances in Oedipus the King and Antigone differ, Tiresias’s primary function remains the same in both: he offers painful visions of the future that challenge his listeners’ hubris. He reluctantly reveals to Oedipus that he himself is Laius’s murderer in Oedipus the King, and he proclaims to Creon that his punishment of both Polynices and Antigone will bring suffering to the city of Thebes as well as his own family in Antigone. Both of these visions, which ultimately come true, elicit harsh words as Oedipus and Creon reject Tiresias’s legitimacy. Despite the aggression and resistance he faces, Tiresias stands firm in his assertions, suggesting his complete commitment to truth no matter what the cost to himself or others may be. His unwavering character allows him to serve as a personification of fate, or the notion that events are predetermined and beyond an individual’s control.
Other symbolic aspects of Tiresias’s character include his blindness and his connection to birds. His lack of literal vision is ironic given his ability to clearly see truth, but it works to illuminate the metaphorical blindness of those who hear of his visions. Oedipus and Creon only believe in what they can see, and this refusal to recognize the power of divine influence in their own lives leads to their respective downfalls. Tiresias’s blindness also foreshadows the effects that Oedipus’s self-inflicted blindness will inevitably have in Oedipus at Colonus, allowing him to humbly grow in his faith. While receiving divine visions represent one method of overcoming his blindness, another significant aspect of Tiresias’s metaphorical sight lies in his connection to birds. He interprets the behavior of birds with the help of his page, an act which emphasizes his relationship with not only the spiritual realm but with the natural world as well. These two sources of information ultimately enable Tiresias to connect with and understand aspects of life that exist outside of man’s limited sphere of control.