The Role of Tiresias in Sophocles’ Oedipus

Oedipus Rex is one of the most appealing ancient Greek plays conceived by Sophocles. The play reveals the miseries of Oedipus the king of Thebes. Troubled with the calamities affecting Thebes, the king decides to seek the services of an oracle. The oracle reveals to the king that the troubles affecting his land will only cease if Oedipus administers justice to his predecessor’s killer. It is at this point that Tiresias’ role in saving the nation is revealed. According to Reddy (162), Tiresias plays a significant role in driving the plot of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. This is particularly revealed by his ability to offer King Oedipus with the divine guidance needed to spur his actions. The current study analyzes the role of Tiresias in Sophocles’ Oedipus. A review of why Tiresias is included in the play based on his interactions with King Oedipus is also done.

The Role of Tiresias

Tiresias plays a significant role in reversing the fate of king Oedipus. According to Akhter, Muhammad, and Naila (9), Tiresias is seen as the first character in Oedipus Rex unravels the puzzle in the king’s court. He first takes the move of speaking to his parents about the calamities facing Thebes and proceeds to reveal the fact that it is the current king who killed Liaos. It is at this moment that king Oedipus is faced with the task of questioning his wits and those around him on whether the oracle’s sentiments bore the desired truth. Analytically, there is no doubt that the presence of Tiresias played a significant role in developing the plot. Without this key character, the king would never have had the chance of being taken to the messenger and the shepherd who played a crucial role in revealing the fact that prophesies made by the oracle took place. Tiresias’ makes use of his psychic powers to foresee the levels of anguish and destruction king Oedipus will face particularly after realizing the realities of his life.

Tiresias plays a significant role in developing the theme of fate and free will in Sophocles’ Oedipus. According to Zachrison (314), the storyline of this play is developed in the Greek society which embraced the fact that the gods had the ability of foreseeing future occurrences. Like the gods, Tiresias possesses the ability of seeing the events to come in the form of visions. It is through prophesies made by Tiresias that the audience is able to understand the fact that the predicaments of king Oedipus were only driven by fate (Akhter, Muhammad, and Naila 12). For instance, it is evident that initial prophesies had foreseen the fact that king Laius of Thebes would have a son with Jocasta; the son would then grow up and kill his father. This comes to pass when Oedipus kills Laius. On the other hand, Tiresias plays a significant role in revealing that the marriage between king Oedipus and his mother Joscata was out of fate and a fulfillment of a prophesy made to his father.

Tiresias enhances the development of the theme of blindness by application of his own state as a blind person (Budelmann 45). Analytically, Reddy (163) explains that Tiresias makes use of his physical blindness to make the audience understand the fact that king Oedipus was mentally blind. While initial scenes portray king Oedipus as a visionary and intelligent man particularly when he solved the critical riddle of Sphinx and renewal of the city, Tiresias plays a significant role in making the audience see the fact that the king was blind about the issues that surrounded his own life (Edmunds 35). As a matter of fact, Horkheimer (1) explains that it only took the efforts of the blind Tiresias to make the king see his levels of ignorance. Finglass (43) reveals that even though Tiresias is blind, he possesses the ability of seeing further and better that those surrounding him.

Why the Play includes Tiresias in the Play

While Tiresias’ presence is only felt in one scene of the play, it is greatly significant in revealing hidden information necessary for plot advancement to the audience. Tiresias is in tune with the wits of Apollo and takes advantage of this ability to gain the visions pertaining what the future holds for king Oedipus. On the other hand, Goodhead (96) explains that the fact that Tiresias is gifted in augury allows him to tell the audience what the future holds through his abilities of interpreting visions from the behavior of birds.

Tiresias was included in the play to keep the audience of Sophocles’ Oedipus interested in the activities taking place in the preceding scenes. As a matter of fact, Zachrison (316) reveals that it is in this scene where the audience first experiences conflict. For instance, Oedipus builds anger against Tiresias based on the fact that the prophet was reluctant in revealing the identity of king Laisus’ killer. According to Budelmann (47), Sophocles made use of Tiresias and this scene from an artistic point of view to show the anger of king Oedipus. Reddy (164) reveals that the king behaves rationally until this moment when he first encounters Tiresias. For instance, the king allows the Chorus to make their views based on the prevailing situations and does his best to ensure that the populace is kept safe (Edmunds 65). According to Horkheimer (1), the audience would not have believed that the king was capable of committing the numerous murders at the crossroads if Sophocles did not take the deliberate move of including Tiresias in the play. The nature of ironic attitude upheld by Tiresias makes him emblematic of the whole puzzle revolving around the play. A clear analysis of the play leaves the audience with questions like whether king Oedipus was responsible for his predicaments. On the other hand, Tiresias plays a role in revealing that in deed, the king is to blame for his downfall.

How Tiresias’ Interaction with Oedipus Illuminates the Protagonist’s Character

The single interaction Tiresias has with Oedipus plays a significant role in revealing the character of the protagonist. In this case, the king is considered to be the protagonist. The presence of Tiresias is of particular importance in revealing resentfulness as a character trait of the protagonist. For instance Oedipus reveals his anger when Tiresias becomes hesitant in revealing who king Laius’ killer was. According to Finglass (54), this scene is of great importance in revealing how temperamental the king is.

Tiresias plays an important role in revealing how ignorant king Oedipus was. Despite his great levels of intelligence and visionary character, the king remains ignorant to see the truths surrounding his life. As a matter of fact, Goodhead (98) explains that it only took the efforts of a blind man to make Oedipus know the truth about his life. According to Reddy (164), Oedipus’ high level of ignorance makes him learn how powerful the gods are but pays a heavy price.


Tiresias plays a significant role in driving the plot of Sophocles’ Oedipus. Despite his blindness, Tiresias made use of his ability to prophesy as a tool of foreseeing the predicaments of king Oedipus. On the other hand, Tiresias gives the audience the opportunity of realizing the fact that Oedipus is not only ignorant but also a character full of furry.


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