The old seer

In Sophocles’ play Antigone, Tiresias is an old, blind man who has the gift of foreseeing events by interpreting certain signs. On the one hand, he can deduce from the behavior of the birds whether the gods approve of a human action or not (this skill is known in antiquity as bird watching or auspicium, and the seers themselves as bird watchers or augurs). If he notices them to be restless or threatening, then something ominous will happen in the future. This is also what happens in Creon’s case: “And I heard a voice I’ve never known from a bird: / Wild screeching, enraged, utterly meaningless. / But the thrashing of their wings told me the truth: / They were clawing each other to death with their talons.” (Act 5, Scene 13, ll. 1001-1004). 

Tiresias also masters the sacrificial vision (hieroscopy), which means he can draw conclusions about the future and the will of the gods from the entrails and especially the liver of animals. In some cases, these animal carcasses are burned to see how they react to the fire. In this regard, the king’s orders not to bury Polynices and to wall up Antigone alive seem to have displeased the gods: “I was frightened. Immediately, I tried burned sacrifice. / Th...

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