Oedipus abuses the seer Tiresias as a mage Oedipus O wealth and kingship and triumph

in the battle of life's arts, how great the envy you have allowed to accrue for me, if it is for the sake of this office, which I did not ask for but which the city gave me as a gift, that trusty Creon, who was my friend from the start, secretly stalks me and is eager to cast me out. For he has suborned this mage [magos; i.e., Teiresias], a stitcher of devices, a deceitful beggar-priest [agurtes], who can see only profit, but has a blind art. Come, tell me, how can you be a percipient diviner [mantis]? How was it that you did not utter something to deliver these citizens when the song-stitching dog [i.e., the Sphinx] was here? Her riddle was not going to be solvable by just anyone, but true prophecy was required. It became all too clear that you had no prophetic knowledge either from the birds or from any of the gods. But I came along, ignorant Oedipus, and I stopped her. I hit home with pure intelligence, not with anything I learned from the birds. This is the person you are trying to cast out, in hopes of becoming right-hand man at Creon's throne. You and the contriver of this plot will regret, I think, your attempt to expel me as polluted. If you did not have the look of an old man, a beating would have taught you how presumptuous you are.

TIRESIAS IS A RESPECTED AND TRUTHFUL SEER, but here he is abused by Oedipus, under pressure, with a constellation of associations that will become commonplace in Greek culture, if they are not so already. He is a mage, a prophet and a beggar-priest; he is a deceitful charlatan without real power; he is motivated purely by financial profit and self-interest; he claims arcane sources of knowledge but understands less than an ordinary person of intelligence. Many of these themes are still to be found in Libanius's fourth-century A.D. speech against the lying mage (300). Mages (magoi) are also briefly referred to at Euripides Orestes 1496-8 (of 412 B.C.), where a Phrygian slave wonders whether the sudden disappearance of Helen was caused by spells (pharmaka) or the devices of mages.

Gorgias Encomium of Helen 10


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