Sunday, March 2, 2014

TFBT: The Experience of Tiresias, Part I of II

 "Of ten parts a man enjoys one only, but a woman enjoys the full ten parts in her heart." (Apollodorus, Library 3.6.7).

As a child I read Robert Heinlein obsessively.  Regarding the pleasure of the bedroom, Heinlein referenced a similar statistics in I Will Fear No Evil”.  I wondered at the time where he got it.  Who could actually know such a thing?  The answer is Tiresias quoted above.  Long ago in Ancient mythic Greece Tiresias went for a walk in the woods.  He saw something he shouldn’t have seen; two snakes  enjoying “the pleasure of the bedroom”.  Ugh!  Kind of gross and disgusting, plus they were snakes!  He killed them with his staff.  With their dying breathes they hissed a curse upon him.  They turned him into a woman!  Seven years later she (Tiresias)  is again walking in the woods runs across another scaly pair doing the nasty.  The bless him for not killing them and for his discretion by turning him back into a man.  Not too long afterwards Zeus and Hera amoung the revel of their court   argue whether the male or the female gets the greatest pleasure in the bedroom.  They summon Tiresias to Olympus to decided the issue.  Tiresias, makes the famous statement above.  There are certain secrets one should not discuss in public.  Hera blinds him for his lack of discretion.  In recompense, Zeus give Tiresias long life and second sight.  Nicole Loraux named her book in the seer’s honor.  To quote the authoress in her introduction, “It is a book about men or about the feminine.”

Chapter One; Bed and War

“Aineros, dead in battle; Aghippia, dead in child birth.  Two inscription on a stele, naming tow unknown but illustrious figure from Sparta. “  So, Loraux begins her study of the virile and the feminine.  Later, lokhos as a word for childbirth and lokhos denoting as early as Homer an ambush and then then armed troops”.  Hence we can later read “Cronus’  ambush (and castration )of his father Uranus is from his mother’s lap like all the other children born of Gaia.  She recalls that Menelaus’ defense of Patroclus’ corpse is compared to “a lowing cow, who yesterday still knew nothing of motherhood, lies at the side of a newborn calf.”  And that “like the piercing and cruel arrow that strikes  woman in labor…As piercing as these were the pains that penetrated the son of Atreus  "

She says of the Spartans and the Beautiful Death; “The Spartans fight like madmen, aware of the death that awaited them.  They use all the strength they have against the Barbarians; it is no longer the time for arete or the hoplitic ritual in general.  Spears are replaced by swords, then after the violent melee with its epic overtones around Leonidas’ body, The Spartans  whose swords have been broken, defend themselves with their hands and teeth.  This battle, a battle of boars is more evocative of the warlike frenzy of a Tydeus..henceforth indifferent to everything that is not battle their minds distraught the Spartans are obviously in a state of lyssa."

Chapter IV  Warrior’s Fear and Trembling

“by virtue of the harsh warrior’s law of reciprocity the terrorizer will be terrified, because terror is everywhere in battle terror that will quickly turn on him.  The glittering of bronze, the clatter of weapons, piercing or maddened gazes, unrestrained cries; terror does not come with out noise and who in the melee could asking a place to noise?  Like the battle, equally for all that generate clamor and fright, it spares no one on either side – especially those have unleashed it.    Here Loraux writes of personified Fear, Ares son Phobos, in almost cosmic terms.  Giving the godling  powers equivalent to the “ massive, indiscriminate devastation” that Muellner gave the abstraction menis in his recent book.  If I have shared too much of Loraux writing it is because I can not convey the beauty inherent there. 

What came next in this chapter was an analysis of the final battle between Hector and Achilles. No writer can ever pen the charms of Helen’s face and figure with affect, instead we must rely upon the witness of old men at the gate who can not revile her even though their sons and grandsons died for her supernatural beauty.  All I can say about Loraux, careful, scholarly analysis of Chapter 22 of the Iliad is  that it is a  breath-taking,  edge-of-your-seat, page-burner.  Ending with “the dark clouds…portend death…Soon Erebos’ cloud will envelop Hector.  She reflects “on the perfection of the poet’s artistry, the firmness of Homeric thought unmarred by any concession or delicacy and far from any edifying intent or pedagogicalaim…"

 “But still it is necessary to leaver Homer.” Loraux makes a break here in order to remind the reader that the passions of men in the Heroic (Mythic) age is not the standard of the Iron (Historic) Age.  This all rather ironic because to illustrate her point she must reference Heroic Age characters upon the stage and writes of the Spartans without grasping that the Spartans still thought of themselves in the Heroic Age.

Chapter VI; The Strangled Body  is a complex, thoughtful, involved and engrossing argument about the taboo in referring to killing, hanging, executing and strangling .  Of course the argument,  based on absence, addressed lyric, stage, prose and law.  Leaving the Heroic figures in epic and upon the stage to continue to discuss the undiscussable.  I leave it to someone with more Greek than I to unravel this mystery.  One thing that caught my eye was the assertion that the executioner could be designated with the term strangler, one of the Sphinx’s titles. 

I admit to a love of French authors and their lengthy use of detail.  But, even then, I highly recommend this book and look forward to the rest of it. 


  1. It is strange how the inventor of the Tiresias myth (whoever he had been) came to the idea that females experience greater sexual pleasure. After all, this inventor could NOT have experience similar to Tiresias'! I cannot help thinking of some modern (though backward) cultures seriously claiming that female reproductive system, if left intact, produces insatiable lust. This is the "rationale" behind female genital mutilation. I wonder, are all misogynyst cultures obsessed with female sexuality and having exaggerated ideas of it?

  2. I love how the myth not only says woman enjoy sex more, but says specifically how much more.