Tiresias within The Waste Land and “The Story of Tiresias”
“The Story of Tiresias” from Ovid’s Metamorphoses lends a significant bit of background information to our understanding of Eliot’s The Waste Land. Tiresias is introduced during “The Fire Sermon.” Though we had yet to read “The Story of Tiresias,” we learned that “…Tiresias ha[s] foresuffered all/ Enacted on this same divan or bed;/ [Tiresias] who ha[s] sat by Thebes below the wall/ And walked among the lowest of the dead.” (Eliot 141) We did not know, however, why or how Tiresias had experienced life as both a man and a woman. Upon reading “The Story of Tiresias,” we learned that because Tiresias had separated two serpents mating in the woods, he was turned into a woman. After seven years had passed, he found himself in a similar situation, separated the serpents again and was transformed back into a man. Thus, “…he should know/ What love [is] like, from either point of view.” (Ovid 67) Tiresias’s ability to perceive love, and life in general, from the perspective of both a man and a woman raises him to a level of knowledge above all, even the gods. Within the context of the text, Tiresias plays an important role in “The Fire Sermon.” When Tiresias witnesses the interaction between the young man carbuncular and the typist, he is able to assess the situation from the viewpoint of both a man and a woman. Eliot chose to add Tiresias into the section for this particular reason and perhaps an even closer look at this character will expand our understanding of The Waste Land.
Within the context of the class, the addition of Tiresias into “The Fire Sermon” highlights the dysfunctional relationship between the young man carbuncular and the typist, as well as highlighting all of the male/female relationships within the poem. Is the audience supposed to judge all of the male/female relationships from both points of view (like Tiresias)? Is it possible for the readers to do so?