The Bacchae



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Tiresias Character Analysis

Tiresias is a common character in Greek literature. He is elderly and blind, but was granted “second sight”—the ability to make accurate prophecy—as compensation for his blindness. In The Bacchae, he warns of the importance of paying tribute to the gods and is dressed up in Dionysian garb during his one appearance in the play. Pentheus fails to heed his warning, thereby making Tiresias’ prediction of tragedy come true.

Tiresias Quotes in The Bacchae

The The Bacchae quotes below are all either spoken by Tiresias or refer to Tiresias. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ecco edition of The Bacchae published in 2015.
Lines 169 - 519 Quotes

Are we the only men who'll dance for Dionysus?

The rest are blind. Only we can see.

Related Characters: Cadmus (speaker), Tiresias (speaker), Dionysus
Page Number: Lines 195-196
Explanation and Analysis:

And here's another miracle! The prophet Tiresias
all got up in fawn skin, and my mother's father
dressed up as a Bacchant with a wand.
You look ridiculous, both of you: have you lost your wits?
I'm ashamed of you, Grandfather.
Shake off that ivy and drop that bloody stick!
This is your doing, Tiresias, I can tell:
another imported god, another chance
to make money on the side from burnt offerings
and reading auguries from the guts of birds.

Related Characters: Pentheus (speaker), Dionysus, Cadmus, Tiresias
Related Symbols: Thyrsus
Page Number: Lines 248-257
Explanation and Analysis:

The new god you ridicule will be a great Power in Greece.
Let me explain, young man, the two blessings of human life.
Firstly Demeter, Mother Earth – call her what you will –
sustains us mortals with the gift of grain, of solid food.
But he who came next – son of Semele – matched
her gift to man: he brought us wine.
And wine brought peace to the troubled mind,
gave an end to grief and gave us sleep – blessed sleep –
a forgetting of our sadnesses.
He, a god himself is poured out in honor of the gods.
Through that holy wine we win their favor.

Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Dionysus, Pentheus
Page Number: Lines 271-282
Explanation and Analysis:

As for the women, it is not for the god to enforce chastity.
Dionysus releases their true nature. Even plunged in delirium,
a virtuous soul does not turn vile.

Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Dionysus, Pentheus, The Bacchae
Page Number: Lines 315-317
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Bacchae LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Bacchae PDF

Tiresias Character Timeline in The Bacchae

The timeline below shows where the character Tiresias appears in The Bacchae. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 169 - 519
Disguise, Deception, and Identity Theme Icon
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Tiresias, the elderly blind prophet, enters dressed as a Dionysian follower. He calls to Cadmus to... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Pentheus notices Cadmus and Tiresias and their Dionysian attire. He mocks them, and tells Cadmus he is ashamed of him.... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Order vs. Irrationality Theme Icon
Tiresias argues in Dionysus’ favor, saying the god will be a great power in Greece. He... (full context)
Gods and Mortals Theme Icon
Pentheus rejects Cadmus and Tiresias’ arguments, ordering his servants to capture the priest—actually Dionysus in disguise—who is leading the women... (full context)