Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Moral Centers of Oedipus, Othello, and Death of a Salesman

I gave my Intro. to Lit. students a choice of a take-home test and included a moral center question. There's no consensus to Death of a Salesman, but Tirerias and Cassio are the two main choices for the other plays.

Cassio seems too much of an obvious choice (and Iago does play him for a sap) but Tirerias works for me.

If you're not familiar with Greek mythology, Tirerias is regarded as one of the greatest (or the absolute greatest) seers ever to have lived. When Odysseus needs psychic help, he heads into Hades to specifically ask his advice.

What neither Sophocles or Homer mention is the source of his powers. It seems that when he was a young man, he took a stroll through the woods. On the way, he saw two snakes having sex. For some reason (perhaps he was an early incarnation of Phil Burress), this offended him and he struck the female snake dead.

The spirits of the woods were angered and for this destruction of female sexuality, they transformed Tirerias into a woman. A bit put off at first, he/she returned to society, married, and gave birth to several children.

She still enjoyed woodland hikes and in her later years took another walk through the woods. Again she saw two snakes having sex and, not learning a damn thing, she struck the male snake dead in disgust. The spirits changed her back into a man but with the breasts of an older woman.

What his/her husband and kids thought of this was never recorded but Zeus and Hera took an interest in him/her. Zeus had argued that women enjoyed sex more than men. Hera arguing just the opposite, obviously never having experienced or witnessed a woman's orgasm herself.

Since Tirerias had experience with both sorts, he was brought in as a judge. His answer, "For every pleasure a man feels, a woman has nine-fold," infuriated Hera and she blinded him. Zeus, happy to be proven right but slightly guilty over causing Tirerias's misfortune, gave him the power of foresight with the power of prophecy even greater than that granted by Apollo.

I mention this in class to various reactions but it's funny that even in a Red State, a pagan transexual can be thought of as moral.

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