Athena blinded the young Tiresias by covering his eyes with her hands when he surprised her naked. Tiresias' mother, the nymph Chariclo who was dear to Athena and one of her attendants, asked the goddess to restore his sight, but Athena, not being able to do so, cleansed instead his ears in such a way that she caused him to understand the sounds of birds. Athena also gave Tiresias a staff made of cornel-wood with the help of which he could walk like those who can see.

It is also said that Athena did not take the sight of young Tiresias; as the goddess explained to Chariclo, these were the old laws of Cronos, which inflicted the penalty of blindness on any mortal who beheld an immortal without consent.

Notes: Format of paragraph is my own edit. Words of bold text and italicized are my own edit.

This is the first time I am hearing of the term, "old laws of Cronos." Where else are they mentioned? What are they?

  • 2
    I would interpret it to not having a literal meaning, but instead to be a poetic device similar to how we might now say "in the old days" (queue meme of "old man yells at cloud!"). So I think Athena is saying, be thankful you're not subject to the harsher rules of your less civilised ancestors; things are kinder in these modern days of 450BC (compared to, say, 900BC). Note: I'm not offering this as answer, because I have no evidence, and I really hope someone can provide a good, well-researched answer!
    – cryptarch
    Dec 30, 2018 at 1:25
  • 1
    Please cite the source you are quoting.
    – Spencer
    Jan 1, 2019 at 16:53

1 Answer 1


This does not refer to a specific set of laws, but echoes Hesiod's Theogony, the genealogy of the Greek Gods, and the Gigantomachy.

It's called an "old" law (the text doesn't actually contain that word, see below) because the decree stem from the time of Cronus' reign, so before Zeus defeated Cronus and created the Greek Pantheon (which includes Pallas Athena). Zeus' laws are described as just in Theogeny whereas Cronus' rule is described as cruel.

As to the apparent contradiction on the punishment, blindness and sight refer to two different things here. In Calimachus' fifth hymn, Athena blinds Tiresias:

And he stood there speechless; for pain glued his knees and
helplessness stayed his voice. But the nymph cried: “What has thou
done to my boy, lady? Is such the friendship of you goddesses? Thou
hast taken away the eyes of my son. Foolish child! Thou hast seen the
breast and body of Athena, but the sun thou shalt not see again.

When Charilco pleads with Athena, she explains the reason for the punishment, an edict by Cronus:

ἆ καὶ ἅμ᾽ ἀμφοτέραισι φίλον περὶ παῖδα λαβοῖσα
μάτηρ μὲν γοερᾶν οἶτον ἀηδονίδων
ἆγε βαρὺ κλαίοισα, θεὰ δ᾽ ἐλέησεν ἑταίραν
καί νιν Ἀθαναία πρὸς τόδ᾽ ἔλεξεν ἔπος
‘δῖα γύναι, μετὰ πάντα βαλεῦ πάλιν ὅσσα δι᾽ ὀργὰν
εἶπας: ἐγὼ δ᾽ οὔ τοι τέκνον ἔθηκ᾽ ἀλαόν.
οὐ γὰρ Ἀθαναίᾳ γλυκερὸν πέλει ὄμματα παίδων
ἁρπάζειν: Κρόνιοι δ᾽ ὧδε λέγοντι νόμοι:
ὅς κε τιν᾽ ἀθανάτων, ὅκα μὴ θεὸς αὐτὸς ἕληται,
ἀθρήσῃ, μισθῶ τοῦτον ἰδεῖν μεγάλω.

Noble lady, take back all the words that thou hast spoken in anger. It
is not I that made thy child blind. For no sweet thin is it for Athena
to snatch away the eyes of children. But the laws of Cronus
order thus: Whosoever shall behold any of the immortals, when the god
himself chooses not, at a heavy price shall he behold.

Sight refers to Athena's gift of clairvoyance:

Therefore, O comrade, lament not; for to this thy son – for thy sake –
shall remain many other honours from me. For I will make him a seer to
be sung of men hereafter, yea, more excellent than any other. He shall
know the birds – which is of good omen among all the countless birds
that fly and what birds are of ill-omened flight. Many oracles shall
he utter to the Boeotians and many unto Cadmus, and to the mighty sons
of Labdacus in later days. Also will I give him a great staff which
shall guide his feet as he hath need, and I will give him a long term
of life.

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