Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King

Seafaring Imagery in Oedipus the King

Sophocles makes frequent use of seafaring imagery in his Oedipus the King, creating new perspectives from which to view its characters and cities. Oedipus tells the story of a king undone by a lack of faith in prophesy, the king of a people in need of spiritual rescue. Arrogant Oedipus is reduced to a wretch of a man as his awful marriage to his mother is revealed, but his city is saved in proportion. Seafaring imagery recurs throughout Sophocles' Oedipus the King, primarily in the manifestation of Thebes as a ship and Oedipus as its helmsman; this reveals important themes of spiritual decay, Oedipus' arrogance and blindness, and the inescapability of fate.

Early in the play, Sophocles establishes the metaphor of Thebes as a ship. The audience finds the once-stable city plagued and on the brink of destruction. "King, you yourself / have seen our city reeling like a wreck / already; it can scarcely lift its prow / out of the depths, out of the bloody surf," a priest tells Oedipus at the outset. Sophocles sees Thebes as spiritually bankrupt. Thebes the ship, then, is lacking in structural integrity, and threatens to collapse and sink. Sophocles describes Thebes' situation: "Our sorrows defy number / all...

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