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Published: 25-09-2019

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Seafaring Imagery in Oedipus the King

Sophocles tends to make frequent use of seafaring imagery in his Oedipus the King, making 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 require of spiritual rescue. Arrogant Oedipus is decreased 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 all through Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, mostly 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 after-stable city plagued and on the brink of destruction. “King, you oneself / have noticed our city reeling like a wreck / currently 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’ circumstance: “Our sorrows defy number / all the ship’s timbers are rotten / taking of thought is no spear for the driving away of the plague.” The vessel’s foundation of spirituality weakens at two critical junctures, 1st at the hands of Oedipus and then Jocasta. When Oedipus summons Teiresias to reveal the identity of Laius’ murderer, the prophet speaks in riddles, angering Oedipus the argument boils till he lobs this salvo: “[The truth] has no strength / for you due to the fact you are blind in mind and ears / as well as in your eyes.” This is the king’s rejection of the old man’s ability to know the future. In insulting Teiresias, Oedipus insults the gods by extension, for it is they who have provided blind Teiresias the potential to interpret the previous and predict the future like no other man. Jocasta also contributes to the spiritual emptiness of Thebes additional weakening the structure of the ship when she denies prophets’ capability to speak for the gods:

Why ought to man worry considering that opportunity is all in all for him, and he can clearly foreknow nothing? Ideal to live lightly, as one can, unthinkingly. As to your mother’s marriage bed, do not fear it. Ahead of this, in dreams as well, as well as oracles, numerous a man has lain with his personal mother. But he to whom such factors are nothing at all bears his life most simply.

Oedipus and Jocasta’s rejection of spirituality signals related emptiness in the city as a entire. Thebes will continue to endure, the gods decree, till Oedipus pays for his transgressions.

The episode in which Oedipus insults Teiresias reveals a basic difficulty of Oedipus’: the arrogance and blindness (which, from the viewpoint of his insult match with Teiresias, is ironic) that will ultimately lead to the discovery of his accurate nature and his downfall. Oedipus’ stubborn refusal to acknowledge any opinion contrary to his personal and denial of his true identity which, in light of emerging evidence, becomes increasingly indisputable steadily reduces his authority as captain of the ship of Thebes. Self-confidence in Oedipus-as-helmsman erodes as the tale of Laius’ death intertwines with Oedipus’ private history. The similarities that outcome for example, that Jocasta bound her son’s feet and that the name “Oedipus” refers to his personal feet getting bound aggregate till they mutate from coincidences to proofs that Oedipus has fulfilled the prophecy and killed his father and slept with his mother. The leap (from funny coincidences to irrefutable proofs) is not big (the perceptive audience will make it lengthy ahead of Oedipus does) and the king looks foolish and stupid for not realizing the awful truth. A ship can not sail if its passengers do not believe in their captain. This weaker, incompetent Oedipus is the opposite of the capable, confident man who helmed the city at the commence of the play. “If you will rule this land, as now you rule it, / better to rule it complete of guys than empty,” the priest warns Oedipus. “For neither tower nor ship is anything / when empty, and none reside in it together.” That the chorus never exits the stage in the course of the play that Oedipus is constantly surrounded by his subjects reminds us that what occurs to him personally has ramifications for the city as effectively. As a result, although Oedipus is learning the nature of his partnership with his mother and becoming a wretch of a man, the ship of Thebes is losing its helmsman.

Oedipus’ blindness conjures photos of a ship at sea with no instruments, its captain refusing to use the stars for navigation, permitting the climate (fate) to toss it unpredictably about. Oedipus’ loss of handle stands in stark relief to his image in the opening lines of the play potent, purposeful, so in tune with his subjects that he anticipates their wants he was once able to provide the city to secure harbors in equivalent occasions of hardship, as when he answered the riddle of the Sphinx and saved the city. No longer. In the end, actual handle rests with fate and the gods. No matter how good a king Oedipus could be, he cannot rescue Thebes from the plague (i.e., find a secure harbor) if the gods do not consent. “It is murder guilt / which holds our city in this destroying storm.” The imagery of Thebes’ plight as a storm holding a ship hostage relates to a final theme of Oedipus the King: the inescapability of fate. Oedipus was conscious of his fate and attempted to steer clear of it, and for this he was punished.

Seafaring imagery recurs throughout Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, most notably in the manifestation of Oedipus as the helmsman of Thebes the ship this reveals important themes of spiritual decay, Oedipus’ arrogance and blindness, and the inescapability of fate. Reconciling the play’s conclusion with the seafaring perspective yields an interpretation of Oedipus’ blinding as repair and rescue. The plague has been lifted, and the strength of the Theban “timbers” builds as the city is restored to harmony with the gods. Oedipus, once blind to the truth but getting literal sight, now has the opposite. The gods have been satisfied, and the city of Thebes has reached another secure harbor.
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