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Oedipus Rex contains several metaphors that the playwright, Sophocles, refers back to a number of times in the play.
One of the metaphors depicts the state (Thebes) as a ship. A ship, in order to function properly, needs to be solidly constructed and competently guided and maintained. Like a ship, a country will “sink” if it is not cared for properly. Thebes, when the play opens, is in the process of sinking. Oedipus is trying to find out what he can do to prevent the destruction of Thebes. To develop this idea, Sophocles creates a metaphor in which he compares the state of Thebes to a ship.
Early in the play, the chorus says
Our sorrows defy number,
All the ships timbers are rotten; (lines 195-196)
Thebes is the ship, the rotting timbers are the problems that Thebes is going through.
A bit earlier in the play, Creon used the same metaphor when he said to Oedipus
Lauis, the King, was lord of our land before you became pilot of this State. (line 122)
Here, “pilot” refers to the one who is charge of a ship, or what we might call the ship’s captain these days.
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