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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.
There are several similes and metaphors, types of figurative language, in Oedipus Rex. For example, in line 75, Oedipus says, "You have not roused me like a man from sleep" to the children gathered around him. In this example, Oedipus says that he is wide awake and compares himself to someone who has not just been awakened. In line 182, Oedipus says, "I am stretched on the rack of doubt." This is a kind of metaphor in which Oedipus compares himself to someone who is stretched on a rack, but the rack is not a physical rack but an emotional rack made of self-doubt. In line 200-203, the Chorus says, "You may see them one with another, like birds swift on the wing, quicker than fire unmastered, speeding away to the coast of the Western God." In this simile, the women of Thebes are compared to fast birds who fly away, faster than a raging fire, to the land of Death. The coast of the Western God stands for the realm of the God of Death. This simile means that the women of the city are perishing.
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