What turbulence tossed the "ship of state" that Creon refers to in Antigone?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Let us just remind ourselves of what has happened prior to the opening of this play and the tragedy that Antigone has suffered. If you have a look at the very beginning of the play, and the stage directions that are given at its opening, you can see that Thebes has just suffered an intensely damaging conflict resulting in the death of both of the sons of Oedipus who fought on opposite sides, both trying to win the crown. Eteocles and Polynices killed each other in combat and now there uncle, Creon, is King of Thebes. Thus it is that Creon becomes King at a particularly difficult moment when Thebes has just been invaded by forces from Argos and its old King and Queen have killed themselves. Note how his first speech draws attention to this but also to his manner of ruling:

My countrymen,

the ship of state is safe. The gods who rocked her,

after a long, merciless pounding in the storm,

have righted her once more.

Note the way that the implied metaphor Creon uses describes his method of leadership. It is he who holds "the ship of state" firmly on course, and although he acknowledges the role of the gods in re-establishing balance, it is clear that this metaphor foreshadows the kind of tyrannical rule that Creon adopts in this play and the way that he will never compromise or yield an inch, even at the cost of losing his own family.

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