Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

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The Autonomy of Humanity
In Oedipus Rex, Sophocles symbolizes the importance of man’s independence from Divine beings by describing man’s direction and will through allusions to ships, shipwrecks, and seas. He constructs this allusion by forming a metaphor between a ship and the city of Thebes and referencing shipwrecks to represent humanity’s individuality.
Sophocles establishes a metaphor between a ship and the city of Thebes to depict how the people rather than celestial beings govern the city. Sophocles emphasizes the essential role human’s play in managing a municipality by displaying that the priest asks for help from Oedipus and discusses how Thebes “[is] reeling like a wreck” to Oedipus before he prays and requests for help from the gods (23). By establishing Oedipus as the “captain of [the] ship”, Sophocles places Oedipus as a more important figure than the gods (108). Creating a character that is more significant than the gods displays Sophocles belief that man has autonomy from godly authority.
Sophocles generates a second universal metaphor that relates the gods to the ocean and humanity to ships to demonstrate the irrepressibility of the gods and how man is detached from this unmanageability and able to navigate through it. He connects the gods’ vicious qualities with the oceans unforgiving reputation to portray the difficult situation that the city of Thebes must navigate through. He discusses how Thebes “can scarcely lift its prow/out of the depths of the bloody surf”, inferring that the “bloody surf” is the wrath of the gods (24-25). Sophocles also depicts how the “waves of the Thracian sea/deny the stranger safe anchorage” suggesting that the gods refuse to help the city (213-214). Sophocles continues this metaphor by describing his principle that “neither tower nor ship is anything/when empty, and none live in it together” (64-65). This identifies his belief that a city is nothing without a unified people to govern it regardless of the presence of the “bloody surf.” By juxtaposing his metaphor between the malice of the gods and the impulsiveness of the ocean with his metaphor between the autonomy of humanity and the self-sufficiency of a ship in the ocean, Sophocles elaborates on his notion that people are independent from divine restrictions.
In order to reveal his belief that humanity doesn’t need to rely on heavenly ideals to destroy or create themselves, Sophocles alludes to the ocean, shipwrecks, and ships. By alluding to these objects that the audience can relate to, he generates a metaphor between governments and humanity and ships and shipwrecks, as well as one between the inconsistency of the ocean and the malevolence of the gods. Sophocles establishes these metaphors and allusions in order to convey his idea the human species is independent from celestial precincts.





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