Vision-related Metaphors and the Human Condition in Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King” and Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”


Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King utilize vision-related metaphors to evoke different perceptions of the human condition. Both texts extensively use metaphors related to blindness, sight, and vision to extrapolate truth and knowledge in the context of how physical sight, the human condition, and divine wisdom influence human behavior. Although Sophocles and Plato heavily rely on visual metaphors as literary devices in their respective works, each author uses this strategy to express their understanding of human nature.

What Justifies Plato and Sophocles’ Use of Visual Metaphors in their Texts?

Physical blindness does not imply ignorance in the play “Oedipus the King,” just as physical sight does not ensure knowledge of divine truth. When Tieresias, the blind prophet, stumbles across the stage at the beginning of the play, this fact is made clear. Despite having poor physical vision, he can see into Oedipus’ past and future thanks to his internal or spiritual vision. Oedipus, on the other hand, has perfect vision, but he is spiritually blind, so he is unable to see what the prophet does. The King is already well known for his keen intellect despite his inability to see, particularly after correctly answering the Sphinx riddle (Minnema 440). The king eventually realizes the terrible fate that awaits him and, in his frustration, destroys his physical sight.

Plato describes a group of prisoners chained to a wall facing forward in a cave in his “Allegory of the Cave.” The prisoners can only see the wall, even though a fire is burning behind them (Godowski 51). A low wall and a raised pathway, behind which people carry models of humans and other living things, separate the prisoners from the fire. The prisoners believe the voices of the people talking are the voices of the shadows because they can only see the shadows that the people’s movements make on the wall…

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