Ozymandias: Shelley and the Feet of Ramesses II

Ramses II feet.jpg
The feet of a statue of Ramesses II (known to the Greeks as Ozymandias) in Egypt

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Disappointing as this might be, the broken feet above is probably not from the same statue Shelley wrote about – if Wikipedia is to be believed that statue has been put together and moved to Cairo in 1955 and since then to Giza. This one on the other hand is still in situ – okay, was in situ twenty-five years ago when this picture was taken – in the Ramesseum, the funeral temple of Ramesses II, part of the Theban Necropolis.

Look On My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair?

Ramesses II is generally considered one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs and in his poem Shelley created a powerful image of how the ravages of time obliterated the works of this high and mighty ruler. The line “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” doesn’t just show us the pharaoh’s arrogance but also acts as a commentary on the futility of human endeavour. Yet Shelley wrote this poem 3000 years after Ramesses II’s death… and I think we will still read it in another 3000 years’ time.

How’s that for a paradox?

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