My Name is Ozymandias

"My Name is Ozymandias"

The colossal temples at Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt might well be listed among the Great Wonders of the Ancient World. That architecture of such prodigious proportions could have been sculpted by man is, in itself, a wonder. The colossal statues and temples were designed and built to show the greatness of a single human being, the god—king Ramses II.

Ramses II was a spectacular king who briefly restored the glory of ancient Egypt. He ruled for over sixty years, 1304—1237 B.C., and lived past ninety years of age. During his reign the Nile valley was studded with obelisks and colossal statues, mostly of himself, to commemorate his deeds. He was responsible for the Temple of Amon at Karnak in Thebes. It is the largest columned hall ever built and confirms, more than anything else, the passion to build in overpowering size and grandeur. The cost of building these monuments to glorify himself can never be estimated. How many slaves died laboring to depict his godliness is lost in the sand of time. He was indeed a tyrant obsessed with his own greatness.

Ramses II was not the first Egyptian king who had an obsession for self—aggrandizement. As would be expected of him, Ramses II appropriated many giant statues and monuments built by his predecessors, substituting his own name for theirs and incidentally usurping their deeds and victories.

The Greeks wrote of Ramses II, identifying him in translation as the great king Ozymandias and Thebes as "the world's greatest treasure house."

So impressed was the poet Shelley by the remains of the colossal statues that he wrote a sonnet that ranks among the immortal works of literature. An ironic commentary on the vanity and futility of a tyrant's power, it confirms that no matter how great a man may be he cannot withstand the ravages of time. Eventually he too will crumble to dust, which will be blended with the dust of the multitudes who died for his greatness.

Shelley's poem "Ozymandias" refers to Ramses II by the Greek version of his throne name. A portion of the sonnet is reproduced here.



From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth