Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ozymandias" was allegedly written on Egyptian King Rameses 11; Ozymandias was his Greek name. He reigned as Pharaoh of Egypt from 1279 to 1213 BCE and was known for his statesmanship, architecture, military leadership, administrative talents, and building activities. His wife was named Nefertari and they had two sons who survived childhood: Ramesses II and Ahmose.
Shelley wrote the poem in 1820 after visiting the famous statue of Ozymandias in London, which was created by Richard Westmacott and is now in the British Museum. The poem describes how Ozymandias' memory will live on long after he is gone, but notes that more than 200 years later, all that remains of him is a lonely, ruined statue.
"Ozymandias" is set in stanzas of three lines with one exception. Line five of Stanza IV begins with a dissyllable instead of a monosyllable as in most English poems. This unusual form is called a "dissyllabic line".
Shelley used this ancient monument as a metaphor for the impermanence of power and glory. He also may have been thinking of his own failed relationship when writing about the pharaoh who built such magnificent monuments only to have them crumble away over time.
Many people are familiar with the name Ozymandias because of the renowned poem "Ozymandias," written in 1818 by Percy Bysshe Shelley (who lived from 1792 to 1822), but few are aware that Ozymandias was a genuine ancient Egyptian monarch. He reigned between 705 and 684 B.C. and was the son of the Pharaoh Ramses II. Although he was well-regarded during his lifetime, Ozymandias eventually became just another name on the list of ancient rulers who have been forgotten by history.
Shelley based his character on the then-famous British king George III. In addition to being an emperor and a king, Ozymandias is also referred to as the "Pride of Prizes;" this epithet is derived from a phrase found in the royal decree that appointed him ruler of Egypt: "I am Ozymandias, king of kings; look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
It is believed that Ozymandias actually existed and that his image was used as a model for several sculptures built by Ramses II in his honor. However, none of these statues has survived today.
In addition to being a king, Ozymandias was also a military commander during his early years on the throne.
Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was inspired to create "Ozymandias" after seeing archeological findings in Egypt as a result of Napoleon's conquest of Egypt in 1798, some 20 years before Shelley penned the poem. The ruins in question are those of two colossal statues, known as the Sons of Pharaoh, which stood near Cairo at the entrance to the Great Enclosure at Karnak.
Shelley used his imagination to give life to these ancient figures, saying that they were "sitting with folded arms, and melancholy eyes, against a sky of cloudless blue." He also wrote that they seemed to be "watching with silent rebuke the proud cities rise from out of their graves".
These lines make it clear that what inspired Shelley to write "Ozymandias" was not any particular event or series of events, but rather a general sense of decay and emptiness this experience has left in its wake.
Shelley completed a first draft of "Ozymandias" in 1816, but it wasn't published until four years later, in 1920, when one of Shelley's daughters gave her permission to publish it. The poem is included in Thomas Hardy's collection of poems Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
The title "Ozymandias" relates to Ramses II, an alternative name of the ancient Egyptian king. Shelley uses a crumbling statue of Ozymandias in "Ozymandias" to depict the transience of political authority and to celebrate art's ability to preserve the past.
Ramses II was one of the most famous pharaohs in ancient Egypt. He ruled from 1084 to1048 B.C. and was known for his extensive building projects. When he died at age forty-six, he was buried in a royal tomb near Luxor. But thousands of years later his body was unearthed by archaeologists and taken to Cairo where it remains today.
Shelley wrote "Ozymandias" during his time at Oxford University. The poem describes how one day a statue of Ramses II will be found to be nothing more than bare rock with only some words by Percy Shelley carved on its side. This image is used as a metaphor for the power of kings to influence history even after they are gone.
Here is the opening line: "I met a traveller from an antique land / Who said: 'Two vast and endless continents embrace / This one lies at the heart of hemisphere.' "/