I MET a Traveler from an antique land,
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. 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!
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Inspired by Diodorus Siculus (Book 1, Chapter 47), Shelley wrote and submitted a sonnet on the subject to The Examiner. It was published on January 11, 1818 under the pen name Glirastes.
The Greeks rendered Usermaatre as “Ozymandias,” which is how Ramesses has long been known in the West. In the first century B.C., the historian Diodorus Siculus visited Ramesses’ mortuary temple at Thebes, the Ramesseum, and recorded a thousand-year-old inscription on the pedestal of one of the site’s colossal statues- “King of Kings am I, Ozymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works” (Library of History 1.47). Two thousand years later, these words inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” (1817), in which the poet, like the modern city of Cairo, mocks the pharaoh for his bombast- A traveler in an “antique land” comes across the pedestal of a statue—now “two trunkless legs of stone,” whose “shattered visage” lies half sunk in the sand—bearing the inscription, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, / Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Roger Ingpen & Walter E. Peck eds. New York- Gordian Press, 1965.
Meinhardt, Jack, “Look on My Works; The Many Faces of Ramesses the Great.” Archaeology Odyssey, Sep-Oct 2003.