Saturday, 11 March 2017

Ozymandias, And The Gigantic Leg

In the writings of the Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus, [born in Sicily, Ist Century BC] is a description of a massive Egyptian statue and its inscription: "King of Kings, Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work." 
Ozymandias was another name given to Pharaoh Rameses II. The pharaoh, also known as Ramses the Great, was the third of the 19th dynasty of Egypt and ruled for 66 years, from 1279BC to 1213BC. He led several military expeditions and expanded the Egyptian empire to stretch from Syria in the east to Nubia (northern Sudan) in the south. His successors called him the Great Ancestor.
Two hundred years ago, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his friend Horace Smith had a competition to see who could write the best sonnet about this ancient ruler. Well, they were at a Christmas 1817 Houseparty, and maybe they were fed up with playing Charades, or listening to Percy's Missus telling ghost stories [that's Mary, who wrote Frankenstein] ...Poetry competitions were what they did to pass the time ... 
This was just after the announcement of the acquisition of a large fragment of a statue of Rameses II from the thirteenth century BC, by the British Museum. 
Percy and Horace wrote sonnets about the fact that all empires and emperors will eventually die and decay, and pass into oblivion.
Fast forward 150 years - and those of us in Grammar Schools in the 60s had to read [and maybe memorise] Shelley's poem.

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.”
And this weekend, two hundred years later, archaeologists from Egypt and Germany have found another ruined statue in the mud of a Cairo slum - and believe this too is a representation of Ozymandias!

“I announce the big discovery of a colossus of a king, most probably Ramses II, made out of quartzite,” the antiquities minister, Khaled al-Anani, said at the site of the discovery. 
Not many people nowadays have heard of either the ruler Ozymandias, or Shelley's sonnet of that name. Even fewer are aware of poor old Horace Smith and his sonnet [with its 'gigantic leg']
In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."— The City's gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place

...all human pride and power eventually crumbles into dust. As a Christian, I am glad my trust is in the true King of Kings - our WWDP service last Friday ended with this hymn
So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth's proud empires, pass away:
But stand, and rule, and grow for ever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.
A reminder to ensure we find our real treasure in eternal things.

1 comment:

  1. Not just in grammar schools, that Shelley was read. I attended a large secondary modern school, our class was told we shouldn't be there but no room in the grammar schools. We had the best teachers, our form teacher was an English version of Miss Jean Brodie, we all did well, many going into professional careers.
    When I went to Library School there was surprise from one or two other students that I'd come from a sec mod, in their part of the country sec mods didn't offer GCEs or A levels. All these years later this image remains.


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