The name Ozymandias
is generally believed to refer to Rameses the Great (i.e. Rameses II
). It represents a transliteration into Greek
of a part of Rameses's throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re
Ozymandias is the subject of a famous sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
The sonnet quotes the inscription found beside the ruins of his statue:
- My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
- Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
The impact of the sonnet's message comes from its double irony. The tyrant declares, "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Yet nothing remains of Ozymandias' works but the shattered fragments of his statue. So "the mighty" should despair not as Ozymandias intended, but because they will share his fate of inevitable oblivion in the sands of time
Shelley apparently wrote this sonnet in competition with his friend Horace Smith, as Smith published a sonnet a month after Shelley's which takes the same subject and makes the same moral point.
This is not one of Shelley's major works, but it is probably his most famous due to its frequent appearance in anthologies.
- Reiman, Donald H. and Sharon B. Powers Shelley's Poetry and Prose (Norton, 1977)