Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ozymandias - Horace Smith & Percy Bysshe Shelley

Statue of Ramesses II,  From the Ramessum, Thebes, Egypt, 19th Dynasty, About the "Younger Memnon", About 1250 BC, The British Museum, London, UK 
The inscription on the Statue of Ramesses II was the inspiration for a competition between Horace Smith and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The inscription reads, "King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works." Shelley is addressing the inevitable decline of all leaders as all things decay and their time passes.


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.' 
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley


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.
– Horace Smith.

Daniel in the Lions' Den, c. 1614-16, Peter Paul Rubens, Oil on Canvas, National Gallery, Washington D.C.
One of my favorite paintings is Peter Paul Rubens' Daniel in the Lions' Den' housed at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. I included it in this blog because Daniel in the Lions Den took place in Babylon, which is mentioned in Horace Smith's poem. "The ancient Middle East was the story of one empire rising, falling, and being replaced by another. In 605 B.C., the Babylonians conquered Israel, taking many of its promising young men into captivity in Babylon. One of those men was Daniel. When the lions' den event occurred, Daniel was in his 80s. Through a life of hard work and obedience to God, he had risen through the political ranks as an administrator of this pagan kingdom. In fact, Daniel was so honest and hardworking that the other government officials--who were jealous of him--could find nothing to remove him from office. So they tried to use Daniel's faith in God against him. They tricked King Darius into passing a decree that during a 30-day period, anyone who prayed to another god or man besides the king would be thrown into the lions' den." 

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