Friday, November 20, 2009

ozymandias and the west bank temples

After a wonderful day of hiking and seeing these memorials to power built by the New Kingdom Pharaohs, we ended the day at the temple of Ramses II. Now, this guy rules over Egypt when the empire was beginning to fall apart, but still retained its last glimmer of influence in the world. Like most imperial rulers, this guy was a complete egomaniac. So much so that he built a several-stories-tall statue of his own likeness, and called his temple something like ‘the temple that will last for millions of years.’

At the end of the 19th century, many artists and poets became infatuated with the exoticism and romance of the ruins of Ancient Egypt. One of these was Shelley, a British poet who heard about this very temple, knowing that this gigantic statue of Ramses II had fallen to the ground, broken into pieces, and was slowly blowing away as dust in the desert wind. He then wrote this:

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 shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd 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.

vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

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