"Ozymandias" ( ) is a sonnet written by the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822). It was first published in the 11 January 1818 issue of ''The Examiner'' of London. The poem was included the following year in Shelley's collection ''Rosalind and Helen, A Modern Eclogue; with Other Poems,'' and in a posthumous compilation of his poems published in 1826. Shelley wrote the poem in friendly competition with his friend and fellow poet Horace Smith (1779–1849), who also wrote a sonnet on the same topic with the same title. The poem explores the fate of history and the ravages of time: even the greatest men and the empires they forge are impermanent, their legacies fated to decay into oblivion.


In antiquity, Ozymandias () was a Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. Shelley began writing his poem in 1817, soon after the British Museum's announcement that they had acquired a large fragment of a statue of Ramesses II from the 13th century BCE; some scholars believe Shelley was inspired by the acquisition. The fragment of the statue's head and torso had been removed in 1816 from the mortuary temple of Ramesses (the Ramesseum) at Thebes by the Italian adventurer Giovanni Battista Belzoni. It had been expected to arrive in London in 1818, but did not arrive until 1821. The poems, published before the statue arrived in Britain, may have been inspired by the impending arrival in London in 1821 of a colossal statue of Ramesses II. The statue's repute in Western Europe preceded its arrival: Napoleon had tried to acquire it for France after his 1798 expedition to Egypt. The book ''Les Ruines, ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires'' (1791) by Constantin François Chasseboeuf, comte de Volney (1757-1820), first published in an English translation as ''The Ruins, or a Survey of the Revolutions of Empires'' (London: Joseph Johnson, 1792) by James Marshall, was an influence on Shelley. Shelley had explored similar themes in his 1813 work ''Queen Mab''. Shelley typically published his works anonymously or using a pseudonym. He published the poem under the name Glirastes. The meaning of the name remained unknown until research revealed that he had combined the Greek suffix "erastes", meaning "lover of", and the Latin Gliridae, the scientific term for the family of the dormouse. The name was a reference to his wife Mary, whose nickname was "doormouse".

Writing, publication and text

Publication history

The banker and political writer Horace Smith spent the Christmas season of 1817–1818 with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. At this time, members of the Shelleys' literary circle would sometimes challenge each other to write competing sonnets on a common subject: Shelley, John Keats and Leigh Hunt wrote competing sonnets about the Nile around the same time. Shelley and Smith both chose a passage from the writings of the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus in ''Bibliotheca historica'', which described a massive Egyptian statue and quoted 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." In Shelley's poem, Diodorus becomes "a traveller from an antique land." The poem was printed in ''The Examiner'', a weekly paper published by Leigh's brother John Hunt in London. Hunt admired Shelley's poetry and many of his other works, such as ''The Revolt of Islam'', were published in ''The Examiner''. Shelley's poem was published on 11 January 1818 under the pen name "Glirastes" (a hidden reference to his love for his wife, Mary Shelley). It appeared on page 24 in the yearly collection, under Original Poetry. Shelley's poem was later republished under the title "Sonnet. Ozymandias" in his 1819 collection ''Rosalind and Helen, A Modern Eclogue; with Other Poems'' by Charles and James OllierReprinted in and in the 1826 ''Miscellaneous and Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley'' by William Benbow, both in London.


Analysis and interpretation


Shelley's "Ozymandias" is a sonnet, written in iambic pentameter, but with an atypical rhyme scheme (ABABA CDCEDEFEF) when compared to other English-language Petrarchan sonnets, and without the characteristic octave-and-sestet structure.


Two themes of the "Ozymandias" poems are the inevitable decline of rulers and their pretensions to greatness. The name "Ozymandias" is a rendering in Greek of part of Ramesses II's throne name, ''User-maat-re Step-en-re''.

In pop culture

* In the AMC drama ''Breaking Bad'', the 14th episode of season 5 is titled "Ozymandias." The episode's title alludes to the collapse of protagonist Walter White's drug empire. A reading of the poem by Bryan Cranston was used in promotional materials prior to the season five premier. * In the graphic novel ''Watchmen'', as well as in its film and television adaptations, "Ozymandias" is the superhero alias of Adrian Veidt. The name can be understood as a reference to Veidt's hubris, as well as to the fact that in the graphic novel, Veidt goes to great lengths to establish world peace, only for the ending to indicate that this peace is fleeting and will collapse in the end. * The poem is the subject of xkcd comic number 1557. The poem is altered to be recursive, and opens with "I met a traveller from an antique land who said: "I met a traveller from an antique land who said: "I met a traveller from an antique land who said..." https://xkcd.com/1557/ * The poem is quoted by death metal band Slugdge on the track "Salt Thrower" from their 2018 album, ''Esoteric Malacology.''

See also

* Hubris * "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven", a poem by Anna Laetitia Barbauld which also imagines future tourists visiting a ruined London



* Rodenbeck, John (2004). "Travelers from an Antique Land: Shelley's Inspiration for 'Ozymandias'". Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 24 ("Archeology of Literature: Tracing the Old in the New"), 2004, pp. 121–148. * Johnstone Parr (1957). "Shelley's 'Ozymandias'". ''Keats-Shelley Journal'', Vol. VI (1957). * Waith, Eugene M. (1995). "Ozymandias: Shelley, Horace Smith, and Denon". ''Keats-Shelley Journal'', Vol. 44, (1995), pp. 22–28. * Richmond, H. M. (1962). "Ozymandias and the Travelers". ''Keats-Shelley Journal'', Vol. 11, (Winter, 1962), pp. 65–71. * Bequette, M. K. (1977). "Shelley and Smith: Two Sonnets on Ozymandias". ''Keats-Shelley Journal'', Vol. 26, (1977), pp. 29–31. * Freedman, William (1986). "Postponement and Perspectives in Shelley's 'Ozymandias'". ''Studies in Romanticism'', Vol. 25, No. 1 (Spring, 1986), pp. 63–73. * Edgecombe, R. S. (2000). "Displaced Christian Images in Shelley's 'Ozymandias'". ''Keats Shelley Review'', 14 (2000), 95–99. * Sng, Zachary (1998). "The Construction of Lyric Subjectivity in Shelley's 'Ozymandias'". ''Studies in Romanticism'', Vol. 37, No. 2 (Summer, 1998), pp. 217–233.

External links

Audiorecording of "Ozymandias" by the BBC.Ozymandias Summary, Themes, and Analysis
' - Annotated text + analyses aligned to Common Core Standards * * {{Percy Bysshe Shelley Category:Poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley Category:1818 poems Category:Ancient Egypt in fiction Category:Sonnets Category:Ramesses II Category:1818 in England Category:Historical poems