Friday, June 18, 2021

Remember Ozymandias

If not for Percy Bysshe Shelly’s famous poem Ozymandias, written in 1818, which was a part of our English course in school, we wouldn’t have heard of an actual ancient Egyptian Pharaoh known as Ramses the Great (possibly the Pharaoh referred to in the Book of Exodus) or Ozymandias, who was the third of the 19th dynasty of Egypt and ruled for 66 years, from 1279 BC to 1213 BC. He led several military expeditions and expanded the Egyptian Empire to stretch from Syria in the east to Nubia (northern Sudan) in the south. Not surprisingly he built a huge statue of himself and engraved on it was: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look upon my works ye Mighty and despair!” Google refreshes my memory that these words conveyed he was so powerful that no other king could surpass him ~ he must have fully believed that. Reportedly, the 26ft statue, which was submerged in groundwater in Egypt’s capital, was found by a joint expedition of Egyptian and German Archaeologists near the ruins of Ramses II’s temple in the ancient city of Heliopolis, located in the eastern part of modern-day Cairo. In the poem, Ozymandias’ statue metaphorically represents power, legacy, and command. An analysis of the poem states that it clarifies the meanings of the object and makes it clear that once the king was mighty and all-powerful, as also shows that the sand has eroded the actual shape of the statue, representing the destructive power of time. Reviewers also say that the poem’s major theme is: all power is temporary, no matter how prideful or tyrannical a ruler is. Ramesses II was one of the ancient world’s most powerful rulers. The poem’s themes underscore the transient nature of human life and the ultimate futility of fame, fortune and power. The poem’s political message is: power is temporary, even that of great rulers who may believe their power to be immortal. Analysts further say the Ozymandias is a political poem at heart, written at a time when Napoleon’s domination of Europe was coming to an end and another empire ~ Great Britain’s ~ was about to take over. Ozymandias’ message is clearly the universal truth that all humans face death and decay. Unfortunately, human beings fail to learn or easily forget the lessons of history. Sadder still is human beings’ belief in our immortality and in the immutability of time. So, we live impermanent lives ~ consider the fact that Shelly’s famous poem Ozymandias has outlasted Empires and Emperors. Makes you think what actually endures, doesn’t it? The statues of great and powerful men or poems of unheralded impoverished bards ~ the power of crowns and thrones or the power of pens and words? More so now, after the novel Coronavirus has completely turned our world upside down accentuating the impermanence of all that we took for granted. But then even without this Coronavirus, nothing was actually ever permanent ~ we just believed that our will would prevail and our wants met. Inversely, we also lament tyrannical times and hope and pray for change and liberation, which never seem to come. Times such as these are when we need to remind ourselves of the destructive power of time ~ destructive because of its impermanence. History bears witness to the fact that tyrannies of kings and emperors and the tyrannies of plagues and pestilences too are transient ~ but to those under the boots of these tyrannies, their transience seems relentless. That is why what we learn in our youth is so important; that is why the quality and content of what we learn is crucial. That is why we must learn the histories of both the victor and the vanquished because these histories contain several truths ~ because both victor and the vanquished speak and act. We must resist histories that give voice only to the victors and the powerful; we must resist re-written and de-written histories; we must discern between manufactured histories that project only the powerful. That is why the Fourth Estate, poets and writers, singers and songwriters must give voice to the voiceless and the voiced-down. Shelly’s Ozymandias was a part of the English course of those now categorized as Senior Citizens. It, and similar poems, is probably not taught in our schools and colleges for decades. Such as pity because there are too many Ozymandiases today who need to be recognized for exactly who and what they are.