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What is the theme of "Ozymandias" by Percy B. Shelley?

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kittie | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted June 22, 2010 at 9:53 AM via web

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What is the theme of "Ozymandias" by Percy B. Shelley?

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lit24 | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted June 22, 2010 at 10:30 PM (Answer #1)

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Ozymandias  is the transliteration into Greek  of a part of Ramesses II's  throne name  User-maat-re Setep-en-re. Ramesses II who ruled Egypt around 12th century B.C. is regarded as the greatest and most powerful of all the Pharaohs.

Diodorus Siculus the Greek historian has recorded one of the inscriptions found at the base of Ramesses II's throne as "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." It is this inscription which forms the basis for Shelley's "Ozymandias" (1818).

Ozymandias was obviously a very proud and arrogant man. He was vain enough to imagine that he was the most powerful ruler on earth and he wanted every one to be terrified of him. He was always scowling and frowning in order to scare every one around him. It is this angry frowning face which the ancient sculptor has faithfully recorded for posterity in his statue:

a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

The Bible tells us in the Book of Proverbs 16:18 that,

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

This is the theme of Shelley's poem. All the great rulers in history try to perpetuate their memories by building mammoth statues. Their pride and arrogance knows no bounds as they erect these huge statues and vainly inscribe bombastic claims about the superiority of the kingdoms which they rule. They do this without realizing that they are only ordinary mortals who have to return to dust along with all their endeavors.

The colossal size of the statue only emphasizes the king sized ego of Ramesses II and only underscores the futility of his attempts to perpetuate his anonymity, because today,

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

This even though when he was alive he had boastfully claimed,

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: 
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

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ntibane | Student | Honors

Posted August 16, 2010 at 1:27 AM (Answer #2)

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The Theme is that human beings and materialistic values are seasonal and are bound to end. They are all subject to the laws of time.

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abhishekchand62 | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted November 7, 2011 at 9:19 PM (Answer #3)

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Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote this poem

"Ozymandias" to express to us that possessions

do not mean immortality. He used very strong

imagery and irony to get his point across

throughout the poem. In drawing these vivid and

ironic pictures in our minds, Shelley was trying to

explain that no one lives forever, and nor do their

possessions.



Shelley expresses this poem’s moral through a

vivid and ironic picture. A shattered stone statue

with only the legs and head remaining, standing

in the desert, the face is proud and arrogant,

"Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions

read"(lines, 4-6). On the pedestal of the statue,

there are these words, ‘"My name is

Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works,

ye Mighty, and despair!’"(Lines, 10-11).

However, all that surrounds the statue is a desert.



This poem is written to express to us that

possessions don’t mean immortality, the king

who seemed to think that his kingdom would

remain under his statue’s haughty gaze forever,

ironically teaches us this through his epitaph.

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and

despair!"(Line, 11) becomes good advice, though

in an opposite meaning than the king intended,

for it comes to mean that despite all the power

and might one acquires in the course of their life,

material possessions will not last forever

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ashu39 | Student, Grade 10 | Honors

Posted November 22, 2011 at 6:12 PM (Answer #4)

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The theme of the poem is:- (1) Inevitability of the declines of leader and empire. (2) Human mortality and fate of artificial.

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selcanenotes | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 17, 2013 at 8:22 PM (Answer #6)

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In short - Mankind's conceit

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 22, 2010 at 3:25 PM (Answer #5)

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In my opinion, the theme of this poem is that human life and human accomplishments are transient.  It is saying that, in the long run, nothing we do matters.  It reminds me of a song from when I was a kid by the band "Styx."  The lyrics went

Nothing ever goes as planned/It's a hell of a notion/ Even pharaohs turn to sand/ like a drop in the ocean.

If you think about it, this is what has happened to Ozymandias.  He was so powerful in his day, but now his statues have fallen and no one knows his name.  What was once his empire is now a backwater -- an "antique land."  Everything that he worked for and accomplished has been forgotten -- his efforts were pointless.

The poem is implying that all of human life is like that.  Nothing we do will last...

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