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Ozymandias was a pharaoh, usually called Ramses II, or the Great. Like many pharoahs, he spent much of his life constructing monuments to himself. Massive temples at locations like Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum at Thebes were intended to project his power, both to his contemporaries and presumably to posterity. Shelley's poem relates a description by a fictional traveler who has encountered one of his massive statues, broken into pieces. The pride, majesty and arrogance of Ramses still come across despite the ruined condition of the find, but they seem ironic, surrounded as they are by desert. The final stroke of irony is the inscription. Surrounded by desert wastelands, his entreaty to "look on my works, ye mighty, and despair" only underscores his mortality and the fleeting nature of his greatness.
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