How does the poem illustrate the myth of cheating death?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Shelley's poem illustrates how Ozymandias capitulates to the myth that he has cheated death.  Consider the inscription written at the bottom of the statue as a starting point:  "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: /Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"  Ozymandias lived his life as a king believing that he could cheat death or cheat the forces that are larger than the individual human being.  Ozymandias believed that his rule and power would transport him into the realm of immortality.  It is for this reason that he so boldly declares that he is "King of Kings."  His belief in the power he holds within the temporal condition is where he feels he can cheat death, or the forces that are immortal.  His belief in his own strength and power is what makes him feel impervious to death and the ravages of time.

It is in Ozymandias where the poem illustrates the myth of cheating death.  Ozymandias' is the myth.  Shelley critiques the idea of the great ruler who feels that they are more powerful than forces of nature and of life and death.  In depicting Ozymandias' statue in such a decrepit and broken condition, devoid of any real power, Shelley shows how the myth of cheating death lives in the ruler who believes their own immortality.  Ozymandias, as a ruler, is the embodiment of the myth of cheating death.  In believing that he is able to cheat death, Shelley is able to illuminate how the belief in cheating death is a myth that seduces many.  Cheating death is the myth that tempts Ozymandias and it is here in which he embodies it in what he comes to represent in the poem.

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