What can you infer from the colossal size of the statue in Shelley's "Ozymandias"?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The suggestion offered in the poem is that at one point in time, the statue was larger than life as was the ruler.  The belief was that the ruler for whom the statue was based was powerful and commanding of many an army.  The boastful statement of "Look upon my works, ye mighty and despair" and the notion of being a "king of kings" helps to illuminate that at one point in time, the ruler possessed great power.  It is at this point where the poem offers some profound insight.  The notion of ruling and being an effective ruler might not lie with power, but rather with how one uses that power and what is done in order to cement one's legacy as a political leader.  Ozymandias was a powerful ruler, but the decrepit condition of the statue and the unknown nature of the leader help to illuminate that power on its own does not guarantee one's legacy or lasting success.  What one does with that power for the betterment of others and the desire to create a foundation upon which future generations can develop is where true immortality lies, and is something that the leader in Shelley's poem might not have done.

epollock | Student


Shelley’s vision in Ozymandias stretches infinitely. Ozymandias
and his works are placed at an incredibly distant remove from us. The structure of the poem helps establish this remoteness: Ozymandias’s words were dictated to the sculptor, then carved in stone, then read by a traveler, then told to the first-person speaker, then relayed to us. Ironies abound. A single work of art has outlasted Ozymandias’s whole empire. Does that mean that works of art endure (as in “Not marble nor the gilded monuments”)? No, this work of art itself has seen better days, and soon (we infer) the sands will finish covering it. Obviously, the king’s proud boast has been deflated, and yet, in another sense, Ozymandias is right. Due to his immense statue, The Mighty (or any traveler) may well despair for themselves and their own works, as they gaze on the wreckage of his one surviving project and realize that, cruel as Ozymandias may have been, time is even more remorseless. His colossal statue reinforces and dramatically emphasizes this point.

According to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, Ozymandias was apparently a grand, poeticized name claimed for himself by the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II. Diodorus Siculus saw the king’s ninety-foot-tall statue of himself, carved by the sculptor Memnon, in the first century B.C. when it was still standing at the Ramesseum in Thebes, a mortuary temple. Shelley and his friend Horatio Smith had read a description of the shattered statue in Richard Pococke’s Description of the East (1742). Smith and Shelley wrote sonnets expressing their imagined views of the wreckage, both of which Leigh Hunt printed in his periodical the Examiner in 1818. The immenseness of statues reveals that if the once-and-great Ozymandias might be covered by the sands of time, time must be even crueler for the average person.

lit24 | Student

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).

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!”