Ozymandias Questions and Answers
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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What was Shelley's purpose in writing "Ozymandias?"

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Michelle Nietfeld, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ozymandias, also known as Ramesses II, was an Egyptian Pharaoh. He was a powerful ruler and is still one of the most well-known Pharaohs today. Percy Shelley, in his poem, was reflecting on Egyptian monuments. The British people were extremely interested in learning about Egypt at this time, and many historical pieces were being imported to English museums.

Shelley's purpose for writing this poem was actually to win a contest. He and his friend Horace Smith agreed to participate in a sonnet-writing contest. They both chose the subject of Egypt and wrote their poems. Both sonnets eventually got published in newspapers, so both writers were fairly successful in their competition.

Though Shelley wrote his sonnet to win a contest, he has a clear message about fame in his poem. Through the life of Ozymandias, Shelley shows the brevity of life and fame. No person, even the great and mighty Ozymandias, is immortal. All eventually die; their fame dissipates. This is the sad message behind Shelley's sonnet.

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In my opinion, Shelley's purpose was to encourage the reader to think about how futile it is to try to become famous.  He may also be applying that idea to his own attempts to be a famous poet.

In this poem, Shelley is using the character of Ozymandias to show us how fame is fleeting.  He looks at how this man, who was important enough to rule a huge kingdom, is now an unknown.  The only way anyone knows about him is by his fallen statue in the middle of the desert -- no one knows anything about his kingdom or his deeds.

In this way, Shelley is showing us that even the people who seem important slip into obscurity, so it is pointless to try to be "someone."

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