Who is the traveller from an antique land in "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the poem, "Ozymandias," by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poem uses first person point of view.  The narrator mets a man who has traveled from an ancient land.  Apparently, he and Shelley strike up a conversation. and the man relates what he had seen in his travels.   The ancienct land might refer to Egypt because the ruins that he finds are of Ozymandias who was a pharaoh in ancient Egyptian times.   Ozymandias was another name for Rameses II, the great pharaoh of Egypt.

The poem speaks to the ruler who built a colossal statue of himself and placed it on a pedestal.  Ironically, only bits and pieces of the statue remain: the legs  upright, the partial face frowning, and the pedestal itself.  The irony comes when the traveler tells what the inscription says:

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

The king  wanted everyone to see all of the great things that he had done. Boasting that he was a mighty king, he hoped that others would be jealous of what he had made.

Now the works of the pharaoh are fodder for the wind and sand.  Time stands still for no one, nor does nature give in to anyone or anything. 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The traveler tells his story reflecting on the decay and ruin of the king who thought his works would last forever.


stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

No identification is provided for the "traveler from an antique land." We have no way of determining if this person was male or female, young or old, educated formally in a school setting or self-educated through personal experience and exploration.

We can assume that the traveler has seen enough of the world to recognize the significance of the remains in the desert. The traveler understands that they represent someone who had tremendous power and influence, apparently exercised with a dictatorial style rather than as a benevolent ruler, at some point in the distant past. The traveler is also experienced enough to recognize the irony of the situation; the power is now gone, the works are buried, the ruler is all but forgotten.

Perhaps the traveler is a symbol, a representation of time, which eventually overtakes and erases everyone and everything.