Description

This history of the world was written by a Greek historian born in Sicily and working in the first century BCE. 

How does it relate to Percy Bysshe Shelley? 

In 1817 the British press published reports of the work of Giovanni Belzoni, an archaeologist who, in 1816, had been working on excavations in Egypt. Sent by the British Consul to obtain material for the British Museum, Belzoni managed to extract and transport to the Nile the colossal statue of Ramases II, also called Ozymandyas, though at the time the statue was called ‘the Young Memnon’. The statue arrived in London in 1818. This translation describes the statue as ‘the greatest in all Egypt’. 

In December 1817 Percy Bysshe Shelley was possibly reading the work of Diodorus Siculus, in English or the original Latin (he had asked Clio Rickman to send him Diodorus’ works in Latin in December 1812). Compare Shelley’s: 

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ 

and Booth’s: 

‘I am Osymandyas, king of kings; if any would know how great I am, and where I lie, let him excel me in any of my works’ 

Shelley’s twist on the source is to have the statue lying on the ground instead of sitting, loading with irony the proclaimed glory of the ruler and his statue, in an attack on absolute monarchy. At the time Shelley had a guest, Horace Smith, staying with him. Smith also wrote a poem on the subject – possibly the two competed. Smith’s poem proposes the possibility of a future discoverer of some huge fragment of work being found on the site of London, ‘that annihilated place.’ 

There is also a reference to the same ideas in Book 2 of Shelley’s Queen Mab

‘Behold,’ the Fairy cried,

'Palmyra’s ruined palaces! 

Behold where grandeur frowned!

Behold where pleasure smiled!

What now remains? -the memory

Of senselessness and shame.

What is immortal there?

Nothing – it stands to tell

A melancholy tale, to give

An awful warning; soon

Oblivion will steal silently

The remnant of its fame.

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