Ozymandias …. two versions

All things do grow and some achieve a most elevated and grand status but they invariably have to decline. What is most tragic is when the decline is quite rapid and it falls to an individual to see both the zenith and the nadir – in this order. Whether it is of their reputation or his society, organisation, empire or whatever, is immaterial, but the fact is that it is most painful.

The best poetic account of such a decline, made much more poignant by the boast of its founder which turns out to  be hollow by passage of time, is by Percy Bysshe Shelley and arguably, one of his best ever. (I do hope most of you have read it…. even if you all haven’t, I will put it here so you get a chance).

However, the best part about Ozymandias is that is actually two  -by Shelley and his friend, Horace Smith, as a competition in The Examiner. Smith, best known for his participation in the sonnet-writing competition, was a successful stockbroker, who also helped Shelley with his finances. 

He came to public attention in 1812 when he and his elder brother James produced a popular literary parody connected to the rebuilding of the Drury Lane Theatre, after a fire in which it had been burnt down. The managers offered a prize of £50 for an address to be recited at the Theatre’s reopening in October. The Smith brothers hit on the idea of pretending that the most popular poets of the day had entered the competition and writing a book of addresses rejected from the competition in parody of their various styles.

The elder Smith wrote the parodies of Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge and Crabbe, and the younger took on Byron, Moore, Scott and Bowles. The book, still the most widely popular parodies ever published, was written without malice; none of the poets caricatured took offence, while the imitation is so clever that both Byron and Scott claimed that they could scarcely believe they had not written the addresses ascribed to them.

But lets get back to the point. 

 Inspired by Diodorus Siculus’s account of inscription on the base of a statue of Pharoah Rameses II the Great, 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,” both Shelley and Smith wrote and submitted a sonnet on the subject.

Shelley’s Ozymandias was published on January 11, 1818 under the pen name Glirastes, and Smith’s was originally titled the same but later became On a Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below was published on February 1, 1818 with the initials H.S.

To be continued…..

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