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Shelly's Ozymandias

broken colossus of Ramesses II

The broken colossus of Ramesses II that inspired Shelly's poem

Few poems have awakened popular imagination to the vast ebb and flow of history as much as Ozymandias.

The poem recounts a sobering image—the colossal statue of a proud king, lying broken amid the boundless desert, with only the testimony of a solitary traveler left to bring word of its existence. What unknown tales might lie behind such a colossal ruin, and how did it happen that the great empire that raised it no longer exists?



I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert...Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

— Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1817

If you like Ozymandias, you can read a little about the irresistible decay of ancient ruins. Or check out Howard Carter's fascinating diary entry describing the archaeological find of the century: the opening of King Tutankhamun's tomb.


A simply-connected maze has pathways that never re-connect with one another, so every path either leads to additional paths (a fork) or to a dead end.

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