For almost 200 years, visitors to the British Museum have stood in awe in front of the statue known as the Younger Memnon – one of two colossal granite heads which originally flanked the entrance to the Ramesseum mortuary temple in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes.
Even before its arrival in London, this seven-tonne, 267cm-tall figure – which depicts Ramesses II, the long-lived pharaoh who ruled from 1279 BC to 1213 BC – had so impressed the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley that he was inspired to write perhaps his most celebrated sonnet.
Entitled Ozymandias – a Greek name for Ramesses II – the 1818 poem includes one of the best known couplets in all English literature, when Shelley writes:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
That sense of fear and wonder was, of course, exactly what the statue’s original creator was striving to evoke – for as we learn this week on The Past, the kings of Egypt were no mere earthbound rulers, but also imbued with otherworldly powers as all-seeing, all-knowing mediators between the gods and the world of men.
In the latest issue of Ancient Egypt magazine, Peter J Brand begins a new series on the Ramesside dynasty by exploring this idea of ‘divine kingship’, and examining how it was that the inevitable contradiction – alluded to in Shelley’s famous verse – between a pharaoh’s sublime godhood and their all-too-human frailty was conveniently resolved.
Elsewhere this week on The Past, we have also been delving into the archives for more about pharaohs: we examined how ancient Egypt’s rulers headed to Luxor to reaffirm their divine nature; we witnessed the excavation of a rare pink granite statue of Ramesses II in Giza; and we explored the extraordinary collection of Egyptian treasures held at Philadelphia’s mighty Penn Museum.
And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week also has a pharaonic theme. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!
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