Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Watchmen: Ozymandias

Augustus liked to point out that it was easier to conquer than to rule. This was a pointed critique of Alexander the Great whose empire might have been vast, but whose floruit was briefly - and descended into internecine war after his death because of it lack of post-invasion planning. In fact, the first half of Augustus' own record of his great deeds, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti written shortly before his death, concentrates mostly on his non-martial work on behalf of Rome.

Ozymandias, the 'villain' of Watchmen, greatly admires Alexander the Great, and like him ... aims for world conquest, sod the consequences in the short term. He's not a straightforward villain; they're not meant to want to save the world in normal graphic novels.

He's also fascinated with Egyptology.

His pet is named Bubastis, after the capital of the 22nd Dynasty Pharaohs, which was in turn named after the lion-faced war goddess Bast. Archaeological excavations have largely borne out Herodotus' 5th century description of the city. Bubastis also features in Ezekiel 30:17 - another sign that Ozymandias is not one of the good guys.

The name Ozymandias derives from a Greek transliteration and corruption of User-maat-re Setep-en-re - which is part of a very long name / title that Ramesses II took when he became Pharaoh circa 1279 BC. Ramesses is better known to us today as Ramesses the Great - or the tyrant that led Moses to ask for our people to be released from slavery, which in turn led to the Exodus to the Promised Land.

As a Great Pharaoh, Ramsses had many statues of himself erected, including this one at Thebes in Egypt. In antiquity, we know thanks to Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, that the base was inscribed with:
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

Napoleon has tried to steal the statue from Egypt for the Louvre - hence the bullet holes in it.

In 1813 Henry Salt was given a firman to be allowed to legally do so by the Ottoman sultan.

In 1818 it arrived in the British Museum - but because it weighs 7.5 tons of granite even in its fractured state, a detachment of Royal Engineers led by a veteran of Waterloo was needed to erect it.

The British Museum web site has a podcast about it here.













Percy Bysshe Shelley was inspired to write this sonnet about the sculpture in December 1817:

Ozymandias

I met a traveller 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 shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd 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.

The original part of the poem is inscribed on the base of the statue in Ozymandias's mock-Egyptian temple lair in the movie.

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