Shelley lived at a time when there was enormous interest in the archaeology of the Ancient Near East, following Napoleon’s victories in Egypt. Archaeological finds were being brought back to British and European museums, fuelling the creative imaginations of writers and stimulating a most fashionable interest in ancient history.
‘Ozymandias’ was inspired by a fallen statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II, who is believed by many to be the arrogant pharaoh of Exodus in the Bible. It should be noted, though, that this is not the same statue that Shelley writes about.
There isn’t any archaeological evidence for the existence of the statue Shelley describes in this poem, which instead seems to be based on a statue and inscription described by the 1st century Greek historian Diodorus Siculus- but that isn’t the point: the poem is about the fact that the statue created in honour of one so powerful and wealthy ended up broken down and surrounded by nothing but endless desert.
Shelley’s message is clear: whatever we build for ourselves in this life does not last, and people may not actually remember us for the things we’d like them to remember.
This short poem presents some powerful contrasts: vanity and ruin, honour and despair, sculpture and degradation, commemoration and mockery.
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 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.”
If you’d like to know more about the relationship between Shelley’s poem and the history of Ozymandias, you can read this article by Stephen Hebron that provides a detailed explanation in plain English.
Each of them rebelled in one way or another against the social conventions of their time, showing even in their strongly patriarchal societiy that women were capable of far more than just making politically astute marriages nd popping out royal babies to guarantee the king an heir— or several.
I stumbled across this article from the History Extra website on the weekend, and thought it made a wonderful addition to my collection of articles here.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
7 Things You Didn’t Know A Medieval Princess Could Do
Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and having altered her name slightly by adding an ‘e’, Cochran’s began her career in journalism when she responded to a newspaper article which contended that girls were really only good for motherhood and housekeeping.
Significantly impressed by her response, which she had written under a pseudonym, the editor of the paper ran an ad asking the author to come forward.
When Cochrane introduced herself to the editor, he offered her the opportunity to write another piece for the newspaper, and when she impressed him again, he offered her a permanent job. At that time, the convention was for women who wrote for newspapers writers to use pen names. Her pen name was taken from a popular song, and when the editor wrote ‘Nellie’ instead of ‘Nelly’, the name stuck.
Nellie wrote a series of articles about issues confronting women factory workers which resulted in complaints from the men who owned and ran the factories. When the editor reassigned her to articles on homemaking and gardening, Nellie soon became frustrated and left for Mexico, where she spent six months reporting on the lives of the people. She had to leave Mexico, however, when her article decrying the imprisonment of a local journalist angered the authorities, then controlled by the dictator Porfinio Diaz.
Unwilling to spend the rest of her life writing about things in which she took little interest, Nellie moved to New York in 1887 where, after living in very poor conditions, she undertook a job for The World newspaper as an undercover reporter in the notorious women’s asylum on Blackwell’s Island. It took considerable effort to actually get committed to the asylum, where Nellie experienced all the horrors of the place firsthand for ten days before her release was secured by her editor.
The conditions and treatment of patients in the asylum became known through Nellie’s articles, which were later published as a book. Cruel staff, poor sanitation, dreadful food and the fact that a number of the women were not insane at all — some simply did not speak English, others were sent there when their affairs with prominent members of society had soured— brought about reforms and made Nellie Bly a household name.
In 1888, Bly suggested to her editor that she undertake a trip around the world inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the Workd In Eighty Days, to see if it could be done int hat time.
She left on November 14, 1889, in the clothes she wore, with some money in a pouch that hung on a cord from her neck, concealed by her clothes, and a small bag containing some basic requirements. She travelled by ship and rail, and actually met Jules Verne in France. Her tip was not without delays or complications, but she arrived back in New York just 72 days after her departure — then a world record time.
Later in life, Cochrane became an industrialist and then a reporter on both the events of World War I and the campaign for women’s suffrage in America.
Nellie died of pneumonia in 1922. She had certainly led an interesting life and demonstrated quite powerfully that women were capable of far more than having babies and running a household.
Just from that list, it’s fairly evident that a. I am a massive nerd and b. I enjoy podcasts about nerdy things. You should also be aware that I use “nerd” as a very positive term.
Today, I want to share with you two new history podcasts that you might enjoy.
Stories of the Tudors
This is an interesting and enjoyable series of podcasts about the members of the Tudor dynasty and the stories with which this family have coloured and embellish English history.
The series is written and narrated by historical fiction author Tony Riches. He speaks clearly and has a pleasant voice, both of which are advantages that, it’s fair to say, not all podcasters actually possess. The quality of Riches’ research, knowledge and storytelling is remarkable.
Thus far, I have listened to the first four episodes. Each of these has been dedicated to dedicated telling the story of one of the earlier members of the family, enhanced by an excerpt from the corresponding audiobook of Riches’ excellent novel series.
At this point, it should also be observed that these audiobooks seem to be both extremely well written and very well read.
I would recommend this series for anyone interested in history, and for anyone who takes an interest in biographies. There is no need to have any detailed prior knowledge of the history, as Riches tells the story in a straightforward manner, bringing the characters and events to life and explaining their significance for the listener using everyday English.
The podcast is free of charge and available via the Stories of the Tudors website, or you can simply search for ‘Stories of the Tudors’ in your favourite podcast app.
The Things That Made England
This new podcast is a lighthearted discussion of different things that have contributed to the English identity. Different episodes discuss things like cricket, the English accent, and 1066. It’s very informative, and often quite surprising in the various gems of knowledge that it delivers. A new episode is released fortnightly, and it’s always interesting to see what topic comes up next.
As a dedicated listener of The History of England, I’ve tuned into this new podcast from the beginning. Given that it’s less academic and more relaxed in tone, I’ve found this to be a good podcast to listen to in the car on my way home from work.
You can find more details at the website. The podcast is free of charge, and subscription is easy, as it can be searched for and added through your favourite podcast app.
Beowulf is the oldest poem that we have in an English language. It is a medieval Anglo-Saxon epic poem that tells of the adventures of the hero, a great warrior named Beowulf, who crossed the sea from Sweden and helped the Danes fight the monster Grendel. ‘Beowulf’ is based on an early Germanic tale that relates events which would have happened after the fall of the Roman Empire and before these tribes moved into Britain. It celebrates a culture that glorifies strength, courage, and heroic achievements. These stories were told in verse by poet-singers called scops as a popular form of entertainment.
After being passed down as an oral tradition for centuries, Beowulf was written down somewhere between the eighth and tenth centuries in Old English, the language that the Anglo-Saxons spoke in Britain. We don’t know who wrote it, or exactly when or where it was written down, or if the characters in the poem really existed. The single manuscript that still exists was written in two different people’s handwriting. The poem could be one traditional tale, or a combination of a number of folk tales into one great story. There was a Swedish king named Hygelac who died in 521AD, so it is possible that some or all of the characters were based on real people.
Old English is very different to modern English, so the poem has been translated into modern English so that we can still read and understand the poem today.
Perhaps the most distinctive poetic device in Old English poetry is the kenning. A kenning is a short, metaphorical term which describes a thing without using its name. In ‘Beowulf’, the king is referred to as a “ring-giver”, while Beowulf himself is called “Higlac’s follower”. My favourite from ‘Beowulf’ is “whale-road” as a description for the sea– isn’t that magnificent? While we are still very fond of metaphor, I think it’s a shame we don’t make more use of the kenning. Old English poetry was also characterised by strong rhythm and frequent alliteration. This would have helped the scops learn and remember the tale as an oral tradition, and added a musical element to the recitation, as well as making the story pleasant to listen to for the audience.
Modern translations follow the convention of making frequent and consistent use of both kennings and alliteration. This adds a wonderful sensory element to reading the story of Beowulf, which even today is a thrilling read. It delivers elements of adventure, history, heroism, and macabre storytelling.
The poem is way too long to include in this post, but you can find Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, as a safe-to-download PDF at Scribd. (Note: you do not have to subscribe or accept any trial memberships to get this file.)
As I was driving to work this morning, a caller to my favourite radio station was critical of the fact that the station was observing International Women’s Day as part of the day’s programming.
“What’s it going to achieve? Do you think you’re going to change everything in one day?” He spoke politely, but went on to dismiss the value of this, and every other, “touchy-feely day”.
While my initial instinct was to dismiss him as a sexist pig, his cynicism challenged me to consider that there might be many folks out there, and possibly not just men, who doubt the benefit or validity of such an observance.
This is what I would like to say to those with that mindset:
Observing International Women’s Day is definitely not going to change everything on one day. That’s not what anyone is expecting.
It is a chance to celebrate the changes that have been made, and to remember those who worked so hard to introduce them. It’s not even exclusively about gender equality – so many women have made significant advances, even when it was still almost entirely a “man’s world”. Think of Marie Curie or Ruby Payne-Scott making significant scientific and mathematical discoveries that have had a huge impact in many other areas of society. Think of Rosa Parkes and her courage that inspired so many. Think of the countless women who have worked for freedom, or justice, or civil rights for all people, not just women.
It is a day to remember that the rights and freedoms I have as an Australian woman were fought for by many – not just the suffragettes. Nurses at the battlefields of major conflicts, teachers, doctors and medical researchers, writers, women who raised their sons to respect them and therefore other women, lawyers, filmmakers, journalists— they and countless others have contributed to the privileges I enjoy in the 21st century.
It is a day to remember my own mother, grandmothers and aunts who worked hard to provide and care for me, but also to teach me and demonstrate for me what it means to be a woman of strength, confidence and integrity. It’s also a day to think of my sisters, cousins and friends who encourage and stand beside me when life is hard, because they model those same qualities for me time and time again. They remind me of not just what I am, but who I am.
It is a day to consider what legacy I pass on to my nieces, my students, and my readers. What do I want them to learn from my example? I want them to know they are enough. Strong enough, good enough, beautiful enough, deserving enough, talented enough, smart enough, and worthy enough. They do not have to take any else’s bullying or abuse. They do not have to accept other people’s bad behaviour. They are under no obligation to “measure up” to the yardstick of anyone else, male or female. They can make of their lives anything that they decide upon and set their mind to. They can face challenges with courage, and they can overcome whatever would seek to undo or defeat them.
These are the women I write of in my poems, blog posts and stories about women of strength and beauty.
That, my friend, is what this day helps me to achieve, because it sharpens my focus on those things for a time.
So, happy International Women’s Day 2018.
I hope that you will think of it in terms of gratitude and humility. I also hope that every woman will use it to both be inspired and be inspirational.
I’ve found two more fantastic history podcasts to add to your list.
Myths and Legends
is an exploration of a wide variety myths and legends from all around the world. It’s fascinating to hear about where and how these stories developed, and how ancient stories have evolved over time. It also features a different mythical creature each week, many of which I’ve never heard about before.
is presented by David Crowther, who also delivers The English History Podcast. Designed to replace the first 21 episodes of the original podcast, it explores in more thoughtful detail the development of Anglo-Saxon culture and society.
Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.
So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.
The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.
It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?
Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.
Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised. Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.
Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess. (Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?)
The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.
The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth” was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf, as told in the oldest English poem in existence.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42
They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.
Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.
It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way. Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.
By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.
If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing.
Who doesn’t love a good history podcast?
Today, I give you my top five, along with some honourable mentions.
#1 Rex Factor. In this absolutely brilliant podcast, the kings and queens of England followed by the kings and queens of Scotland are reviewed, ranked, and rated according to the qualities an ideal ruler should have. It’s both historical and hysterical. Don’t try to listen to this in the hope that it will lull you to sleep. It won’t. https://rexfactor.podbean.com/p/about/
#2 British History Podcast. A chronological history of Britain with a focus on the people and how they lived and died. It’s well told by a knowledgeable host with a very nice voice. Hey… it all helps. https://www.thebritishhistorypodcast.com/
#3 History of England Podcast Another chronological history of Britain, yet quite different to the BHP – David Crowther delivers the history in a bit more of an “English” style, whatever that is. https://thehistoryofengland.co.uk/
#4 Rum, Rebels and Ratbags Presented by David Hunt, author of ‘Girt’ and ‘True Girt’, and Dom Knight, this podcast explores the early years of European settlement in Australia. It’s insightful, irreverent, and irrepressibly Australian. https://soundcloud.com/rum-rebels-ratbags
#5 History of Byzantium Podcast by Robin Pearson. This podcast picks up where the History of Rome podcast left off and explores the story of the Byzantine empire, based in Constantinople, from 476 to 1453 AD. www.historyofbyzantium.com