Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Flying over Ramses II

Temple of Ramses II from plane (Abu Simbell)

Ramses II was probably the greatest Pharoah of Egypt. The third pharoah of the 19th dynasty, he ruled for 67 years, subjugated and assimilated the nubians, the people of the sea and others. He had 150 children and his wife (probably also his sister, yes, icky but true) Nefertary was the only queen who had a temple built in her honor, right next to the great temple of Ramses II himself in Abu Simbell. His next favorite queen was (ick again) his own daughter with Nefertary who he is said to have married because she so resembled his beloved. He also is said to have married three other of his daughters.

All the incest and begetting aside, Ramses was quite a remarkable ruler and a spectacular man who won many battles (the famous Battle of Kadesh among them) and built amazing structures that stand even today.

He also inspired Shelley to write Ozymandias, one of his most famous short poems. One of the statues of Ramses II at his great temple fell during an earthquake in antiquity, which some say, led Shelley to mock the king thus:

"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."

Ramses II might have the last laugh though. His monuments survive more than 2000 years later and so, in some ways does he. His mummy lies in quiet repose at the Egyptian museum in Cairo. Ramses II might not have wanted to be gawked at by strangers least we all know who he is as we look at him in awe. I stared at his silky white hair, stained yellow by the mummification process and I closed my eyes for a moment to imagine how he must have been, millenia ago, magnificent king before whom all bowed. I flexed my knees to accord him that royal respect before leaving the room.

Ramses II attained his quest for eternal life in a way. How many of us will be able to do that?

All I can is say I flew over Ramses II and tried to look into his soul.

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