chapter  1
17 Pages

Nature, climate and hazard

The inspiration for Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ is reputed to be the discovery of a colossal bust of Ramesses II by the Italian engineer and explorer Giovanni Belzoni a few years previously. Despite its enormous size, the statue was only a fragment of a larger sculpture created to provide a physical representation of the supreme power of the Pharaoh in the second millennium BC. The subsequent dilapidated condition offered Shelley a differing interpretation however and the overriding message of the poem is hubris, designed to accentuate the transience of civilization when compared to time and the dominance of nature. The symbolism conjured by the sonnet compellingly warns against the arrogance of humanity and emphasizes that although power and knowledge may imbue a sense of greatness, in reality this is illusory: the built environment and human activity are temporal and constrained by external factors, most notably local environmental risks. The poem has wider resonance as historical records indicate that one of the key drivers for the success of settlements is how they adapt to their physical and climatic context. The metaphor is clear: although humanity can survive in extreme environments; to grow and prosper normally requires a more beneficial relationship with the land, water and climate.