I’ve been enjoying all the snarky and sarcastic comments on the internet about how we’d never have history if it weren’t for statues. It’s a funny attack on Trump’s statements, but it also points to some deeper truths. Statues have never accurately represented history. They are the perfect example of the truism that history is “written” by the victors.
Monuments are also deeply connected to the dead, and to a desire to mark the landscape and infuse it with a particular set of meanings. Chaco and Gettysburgh alike reflect this need. And so, unsurprisingly, what statues are is really art, not history. Good or bad art, but art nonetheless.
The Latin poet Horace boasted that he had “erected a monument more enduring than bronze”–that is, his poetry. But both Buddhism and common sense teach us that everything changes, and yes, most things are eventually lost.
Which brings us straight to…Ozymandias!
“Just off the highway heading south on I-27 out of Amarillo, two gigantic legs in athletic socks can be seen. You wouldn’t know it, but they are in fact the shattered likeness of an Egyptian king.”Ozymandias” is the Greek name for Ramesses II and was the inspiration and name of a famous poem written in 1818 by Romantic poet Percy Shelly after a visit to the ruins.
The pedestal near the monument also asserts that the visage of the king was destroyed by Lubbock football players after losing a game to Amarillo, which while plausible, is of course false.
The sculpture was built by local artist by self-taught artist Lightnin’ McDuff, who specializes in altering found objects to make new pieces of art. The sculpture has been vandalized numerous times, most notably with the addition of socks to the legs. Occasionally the sock vandalism is sandblasted off of the sculpture, but always seems to reappear. The locals appear to prefer the king’s legs be kept warm.
A plaque near the gigantic legs reads:
“In 1819, while on their horseback trek over the Great Plains of New Spain, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), came across these ruins. Here Shelley penned his immortal lines.” ”
This of course is a series of charming hoaxes. I”m pretty sure when I last saw it the legs were missing socks, but here is what they look like added:
Info from the marvelous Atlas Obscura, without which my life would be much poorer: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/ozymandias-plains
And these lines from Shelley, who endures in my poetic pantheon.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
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.”