Saturday, September 20, 2008


I met a traveler 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 upon 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.

Shelley's poem reminds me of the ephemeral nature of existence and the danger of hubris. The Greeks and Romans both recognized hubris as a great failing. When a leader was given a triumph in ancient Rome, we are told a slave rode in the chariot and repeated "Remember you are just a man." It seems to me that in our modern age we need to recall once more the dangers of hubris and the virtue of proportion and humility. The talking heads that indoctrinate us on the boob-tube no less than our leaders who are variously praised and excoriated by them all need a good dose. In the long run, as John Maynard Keynes said, we are all dead and the shifting sands envelop our imagined achievements.

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