Erin Blakemore at Poetry Magazine:
When Ramesses II died in 1213 BCE, the 96-year-old Egyptian pharaoh was so unusually old for ancient times that most of his subjects couldn’t imagine life without him. Some feared that his death meant the end of the world itself. After all, he had reigned for 66 years—long enough that many Egyptians lived and died without ever knowing another ruler. Several centuries later, and thousands of miles away, Ramesses II was resurrected: not in Egypt this time, but in Britain, where he was the subject of an impromptu literary competition that spawned “Ozymandias” one of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most beloved works and a staple of poetry anthologies.
Two hundred years later, it’s hard to imagine literature without Shelley’s oft-quoted poem. That wasn’t always the case. Were it not for the tireless work of Mary Shelley, Percy’s second wife, collaborator, and posthumous editor, “Ozymandias” would probably be forgotten today. Likewise, Mary’s own work, including her most famous book, Frankenstein, might not exist in its current form without Percy’s encouragement. The potent brew of collaboration, competition, and chaos that fed the Shelleys’ shared literary lives was rare but not singular.