We are not Ozymandias

blog_1By: The Motley Advocate
Image by: Amber D. Miller

In 1817, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote the acclaimed poem Ozymandias. Some of you may be familiar with the DC Comics Character of the same name, while I imagine many of you recognize the name from the show Breaking Bad. The famous poem describes the toppled statue of an Egyptian king. Although the statue is in ruins amidst the long destroyed kingdom, its pedestal still reads, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”  The character in the poem is considered the essential example of how the mighty have fallen.

For me, Ozymandias is an important reminder of ethos. There are three modes of persuasion to appeal to an audience: logos, pathos, and ethos. While logos and pathos are an appeal to logic or emotion respectively, ethos is an appeal to credibility. Essentially, it is where an author argues he or she should be allowed to speak because of who they are. Authors must establish themselves as credible sources.

Before I go any further, ethos is not a bad thing. When we are young most of us listen to our parents because of ethos. Children may not understand that a dead bird could make them sick if they touch it (logos), but they may listen to their parents simply because they are adults (ethos). If you see a police officer telling people to leave a building, you listen because of his or her authority as a police officer. If a person has worked at a zoo for 10 years, I would listen if they say it is dangerous to provoke the tiger.

However, ethos can sometimes turn people into Ozymandias. They claim to be a king, but when we look around at their kingdom, we realize they are king of nothing. Essentially, they claim to be a credible source when they are not. For instance, scientists often dislike it when politicians and celebrities make statements that they claim are “fact” but are untrue or not supported by any evidence. It’s mainly frustrating because fans will decide the celebrity is correct just because he or she is a celebrity.

Once again, this is not always a terrible thing. Fame can be a powerful force for good, as long as the people are well informed about the real facts. Seth Rogen used his celebrity to speak before Congress about Alzheimer’s disease, not claiming to be an expert of the field, but giving testimony about his mother-in-law and how the disease has affected their family. Kristen Bell has written a well-researched article about being a mother trying to decide if she should vaccinate her children. In this article she “shows her work”, drawing her information from scientific research and not just her own opinion. No matter how you personally feel about these issues, it is commendable that these people relied on more than just their own celebrity status when presenting their arguments.

From the other side, remember to not be Ozymandias when presenting your argument. Let’s pretend for a second that the kingdom of Ozymandias was not in ruins, but just hidden in the desert. Someone traveling through the desert would assume the kingdom did not exist, simply by looking at the broken statue declaring itself the king of kings. To me this is the same as a scientist trying to convince someone about a topic by declaring, “Look, you should just trust me because I’m a scientist.” I can fully respect people who respond by saying, “Why should I take your word on the matter, I want to see the facts myself.” In fact, that’s what scientific publication is all about, showing the data.

Now I can understand how easy it is for any of us to do this. Think about your job, and try to explain everything in a few sentences. It can be challenging. It is really easy to say “I’m a doctor; you just need to trust me. I’m a plumber; you just need to trust me. I’m an accountant; you just need to trust me.” The longer you study the subject, the easier it is to claim, “I’ve studied this for x years; you just need to trust me.” And some people will. If you get the chance to speak to a researcher who has been studying a disease for half of their life, they really do understand the disease. However, some people need more information, because they want to understand for themselves. For these people relying on ethos will not work.

In life, you need to watch out for Ozymandias. Don’t assume that someone is an authority on a subject just because they are well known. On the other hand, don’t assume everyone in a place of authority is lying to you. Remember, the power is with you.  Does the speaker have credibility for this subject? Do the facts agree with what they are saying? Just use discretion about who you are listening to, examine the kingdom they claim to rule. After all Ozymandias said “Look on my works, ye Mighty…” Just don’t despair.


1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/romantics/shelley_ozymandias.shtml
2. http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Adrian_Veidt_(Watchmen)
3. http://entertainment.time.com/2013/09/16/ozymandias-what-does-that-breaking-bad-episode-title-mean
4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/ramesses_01.shtml
5. http://pathosethoslogos.com/
6. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/seth-rogen-pleads-congress-over-alzheimers-slams-low-senator-turnout/
7. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-bell/vaccines-are-safe-and-facts-are-your-friends_b_7083504.html?1429233999&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067

One thought on “We are not Ozymandias

  1. Hi, Motley (sorry; Mr/Ms Advocate);
    Nice piece. Just a quick FYI if you’re new to blogging: instead of (or in addition to) listing your reference links at the end of your piece, you can link to them directly in the text. Big advantage of blogging over regular annotated writing.
    Looking forward to more.
    #1 Dinosaur


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