Abu Simbel

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
wrote Lord Byron in 1818, glancing at a similar statue of Pharaoh  Ramesses II. The above picture however appeared as plate 106 in the photobook Égypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie, which brought its author Maxime du Camp instant fame. In a time when photos accompanying the travel books were rare, du Camp published his Egyptian chronicle with 125 photographs.

A travel writer, du Camp traveled in Europe and the East with Gustave Flaubert. However, he had no experience in photography, du Camp learned the craft from Gustave Le Gray shortly before his departure for Egypt. After an initial stay in Cairo, Fluabert and du Camp (who were lifelong friends) hired a boat to take them up the Nile as far as the second cataract, after which they descended the river at leisure, exploring the archaeological sites along its banks. In March 1850, the duo arrived at Abu Simbel built by Ramesses II (r. 1279–1213 B.C.).  Always in search of a neat, documentary clarity, he preferred a frontal view and midday light for this iconic picture of one of the colossal effigies of Ramesses II.

On his return, he published his Egyptian adventure in 1852. The next year, he was made an officer of the Legion of Honour and eventually in 1880, was elected a member of the French Academy in 1880.

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0 thoughts on “Abu Simbel

  1. Two brief comments on the wonderful du Camp photo of Abu Simbel (the entire site of which was removed farther away from the river Nile to save it from impending flooding as the Aswan Dam was being built):

    1) There is a wonderful book by the Flaubert expert, Francis Steegmuller, Flaubert in Egypt: A Sensibility on Tour, which recounts the adventures of Flaubert and du Camp on their Egyptian sojourn.

    2) The famous “Ozymandias” poem, published in 1818, was by Shelley, not Byron. (“Ozymandias” was another name for Pharaoh Ramesses the Great.) The inscription at the base of the statue, as recorded by the historian Diodorus Siculus, was: “King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.”

    Ironically enough, Shelley’s haunting ode to impermanence and the forgotten in history has had the effect of keeping Ramesses/Ozymandias in the minds of all English-speaking students who are required to read the poem.

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