‘A marvellous entry in this excellent series, one of those books that  you have to keep reading but hate to finish. Highly recommended.’ [Stage Fright]


One of the wonders of the world

Posted on Apr 21, 2015 in Oxymandias, Shelley, Terracotta Warriors | No Comments

P1140180Being a literary type, what came into my mind when I saw the terracotta army was Shelley’s poem, ‘Oxymandias.’

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.

In the case of the First Emperor, plenty does remain, and yet the hubris is the same in the idea that these thousands of soldiers – over 6,000 buried in this one pit alone – could go with him to the afterlife and continue his life of conquest. For over two thousand years, no-one knew they were there and they would probably still be buried if a peasant had chosen to dig his well elsewhere.

Around a kilometre away is the Emperor’s burial mound. It hasn’t been excavated, for fear of destroying fragile artefacts. Legends tell of a vast underground complex recreating the world above with rivers of mercury and ceilings studded with pearls for stars. It doesn’t attract many visitors as the pits containing the warriors because there is little to see. It is just a large mound covered with vegetation and it was peaceful on the beautiful spring day that we strolled along the tree-lined walks around its base, feeling the sun on our faces and listening to the birds singing.

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