This article accompanies the fable
Shelley felt differently. In 1816 he wrote in Feelings of a Republican on the Fall of Bonaparte:
For Shelley, Napoleon was a bloody tyrant who had betrayed the Revolution, a vain Ozymandias (1818). That image resonated because it was during Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 that the Rosetta Stone was rediscovered and Europe made its formal reacquaintance with the Sphinx herself.
For Shelley, there was a sense of illegitimacy here that was spiritual - we are all in a "waking dream." Life itself was illegitimate, a "ghastly dance" (these are quotes from his final poem, The Triumph of Life in 1822). He had a point, of course, for the vast gap between rich and poor in England was at its widest during these decades. If Byron's reaction was individualistic (I too am an orphan), then Shelley's was generalized (we are all orphans). Byron imagined himself as Childe Harold, Don Juan, Manfred, Cain and Lucifer, but Shelley seems to have thought we are all the vain Ozymandias or the tortured Prometheus.
The Sphinx herself - the original mythological figure - has provided for an equally rich symbolism as Napoleon. For Francis Bacon, writing in Wisdom of the Ancients (1609), the Sphinx could be science itself: "For science may, without absurdity, be called a monster."
At top is American painter Elihu Vedder's The Questioner of the Sphinx (1863), in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It would seem that Vedder was already interested in Orientalism during the American Civil War. In keeping with the times - the questioner in his painting seems destined to go away dissatisfied.
Above: Bonaparte Before the Sphinx by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1867-1868).