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Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair

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Ian Malcolm: God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man, man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs...
Ellie Sattler: Dinosaurs eat man... Woman inherits the Earth.

Humanity is an arrogant species, and human history is littered with the monuments it has built to itself at various high points in civilization. Whenever Mankind most keenly feels its magnificence, architecture becomes grandiose, Crystal Spires and Togas become everyday style, and pomp and splendor reign throughout the land. Truly this is the Golden Age! Alas, pride always goes before the fall...

While the trope suggests epic grandeur, it also covers situations where people invest hugely in a pursuit, confident that their ambitious scheme will succeed, only to see it fail spectacularly in catastrophe and devastation, with a cautionary tale emerging from the few records that survive.

In the end, nothing remains of their triumph but ashes and dust — and those who boasted of their own greatness must confront their own smallness. How the Mighty Have Fallen! Humanity has learned a painful lesson about its place in the world; at least, for a while...

As a trope in literature, this oftentimes comes up as An Aesop about Pride and humility, and, dating back to even Old Testament tales about the Tower of Babel, is Older Than Dirt.

If it involves science or magic, it will often cross into Gone Horribly Wrong because the undertaking violates one or more items on the Scale of Scientific Sins.

Basically And Man Grew Proud with thematic monuments and constructions. A sister trope to How the Mighty Have Fallen.

Definitely a staple of a Cosmic Horror Story, as a once powerful and technologically advanced civilisation could've been brought low by godlike horrors with absolutely no hope for recovery and future visitors gazing at the ruins nervously, wondering what happened.

On the other hand, things may not be all doom and gloom for the country in question, and with some effort and luck they may well even come Back from the Brink.

The Trope Namer line (see the 'Poetry' folder) is frequently misremembered or misquoted as "look upon my works", instead of "on". Even more frequently, it is simplified to "Look upon me, O world, and despair!"


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Ryugu Shelter in 7 Seeds was one of many shelters built to withstand the meteorites and keep humanity safe. It's built up as a lavishly robust and safe shelter with all sorts of accommodations for them and is considered to continue to stand. By the time three Teams enter it, it's in ruins, overrun with rust or plant life and falling apart, although perhaps it would've been sustained a bit better had they not all died about six months after it was in use.
  • Zigzagged with Embryo in Cross Ange. It is he, who in his attempts to create a perfect and peaceful humanity, destroys the present one and restarts from scratch each time. In the end though, it is a band of that society's rejects, the Norma, and members of pre-existing races who have suffered because of him that ultimately kill him and stop his current attempt at a reset button, saving both the original and the present artificial world, the World of Mana, though the latter is left in shambles.
  • The nation of Xerxes from Fullmetal Alchemist appears to be partially based on Shelley's poem. The entire population was killed in the course of a day due to the arrogance of the king in dealing with powers he did not understand for the sake of cheating death. All that remains are ruins in the middle of a desert, and two immortals. By the end, even the two immortals are gone.
  • Donquixote Doflamingo and the underground empire he founded on Dressrosa from One Piece can also be an example. Doflamingo used to proclaim himself as the lynchpin of the world, justifying all his atrocious actions to maintain it, such as murdering his father and brother, committing mass murder as well as attempting genocide, a rampant arms deal, which could only happen because he was the descendant of the Celestial Dragons, 'the mighty' of the One Piece world. By the end of the arc in which his empire was shown in detail, everything collapses in a dramatic chain of events: his kingship, his reputation, his influence, his underground network, and such. The only things that remain of his crew and empire are the chaos the news of his defeat generated amongst Doflamingo's buyers, which might soon be quelled, and the more sane former crew members who want nothing to do with the crew anymore. Doflamingo lampshades it while in Impel Down, saying that 'the aforementioned mighty' will also collapse sooner or later.

  • The five-part series of paintings The Course of the Empire by Thomas Cole depicts the different steps of a developing civilization, and then its decay. The last painting shows a devastated landscape with ruins of the past glorious city seen in the previous paintings.

    Comic Books 
  • Referenced in The Avengers volume 1, issue #57, the issue that first introduced The Vision. After the Avengers defeated Ultron, there's a brief epilogue in which a boy finds Ultron's dismantled head in a vacant lot, kicks it around like a football and then discards it and walks away, narrated by the original poem by Shelley.
  • The Incredible Hulk issue #467 is titled "The Lone and Level Sands". A despairing Bruce Banner recites the poem to Rick Jones, saying he can see the broken statue, only the feet are bare and the "shattered visage" is the Hulk's face. It was also the final issue of Peter David's long run on the title.
  • The Trope Namer is almost quoted word for word in Spider-Man 2099 when Miguel sees the ruins of the White House after Doom's fall.
  • Directly referenced in Watchmen by the character Ozymandias. Being an extremely powerful and clever man, he's completely aware of the unfortunate connotations of his name and demeanor but is trying to reclaim the title. However, it's up for reader interpretation whether or not he succeeds. On one hand, he might have saved all of humanity, though at the cost of half the population of New York. On the other hand, the truth may get out, showing Ozymandias's hubris and the inevitability of nuclear destruction — which, according to Doomsday Clock, it did.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): The trope name is quoted ad verbatim by Monster X to Ghidorah near the end. It mainly refers to how Ghidorah has invested a lot of effort past and present in trying to push Vivienne Graham down a Start of Darkness and rebuild its own body and power; only for a year's worth of time and energy investing in the latter to be completely undone before Ghidorah's restoration is complete, as an indirect result of Monster X successfully defying Ghidorah's efforts to corrupt the half of it that Vivienne has become and instead becoming the complete antithesis to what Ghidorah wanted Vivienne to be. The line can also be read as referring to how one of man's cities, which has been around for over a century, has just been reduced to a lifeless radioactive wasteland by a combination of Ghidorah, Godzilla and Mothra's actions.
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Atlantis and Lemuria both once ruled global scale Empires c. 20,000 years ago; one of humans, the other of the Changing People a.k.a. the Deviants, who held humans as slaves (and snacks). The former was actually bootstrapped by Asgard, in order to allow humanity to stand up for themselves, and is hinted to have been merged with the Ancients, developed a Portal Network into the Pegasus Galaxy. They inevitably went to war. The resulting dust-up was epic in scale, thanks to the Lemurians wielding Celestial derived technology and the Atlanteans wielding a whole mish-mash of gifted and reverse-engineered technology, and both sides wielding Sufficiently Analyzed Magic. In the end, the Atlanteans got desperate, grabbed the Darkhold and won, salting and burning Lemuria, rendering the Deviants all but extinct, and building a colony of their own on the ruins as a final screw-you... but were rapidly corrupted into something every bit as bad as the Lemurians had been. Shortly after, they quite literally imploded, taking out the island of Atlantis and the entire civilisation, and setting back human development by tens of thousands of years.
      • Partially subverted, however, in that the undersea successor state of Atlantis did survive, even if it's only a shadow of what Atlantis was in its prime.
    • Daniel Jackson reveals late in the sequel that Doctor Strange actually, chillingly, enforced it on Apocalypse to demonstrate why betraying him is a suicidally bad idea. To cut a very long story short, let us merely say that for Apocalypse, a Genius Bruiser and outright Physical God, betraying Strange, his teacher and foster-father to take over a global empire was a very bad idea. One utterly savage war later, his entire empire was scoured from history, he's trapped in a Fate Worse than Death designed to give him occasional false hope for the next eight thousand years, his entire legacy and memory is erased, with the last of his descendants (or at least, the ones who know they're his descendants) eventually being either eaten by vampires or vaporised by the Phoenix... and as he's buried Strange - a time traveller and Cultured Badass - quotes the poem verbatim.
  • Code Prime: In their home series, Britannia was uncontested in military might, which is now almost laughably inferior when compared to the technology and weaponry (and not to mention the sheer experience) of the Cybertronians, Decepticon or Autobot. Their total defeat against the Decepticons in Fall of Britannia just emphasizes this.
  • The Flux of Mortal Things, a Star Trek: Voyager fanfic, has Seven of Nine recall the Shelley quote while exploring a derelict Borg vessel and realizing that one day, inevitably, the Collective with succumb to decay and become nothing more than a collection of dead vessels drifting in space.
    With sudden awareness Seven realised she was seeing not the past but the future. That one day the universe would be full of the silent floating mausoleums of her people. The Borg — believing without question that they were improving themselves — were slowly and inevitably stagnating, grinding to an evolutionary halt. The Collective might exist for thousands of years, might succeed in assimilating Voyager, humanity, the entire galaxy even. But it would all end like this.
  • The King Nobody Wanted: One of the most prominent landmarks in the Rollingford lands is a massive bridge, built by Lord Ryam Rollingford in the Age of Heroes to keep the valuable trade route open during floods, and made "to last for thousands and thousands of years, till the world cracked and was built anew..." The bridge still stands, but the river it crosses is now a stream, and the trade route is gone, along with the wealth and power that let the Rollingfords build the bridge.
  • Lost Cities: A central theme of the story is the downfallen glory of ancient empires. Time and again, rising civilizations built vast monuments, raised immense cities, and filled them with art and wealth and symbols of their great and lasting power. Nothing remains of their glories, now, beyond lonely ruins home only to the wind.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Prince of Egypt: At the beginning of the movie, during the song "Deliver Us", the Hebrew slaves are being forced to construct a huge statue of the Pharaoh. Near the end of the movie, at the end of the song "The Plagues", the statue collapses. God is more powerful than any Pharaoh.
  • A major theme of The Spine of Night. The movie is set over several centuries, forcing the viewer to see how a character's quest for personal glory and power will be utterly forgotten and insignificant by the end of the movie. One sequence, framed as "a moment of great dignity", shows two refugees embracing the meaninglessness of human endeavour and accepting their powerlessness to save their own lives.
  • This is how Long presents his backstory in Wish Dragon. In life, he was a human emperor, confident in the knowledge that he was leaving an amazing legacy by marrying his daughters to neighboring kingdoms, proudly sending his son off to war, and otherwise amassing as much wealth and power as he could. In reality, the daughters were heartbroken to go, his son died in battle, and nobody mourned their tyrant of an emperor's passing. The palace Long brings Din to to explain all this history is nothing by a lonely ruin in the present time.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. "No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information." It's debatable whether or not you could say HAL 9000 "made a mistake", but either way it murdered four people.
    • The sequel reveals that HAL was ordered to conceal the true reason for the mission from the astronauts until they reached their destination, something that went directly against his programming to be fully honest and truthful. The only way for him to obey both directives was for there to be no one to reveal the information to, making this partly a case of Gone Horribly Right.
  • Alien: Covenant. The android David regards humanity through this trope, with their drive to colonize space just a doomed attempt to revitalize their civilization. He quotes the line verbatim just before he turns the Engineers' bioweapons against them, and later he and Walter quote the entire poem while David reminisces about the event. However, David mistakenly attributes the poem to Lord Byron, implying that humans are not the only one suffering from hubris, and he's just as flawed as the humans who created him.
  • The Krell in Forbidden Planet built a sort of whole-planet hard light holodeck that could bring a significant amount of energy and matter together at nearly any point for basically any purpose, all controlled with their minds. It worked wonderfully until they went to sleep, and the hidden violent fantasies of their subconscious destroyed their entire civilization in one night of bloodshed.
  • Godzilla vs. Kong: The Apex Cybernetics corporation have made one or two truly fantastical feats of groundbreaking technological advancement with their HEAVs and their psionic technology, but they want to take it a step further: led by the movie's egotistical Big Bad Wannabe, Apex are seeking to prove that humanity is superior to the Kaiju, by building Mechagodzilla and using it to topple and murder Godzilla. Yet Apex are reliant on using Ghidorah's Not Quite Dead remains and an ultraterrestrial power source just to make a Mechagodzilla that even works at all, and their hubris in mixing these three things into each-other without fully understanding them only results in a Ghidorah-possessed Mechagodzilla turning against Apex and destroying their HQ, then going on to presumably ruin the company's name by massacring half of Hong Kong. Mechagodzilla itself is then defeated and completely destroyed through the combined efforts of the very Alpha Titans it was meant to topple, leaving nothing but scrap metal.
  • Jurassic Park (1993) and its sequels ought to be a textbook example. Guy wants to make something of lasting beauty and appeal, accessible to all, and in the process enrich the world. What does he get? Out-of-control dinosaurs and several instances of "I told you so"'. Much less so in the book, in which his department heads had foreseen almost every problem and he'd turned down their proposed solutions.
  • The Matrix: All that's left of humanity's works at least 500 years after their enslavement by their own machine creations, if the Architect is to be believed, is a really Absurdly-Spacious Sewer network of the dead mega-cities. The last remnants of humanity's La Résistance use them for transportation as they fight for freedom of other humans.
  • Metropolis: So what if the shining city of the future depends on the suffering of the workers upholding it? They certainly won't rise up and destroy the city... right? Also, note that — fearing the audience would miss the point — the author blatantly referenced the Ur-example through a mid-film sermon and by naming the city center the "New Tower of Babel".
  • Robin Hood: The opening titles are a meditation on this theme, showing the crumbling ruins of 12th century England before a dissolve shows a ruined castle in its former glory and the story begins.

    Folklore, Mythology, and Religion 
  • The proverbial story in The Bible's Book of Daniel about the giant made of gold, silver, bronze and iron with the feet of iron and clay — which breaks at the ankles when struck by a stone at its weakest point, and topples, and may have been a secondary referent for Shelley's poem.
  • As Nebuchadnezzar II is admiring the city of Babylon which he built by the might of his power and for the honor of his majesty, the probationary period of 12 months during which Daniel had urged Nebuchadnezzar to humble himself comes to a close, and Nebuchadnezzar is driven to insanity as God's punishment, spending 7 years eating grass like an ox and drenched with the dew of heaven while his hair, fingernails, and toenails become overgrown, and he ultimately acknowledges that God can humble the proud and exalt the lowly.
  • In chapter 5 of the Book of Daniel, after Nebuchadnezzar's passing, Belshazzar reigns as regent prince in the absence of Nabonidus. He hosts a great feast, using the golden and silver vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem to praise the Babylonian gods made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. Suddenly, the hand of God writes a message which none of the Babylonian astrologers and soothsayers can interpret. Daniel translates the words "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" and tells Belshazzar that the kingdom's days are numbered and Babylon's reign will soon come to an end, he has been found lacking in the heavenly balance scales of judgment, and that his kingdom will be divided and conquered by the Medes and Persians. Belshazzar is slain, and Babylonia is conquered by the Medes and Persians led by Darius the Mede.
  • The Bible's tale of the Tower of Babel is this trope via God's intervention. Post-flood humanity is united with one people, one language and one purpose. They propose to build a city and a tower to reach up to the heights of heaven, so God causes humanity to speak many languages instead of one and in the confusion, He disperses them across the earth, with the workers abandoning work on the tower.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four: Possibly. Despite O'Brien and the Party's grandiose claims that they will have power forever and never be overthrown, the Newspeak appendix is written in the past tense. Could it be the Party was Not So Omniscient After All?
  • The sprawling underground ruins in Below are referred to as the Elder Kingdom even though it was probably many kingdoms, but nobody actually knows who built it all, or how. "Manthings" like goblins maintain civilizations in some parts of the ruins, but the builders were likely ordinary humans. The sheer mystery of the place is a major force driving people to explore.
  • Bazil Broketail: The cruel despot Mach Ingbok built a huge statue of himself in his city Duggoth, sneering down over his subjects. Now his city is in ruins, with only his statue left of him, though some of his dark influence affects people in the area still.
  • In The Book of the New Sun, the narrator keeps talking about the faces of the mountains. Surely he's just being poetic? No: it turns out that literally Every. Single. Mountain he encounters has been carved into the shape of a dead ruler in a manner reminiscent of Mount Rushmore. The irony is that nobody can even remember the names of any of these rulers, let alone anything about their lives and achievements. (Given the Crapsack World nature of the setting, it's possible that their achievements consisted exclusively of "I got my subjects to carve a mountain into my likeness.")
  • By the Waters of Babylon: John surveys a statue of George Washington (which reads only "Ashing" in the future) along with Federal Hall, where only "Ubtreas" is left of its inscription. He is moved by these remnants from the past "gods", who built up a great civilization but then destroyed themselves in a war, before realizing they were human like him, and fell due to their hubris, too much knowledge gained quickly having undone them.
  • In The Day of the Triffids Coker quotes Ozymandias as he contemplates the fall of civilization.
  • Discworld:
    • In Jingo, the only significant monumental remnant of Tacticus's campaign in Klatch is a single sandalled foot on a pedestal. The quote is a lot more interesting when translated, being both a boast and a threat at once note :
      I can see your house from up here.
    • A less antagonistic version appears in Interesting Times. Rincewind blunders into a tomb and all there is is the name, "One Sun Mirror". No additional remarks (e.g. "One Sun Mirror, beloved father and aardvark fancier"), just the name, as though knowing the name means you know everything else you need to know about the guy. (As the narration points out: If you got this far without knowing anything about him... everything based on his works is gone.) However, it should be noted this is only an example for Rincewind. Everyone in the Agatean Empire knows who One Sun Mirror is because he founded the damn place.
    • In Small Gods, Om, a once-powerful god now stuck in the form of a tortoise, is very uncomfortable when he sees an abandoned temple in the middle of the desert.
      Om: A god lived here. A powerful God. Thousands worshipped it. I can feel it. You know? It comes out of the walls. A Great God. Mighty were his dominions and magnificent was his word. [..] And now no one, not you, not me, no one, even knows who the god was or his name or what he looked like.
    • Even more traumatically, Om later encounters the nigh-powerless remnant of an actual god whose faith died untold centuries ago. It's so very enfeebled by its spiritual diminution that it doesn't even remember its own name, only that it used to be worshiped by millions. And despair, indeed...
    • In Feet of Clay, the vampire Dragon King of Arms (whose long life grants him a certain perspective on these things) reflects:
      Men said things like “peace in our time” or “an empire that will last a thousand years,” and less than half a lifetime later no one even remembered who they were, let alone what they had said or where the mob had buried their ashes.
  • Inverted in In the Keep of Time. The people of Kelso in the future, though disapproving of the greed which they believe led the Technological Civilization to its doom, very much admire the buildings, monuments, and other remnants of our world left behind and are quite interested in studying and understanding it, as well as doing their best to preserve and make new use of it in their world. At the same time, they are determined not to let history repeat itself. On a more meta level, Smailholm Tower itself seems symbolic of this, since it remains even centuries in the future and, in the belief of the author, will "still stand when our knowledge and skills are but a chapter in the course of the history of man"—i.e., a sign of the wonders and glory of man, rather than of pride and hubris.
  • Before the events of The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, the Once-ler and his relatives ran a lucrative, though highly destructive, business turning the foliage of the Truffula Trees into Thneeds. When the last Truffula Tree is felled, however, the Thneed factories shut down and the Once-ler's relatives leave for new ventures. By the time the story begins, all that remains of the forest is a field of tree stumps, the ruins of the Thneed factories, and the Once-ler himself.
  • The lifeless ruins of the once-great city of Charn in The Magician's Nephew are strongly suggestive of this trope.
  • "Merlin's Gun" by Alastair Reynolds. The human Waymaker civilisation covered the galaxy at sub-light speeds and built the Waynet which allows travel at light speed. Tens of thousands of years later, the Waymakers are dead dead dead. The Waynet is still standing, but no one knows how to work it.
  • The Name of the Rose deals with the loss of knowledge and art to history. A lost work becomes the MacGuffin, and in the novel's climax the monastery and its priceless library are burned down by a monk afraid of its knowledge slipping out of his control.
  • The A Song of Ice and Fire series has many examples. The North had hundreds of ruins and tombs dating back thousands of years from the era of the First Men. Likewise, the many castles of the Night's Watch along the Wall: Once, there were nearly twenty fully-manned keeps; now, only three remain in use, while the others have fallen into ruin over the past few centuries. But the crowning achievement can only be Harrenhal. In the distant past, King Harren spent forty years designing and building the largest, most magnificent castle in all the Seven Kingdoms, bankrupting his realm in the process. And the very day construction is complete and he moves into residence, Aegon the Conqueror lands on the shores of Westeros. Barely a year later, Aegon's dragons torch Harrenhal into molten slag. Today, nearly three centuries later, Harrenhal still stands, but in a state of perpetual disrepair, with crumbling towers and passageways. The lands and incomes of Harrenhal's fiefdom are very wealthy, for a minor lord anyway, but there has never been a Lord of Harrenhal that has not come to a bad end. And, of course, there is the Doom of Valyria, famous centuries later for the physical destruction not only of the greatest civilization of its time but of the very continent it stood on, in a matter of hours; thought, in one theory, to have been the product of the hubris of its magic-users.
  • Space Marine Battles has a non-human (or perhaps post-human? We'll never know) example: in Malodrax, Lysander and Corvin both notice examples of once great and proud civilizations which used to build mighty cities to compete with each other, but by the time any of them arrives, all that's left are ruins and some slaves for the Iron Warriors.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch: The unnamed home-planet of the Ware is a barren, desolate wasteland. This is deliberate on the part of what's left of the four species that helped build the original version, as a warning. One anti-Ware cooperative are more than happy to show Starfleet and Corrupt Corporate Executive Vabion to it when they ask. They wanted to find out about the Ware's origins. They got it, alright.
  • In Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations, most of the races represented in the Axis of Time (basically a Place Beyond Time) have to deal with this. In the time periods they consider to be "the present", they're often thriving cultures, indeed the leading races of their interstellar communities. But thanks to the Axis they know that a few thousand years later and they'll have been forgotten, being at best archaeological curiosities to the next group of spacefaring cultures and at worst lost to history.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • The clearest and most dramatic example is the segment of The Silmarillion called Akallabêth. When the Dúnedain are given the island of Númenor as their new home, they are forbidden to sail west, where the Undying Lands are. So they begin to sail east, to Middle-earth, instead, becoming colonizers and conquerors. They grow so powerful that they capture Sauron. The prisoner then proceeds to play on the pride and fears of the Númenorean king Ar-Pharazôn until the king is convinced that he is powerful enough to ignore this "Ban of the Valar" against sailing west and that he will be immortal if he does. The Númenoreans spend years building the largest fleet of ships and stockpile of weapons that the world has ever seen and set sail. But as soon as Ar-Pharazôn lands on the Undying Lands, God intervenes to destroy the fleet, the army, the island of Númenor, all of its people except the ones who saw this coming, and even some of Middle-earth's coastline. The only "works" left behind are the kingdoms they founded in Middle-earth, a mere shadow of Númenor's original glory, and — according to legend — the very tip of the Holy Mountain in the center of the island. The Men of Middle-earth who are descended from Númenoreans tend to remember their history in later ages, but the other peoples generally know nothing about it.
    • Khazad-dûm, or Moria, is one of the greatest works that is still somewhat intact anywhere in Middle-earth at the time of The Lord of the Rings. By the Third Age, it was a contender as the largest city not just of the Dwarves, but of any of Middle-earth's peoples — and it was completely underground. But of course they Dug Too Deep, and now nothing is left but ruins, Orcs, and Durin's Bane.
  • The Tripods. Humanity has been reduced to a medieval culture ruled by the alien Tripods. Lampshaded by the vagrant Ozymandias who uses Shelley's poem as a Madness Mantra.
  • Averting this trope is the whole reason the vampires took over the world in Vampirocracy. Convinced that if humanity didn't straighten itself out and quick all that would be left of Earth is a radioactive asteroid belt, the vampires saw fit take over the world. So far, they're not doing too bad a job.
  • In the world of The Wheel of Time, there are several (some pretty large) statues and ruins left from the Age of Legends. They're so common, in fact, that people hardly notice them, except for their convenience as landmarks.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Emperor Londo Mollari of Babylon 5 feels the full weight of this trope towards the end of his character arc in "The Fall of Centauri Prime", when the Drakh use his own gambit against him to blackmail him into becoming a puppet ruler, driving the Centauri Republic further into isolation and ruin. In the end, he sulks in his throne room drowning his sorrows because he can't bear the thought of glancing at the ruined cityscape unprepared and bursting into tears.
  • Pretty much the point of Battlestar Galactica (2003) and Caprica. The Twelve Colonies of Man were ultimately exterminated after reaching the pinnacle of its civilization when it created the robotic Cylons, who promptly destroyed their creators.
  • Breaking Bad has a more personalized version of this in Walter White building a massive meth empire as one of the greatest cooks in America. Eventually, it all comes crashing down, resulting in the death of his brother-in-law, abandoning his family and losing any hope of mending his relationship with them, losing nearly all of his millions of dollars, and being forced to go into hiding. The episode in which all of this occurs is, appropriately, entitled "Ozymandias". And it — and the final season as a whole — contains MANY subtle visual references to the poem.
  • One of the dead planets visited by the crew of the Excalibur in Crusade was destroyed by a techno-mage they had hired to fight a war for them. The nanotech weapon he created for them took over their minds and forced them to murder each other.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • In "Kill the Boy", Tyrion Lannister and Jorah Mormont ponder this trope as they sail along a canal through the ruins of Valyria, even quoting a Shelley-esque lament on the apocalypse that destroyed the once-great civilization.
    • Within two seasons of his death, all of Lord Tywin Lannister's gains for his house have been completely undone. Cersei's disastrous attempts at playing politics culminates with her openly murdering thousands of people and crowning herself queen in a short-sighted play at saving her own skin. House Tyrell and Dorne are now both firmly against the Lannisters and are allying with Daenerys' invading army to take them down. His greatest victory of eradicating the noble Stark family has been completely undone thanks to the rise of the overlooked Stark children, who have taken down the very families he raised to power. Jon Snow and Sansa Stark have retaken the North and destroyed the Boltons who Tywin installed as Wardens of the North, while Arya Stark has assassinated Walder Frey, sending the Frey and Lannister's shaky hold on the Riverlands into chaos. To top it off, the Lannister family itself is in complete shambles, with Tommen, Kevan, and Lancel dead, Jaime implied to now be firmly against Cersei, and Tyrion actively aiding Daenerys' war efforts as Hand of the Queen. In spite of the Lannisters' aforementioned setbacks, however, both House Tyrell and Dorne were destroyed by the Lannister forces. First, Tyrell fell to the treachery of House Tarly who kills the last Tyrell and House Dorne was swiftly extinguished by their need for vengeance over the survival of the House which leads to the demise of the family. Even then it was not enough to delay Cersei's downfall as the deaths of Missandei and Rhaegal cause Daenerys to cross the Moral Event Horizon and burn King's Landing to the ground with her and Jaime with it. Ironically enough, such cruelty by Daenerys brings the end of Aegon's legacy when the Iron Throne is burned and she is killed by Jon Snow, who rejects his status as the last Targaryen by willingly allowing himself to be exiled back to the Night's Watch for Queenslaying.
    • All of Roose Bolton's actions for the protection and benefit of House Bolton unravel almost instantly after his death by the hand of his son Ramsay, and House Bolton is destroyed and doomed to be forgotten soon after.
    • Daenerys invokes this when talking to Jon about the Dragonpit, stating that when the Targaryens built such a place and treated their dragons as little more than glorified animals to ride into battle and from place to place, it started the decline of their power.
      "This place was the beginning of the end for my family. A dragon is not a slave. They were terrifying. Extraordinary. They filled people with wonder and awe, and we locked them in here. They wasted away. They grew small. And we grew small as well. We weren't extraordinary without them. We were just like everyone else."
  • House of the Dragon: We see the aforementioned decline of the Targaryens, starting with the Dance of the Dragons Succession Crisis and Civil War that destroyed the peace of the realm that King Jaehaerys and Viserys worked so hard to achieve and preserve (and the latter mused about the doom of Valyria).
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby invokes the key lines of the poem when looking upon The Arcadia, a hotel he has just resolved to demolish.
  • Life After People is less a condemnation of man's hubris than a scientific exposition of how everything humanity has right now will eventually decay and that there'll be little left to indicate we were ever here long after our extinction.
    • For the record, Mount Rushmore is predicted to last the longest, with it taking millions of years for it to erode away completely.
  • The picture above is from Lost. The trope may apply to the four-toed statue and the other ancient ruins on the island. It also applies to the DHARMA Initiative, a group who came to the island with lofty goals for humanity, and ended up murdered and thrown in a mass grave.
  • Not surprisingly, The Outer Limits (1995) features this trope often.
    • "Blood Brothers" features a group of scientists that believe they have created a miracle drug because the monkey they tested it on survives things that would normally kill it. Deciding that they've found the key to immortality, one member of the team promptly steals the drug and injects himself with it. Unfortunately, he does this before he finds out what really happens when the drug is taken. Basically, the drug takes all of the energy produced by the body and reroutes it to perform one task: Healing. As a result, it gives the illusion of immortality and allows the user to undergo every sort of normally fatal event without even being wounded. Once the drug wears off however, the body's power to heal is completely exhausted and the user rapidly ages before dying.
    • In "The New Breed", a prominent scientist named Stephen Ledbetter invents nanomachines which he believes will cure anything. He shows them to his soon to be brother-in-law Andy Groenig and gives a lengthy speech about how God created man with many flaws and how much better he has done. Shortly afterwards, Andy is diagnosed with Pelvic Cancer and informed that he only has a short amount of time to live if his leg is not amputated. He desperately injects himself with the nanobots Stephen created. They cure him nigh instantly. From then on, Andy spends every night with his fiancé Judy and generally enjoys life. With no disease to cure, the nanobots start registering what they believe are flaws in Andy's structure and making improvements. As a result, Andy grows a pair of gills and a pair of eyes in the back of his head. Certain drives of his also become so powerful that his fiancé is freaked out by him. This culminates in him asking Stephen to kill him. Months later Judy cuts her finger inadvertently only for the wound to instantly heal on its own.
  • Ripley's Believe It or Not! showed a man who once dug a tunnel through bedrock with hand tools and dynamite to create a shortcut for trains hauling gold in Nevada over the course of 40 years. Before he finished the trains stopped running when the gold mine dried up. He completed the tunnel anyway. They estimated that because of the bedrock he dug into it will last millions of years and remain as mankind's final testament, outlasting everything else ever created.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • The inhabitants of the planet Minos wanted to build the ultimate weapons system to make themselves "The Arsenal of Freedom". Unfortunately, the automated salesman they created to help sell it wouldn't take no for an answer and destroyed their civilization as a product demonstration.
    • Similarly, the Iconians. 200,000 years ago, they ruled most of the galaxy using their Portal Network. Their empire collapsed when various other species turned on them and bombed Iconia to dust for reasons that are never made clear- Picard speculates that their portal technology was misunderstood and scared the other species, but there are hints that they were kind of dicks. Star Trek Online goes with the latter, with the Iconians having spent millennia in hiding preparing to restore their empire and enslaving entire species.
  • A non-architectural variation in Walking with Beasts. The series ends with the narrator saying that if all the vast evolutionary history of the world has taught us anything, it's this; "no species lasts forever".

  • From "Mad About You" by Sting:
    They say a city in the desert lies
    The vanity of an ancient king
    But the city lies in broken pieces
    Where the wind howls and the vultures sing
    These are the works of man
    This is the sum of our ambition
  • "Dark Fate of Atlantis" by Rhapsody of Fire:
    Monumental growth
    Breaking rules of history
    The lost continent was legend
    Soon the legend became myth

    Power, strength, prosperity
    Once too close to divinity
    Until water became fire
    And swallowed all its lore
  • Procol Harum's "Conquistador":
    Although you came with sword held high
    You did not conquer — only die
  • Deathspell Omega's The Furnaces of Palingenesia is perhaps a more extreme example than most. "You Cannot Even Find the Ruins...", the title of the final song, is a fairly accurate description of its ending, a collapse of society so complete that there will not even be ruins to suggest it ever existed. The band directly attributes this to humanity's intrinsic self-destructiveness, arguing in particular that authoritarianism is intrinsically anti-life. The ending may plausibly be interpreted as a global extinction event, particularly after the band clarified its intentions in a rare interview in 2019.

  • Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias", the Trope Namer, describes a monument in Egypt, buried in the sand, lost to time. The irony is particularly emphasized by the 'despair' at the end of the inscription: originally it was supposed to make the observer despair in awe of the power commanded by the one who built the great monument, but the desolation changes it to an existential despair before the might of time, which would eventually leave standing neither great monuments nor memories of those who built them. Ironically, this poem and Percy Shelley's wife are remembered far more widely than any of his other work in popular consciousness. Many people who know of the poem have little or no awareness of the author.
  • Then you have Horace Smith's "Ozymandias"note , which was part of a competition between Shelley and Smith to write a poem on the same subject. While Shelley's poem has achieved Pop Culture Osmosis due to its superior imagery and succinctness, Smith's poem is still noted for its last lines (where he poignantly wonders if some future traveler will wonder this about London After the End):
    He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
    What powerful but unrecorded race
    Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
  • "Recessional", by Rudyard Kipling, laments how the British Empire could collapse like all other empires before it. Also Kipling's "Hymn of Breaking Strain"
  • "The Ruin", by an unknown Anglo-Saxon author reflecting on the contrast between a city's current ruined state and his speculation on its former glory. Interestingly enough the city has since been resettled and is now known as Bath.
  • "He Never Heard of Casey!" by Grantland Rice laments that no work of art will be remembered forever because there is someone who's never heard of "Casey at the Bat".
  • In Alexey Tolstoy's poem The Barrow, bards sang during a warrior's funeral that his deeds will outlast the barrow under which he's buried. Today, the barrow's still standing, but...
  • Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat 1st edition XVI : Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai / Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day, / How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp / Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.

    Professional Wrestling 
"Bischoff had once been quoted as saying, 'I used to really look forward to Tuesday mornings to see the ratings, but lately, we've been kicking their ass so bad that it's just not that fun anymore.' I guess Eric must have never heard that old proverb about counting your chickens before they hatch. Also, if kicking the other company's ass so bad isn't any fun, I feel real sorry for Vince, he must be miserable."

  • The Stan Freberg Show: "Incident at Los Voraces" tells the story of two casinos, El Sodom and Rancho Gomorrah, which outdid each other with bigger and bigger attractions until one of them brought in a hydrogen bomb test.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Atlantis: The Second Age, Heroes advance by getting the attention and favor of the gods. As you rise in fame and power, you have to create Great Works to show that you are worthy of the gods' favor. If you get too much power without showing that you deserve to wield it, the gods will smite you for your hubris and lead you to your doom.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Module I3 "Pharaoh" has a reference to Ozymandias. A statue sticks out of the desert sand, the face scarred by the ravages of time and sand. An inscription reads:
      My name is Maniozimus. Look upon the ruins of the great city that surround you and despair. Great magic once was, now you see only the mighty ruins of men's works.
    • A similar foot-and-shin remnant of a gigantic statue is prominently featured in the ruined city at the heart of module X1's "Isle of Dread". It one-ups Shelley's metaphor of Time erasing human hubris, by having nothing legible left of its inscription at all.
  • The Numenera setting is built on this trope. The Ninth World of the setting is Earth a billion years in the future after eight previous civilizations have risen and fallen. The titular numenera are scattered pieces of technology left over from all the previous civilizations. They act as the setting's magic items, but no-one knows who created any given piece or what it was originally intended to do.
  • Played with in Pathfinder. Present-day Varisia is dotted with monuments from the 10,000-year-old civilization of Thassilon, most of which are in partial states of ruination (the Thassilonians used magical Ragnarök Proofing on their monuments, which is the only reason there's anything left of them at all). The closest to this trope is a giant stone foot in the city of Korvosa, all that remains of a colossal statue. Played straight with those ruins that are home to bandits, cultists, or monsters with no connection to the Thassilonians. Averted in other cases (like the giant foot), where the ancient Thassilonian Runelords who originally ordered the construction of those monuments have recently awakened after being sealed away for the past hundred centuries, and are only too eager to remind the modern world of their accomplishments.
  • In Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Eldar ruled most of the galaxy and possessed the power to destroy stars on whim, yet their empire was brought low by their own hedonism, which spawned the Chaos God Slaanesh, whose birth tore a huge hole in the fabric of reality, engulfing a large chunk of their empire and destroying the souls of the majority of their species.
    • Humans from 40k may also count, as their original star-spanning civilization (before the Imperium) was destroyed due to a combination of warp storms and a robot uprising.
    • The Tau also suffer from this quite heavily: they are absolutely sure of their own victory due to their technology and ideology...without realizing that the Imperium and Eldar are still more advanced, and were even MORE advanced at the height of their power; needless to say, there is a reason the Imperium and Eldar both have a practically Luddite mentality.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: The Isu, the precursors and direct creators of mankind, once ruled the world, spread across the entire planet, with science and technology millennia ahead of anything mankind could achieve... and then the Toba Catastrophe happened. By the modern day, the only sign they ever existed at all are a few ruins scattered about the place, in hard-to-reach locations, and a handful of obscenely dangerous artifacts they left behind.
    • Assassin's Creed Origins has Bayek stumble onto the tomb of Ramses II himself, which comes with a piece of poetry nodding to the Trope Namer itself. And it probably isn't a coincidence that when Bayek goes to Ramses II's dedicated afterlife, it's an endless desert filled with half-buried statues.
  • BioShock depicts an underwater city, conceived as an ambitious project to create a capitalist Utopia, but which has fallen on, ahem, shall we say hard times?
  • Played with in Blue Dragon: After traveling through an underground ruin of an obviously advanced civilization, the party emerges topside to find a town full of ancient murals...which are sentient and friendly, and conduct their own daily business like the humans they have effectively replaced. There are even evil murals that commit crimes and attack you in random encounters.
  • Chrono Trigger: The Kingdom of Zeal, a highly prospering society of technology, art, and magic which drew its power from the Mammon Machine, a device that tapped into the power of Lavos and eventually led to his awakening when set to max power — and in turn he destroyed Zeal and almost all of the world below it.
  • This quote appears (like many others) in Civilization, but is otherwise not an example. Unless you build so many wonders that your opponents get jealous and decide to steamroll you.
    • The box art of Civ I depicts a giant sarcophagus-like carving under a modern city.
    • In Civ V, one of the reasons another civilization might hate you is because you beat them in building one or more wonders.
    • Also in V, the defeat screen depicts a colossal life-like marble statue of a woman with only the head and outstretched left arm exposed in an excavation site in the middle of a desert akin to the Trope Namer. Wonder which civilization sculpted the statue in the first place? Yep, it's your civ and the victorious civ sends archeologists to unearth it.
  • Clive Barker's Undying: According to Word of God, the Veragos that are seen in Oneiros are the remnants of great magic users who abused their power and ended up being corrupted and all but wiped out by it.
  • In Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars, a GDI soldier laments the hubris of humanity while alien invaders called the Scrin are razing Munich to the ground.
  • This is one of the main themes of the Dark Souls games.
    • Dark Souls: You play an empowered Action Survivor who explores once mighty empires (or ages), now in ruins because of the curse of the undead, which rises whenever the flame of souls powering all civilized magic is about to burn out and bring the darkness. It's up to a chosen one to rekindle the flame and start a new age, beginning the cycle all over again. As a result, many empires you explore will have lore scattered about how they rose and fell, which you can uncover.
    • Bloodborne: Yarnham is built on the foundations of a vast ruined imperial mega-city that once earned the favor of cosmic gods. When their constant blood sacrifices failed to create a viable demigod, the city fell to some nebulous apocalypse and was forgotten for centuries. Its modern inhabitants consist of undead, various devolved werewolves, eldritch abominations, and a few insane hunters who came solely to pillage its bloodstained contents. Including you.
    • Elden Ring: Once, the Lands Between were considered the equivalent of Valhalla, where the strongest of souls lived as demigods under the grace of a cosmic force. Then the Elden Ring, a complex magical rune governing the natural laws of the world, was stolen from the Top God and shattered, and its component runes were stolen by various demigods and their retainers. The ensuing apocalypse killed or crippled all the gods on the continent, and the war never stopped because mortals became undead due to reality dying. You return to the land of your ancestors to find mortal retainers reduced to undead madmen and a menagerie of monsters once tamed by the demigods now roaming in a free-for-all. Also, said cosmic force wants to kill you.
  • Seeing the grandeur of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and the Crapsack World Deus Ex features, twenty-five years afterwards, it's a safe bet this trope fell upon Deus Ex universe.
    • The sequel, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: you can get to see the paint coming off the façade: while Human Revolution mostly takes place in technologically advanced locales, with only the slums of Detroit hinting at the dirty decay underneath the veneer, Mankind Divided sends you to ghetto-ized residential/commercial districts rife with corruption and danger, as well as literal government-approved shantytowns and far, far worse.
  • One of the many things players in Dwarf Fortress can do is to build mega projects, including dams, giant statues of dwarfs or otherwise. However this often ends badly due to various reasons, most of the time because of a simple miscalculation by the player if water or magma was involved.
    • Especially comes up during reclamations and adventurer modes focused on lost fortresses.
  • The Elder Scrolls
  • Escape from Monkey Island fields a solid reference in the form of Ozzy Mandrill, a twisted Australian land tycoon with aims to tame the Caribbean by brainwashing the local pirates into civil servants. As he prepares to complete his great work (a tower that will magically crush the ego of everyone within a few hundred kilometers), he declares, "Look on my works, ye mighty pirates, and despair!" Shortly after, he is Hoist by His Own Petard, and everything he achieved falls to ruin.
  • An underlying theme in all Fallout, but very prominent in Fallout 3 amongst the ruins of Washington, D.C. proper. Additionally, the Point Lookout DLC features a wrecked research vessel named the USS Ozymandias as part of the sidequest "An Antique Land", which is named after the first line of the poem. Zig-Zagged in Fallout: New Vegas by Mister House. His technology managed to stop several of the bombs from falling on the area, but it wasn't working at a hundred percent; had the bombs fell one day later, the problems would've been fixed and he would've ended up in an even better position post-apocalypse. Should the player not ally with House, his work will be for nothing, at least from his point of view.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy X has, in addition to other machina-ruins, the river Moonflow. Backstory indicates that man constructed a massive city spanning over the river on a bridge. Needless to say, one day they brought a toothpick with them to the city and it collapsed into the river.
    • Final Fantasy XIII has all of Gran Pulse, with Taejin's Tower standing out even more so.
    • Final Fantasy XIV has the Allagan Empire, who were so bold as to imprison a Physical God and send it into orbit in order to use it for an additional power source. It gave them so much power that it triggered a catastrophic global earthquake that instantaneously destroyed their entire civilization. The imprisoned god became known as a second moon, Dalamud, and the rest is history... In Shadowbringers, preceding the Allagans are the Ancients who we find out are the race the Ascians belong to. Their goal has been to return the world to its former glory but at this point, their civilization is long gone with only their ruins remaining. Taken to the extreme with Endwalker as you discover ruins of fallen alien civilizations.
  • The Crystal Desert in Guild Wars: Prophecies is littered with the ruined temples, towers, and cities of pilgrims who came there seeking Ascension. Internal strife, the harsh climate, and the natives of the desert wiped out all of the pilgrims.
    • Perhaps the most well-known landmark is the Lonely Vigil, the massive statue of a female warrior with one shattered leg. When the player approaches, it topples to the ground, leaving the classic broken feet on its pedestal.
  • The background of Halo. The Forerunners once ruled the galaxy with the most advanced technology, but wiped themselves out in their war against the Flood. All that's left of their civilizations are hidden ruins, and the Halo installations that destroyed them.
  • In Haven (2020)'s backstory, the MegaCorp ExaNova colonized Source as an "external colony" of the Apiary to test an experimental power planet that extracted Flow from the planet's core and condensed it for easier transport. Due to ExaNova cutting corners and neglecting to replace a critical part, the plant failed catastrophically, fracturing the planet's surface into floating islets and corrupting the local fauna with a coating of Rust, all of the human colonists being either evacuated or killed by the incident. The Apiary's leader, whom Yu is betrothed to, is also named Ozias.
  • It is all around in the history of the Nebula in Heaven's Vault. The Age of Sail was a prosperous age with advanced technology and bustling trade between moons. They built robots that Turned Against Their Masters and enslaved humans, resulting in the Steel Empire. Eventually, the humans took over again, forming the tyrannical Holy Empire. Elboreth, the former place of power, were turned into a Wretched Hive, the capital of the empire now being Iox. The Holy Empire was toppled by the very person who had founded it (her personality transferred into a robot), followed by what's labeled as a Dark Age and a Modern Age. In the present, while Iox is still the most powerful of the surrounding moons, it is just a shadow of its former self. Most of the history has faded into obscurity. Ancient technology (most notably robots and hoppers) is occasionally being used without understanding how it works, and being far from being able to utilize their full potential. The Elborethians have forgotten that their home was once a place of power, and they treat ancient artifacts as junk. The Ioxians are struggling to decypther Ancient, the language of the old empires, and are prone to superstition over science.
  • In Hollow Knight, at the end of the tutorial, you find a sign telling the Knight (and pressumably any other traveller who happens to visit) that they are entering the "Last and only civilization. The Eternal Kingdom; Hallownest." Even then, it is clear that there is little remaining of this so-called eternal kingdom, and that only becomes more obvious as you go.
  • In Horizon Forbidden West, you get this when you discover Ted Faro's doomsday bunker, known as Thebes. The place is opulent, complete with a giant statue of Ted in the lobby, and has been remarkably well-preserved owing to it being sealed for nearly a thousand years, but as you explore it, you find more and more clues that something bad happened down there. Ted was working on an immortality treatment, hoping to pass on his knowledge of The Beforetimes to the first humans to emerge in a rebuilt Earth and make himself a prophet, but his own paranoia caused him to start killing everybody else in the bunker who he suspected knew of his role in having destroyed the world, leaving only his doctor and his doctor's daughter alive because he needed him (and the doctor needed her) — and they both killed themselves rather than continue to live with Ted. Without his doctor, Ted tried to continue the treatments and experiments himself, but soon mutated into a cancerous blob living on the walls of the bunker's nuclear reactor, retaining just enough brain function to be fully aware of his pain and suffering. When Ceo, the leader of the Quen expedition to recover the legacy of the man who they revered as a prophet, sees what's become of him, he orders the entire reactor room set ablaze in horror and disgust.
  • The plot of Journey (2012) involves the main character exploring the ruins of its Precursor civilization following a civil war.
  • Jurassic Park: Trespasser even had an Easter Egg where John Hammond quotes "Ozymandias". Fitting, since most of the game consists of you poking around the ruined research buildings of Site B as Hammond's voice-over recounts the wonders and achievements he unearthed there, all for naught.
  • What little backstory there is of Kenshi, we know of at least two different empires that had both grown to such colossal sizes that they eventually succumbed to both societal and environmental collapses. Though there is little in the area of monuments, there are fragments and shadows of history buried in the sands of the deserts that attest to the very size of the two empires, of which the peoples of the continent never fully recovered from the collapse.
  • In Mass Effect, the Normandy surveys an uninhabited world that was once host to a technologically-advanced civilization that had gone extinct. All that is left is the hollowed-out remains of buildings and a single column with text on it. When eventually translated, it read "walk among these works, and know our greatness". However, there are crude scratches at the base of the column, which simply read "monsters from the id".
    • This a recurring theme in Mass Effect with the cycles of galactic civilization and extinction perpetuated by the Reapers. The Protheans commanded a vast, galaxy-spanning empire 50,000 years ago, yet now all that remains of their civilization are their ruins and technology like the Citadel space station and mass relays that made their empire possible and are now used by the current species of the galaxy. Except the Protheans didn't create the Citadel OR mass relays either; those are the works of the Reapers, who force galactic extinction every 50,000 years. The Protheans are simply the ones the current races of the galaxy know about. Far more have been forgotten completely over millions of years.
      • Despite the actions of the Reapers, some races manage to leave behind signs that they didn't go down without a fight. At one point you're being sent to the corpse of a dead Reaper to retrieve technology. How did they find it? They backtracked from a large canyon on a planet that was created by a massively powerful mass driver that missed its target and kept going on for millions of years.
    • Tuchanka is covered with ruins from their pre-nuclear war civilization but they are largely utilitarian. The third game, however, visits an elaborate burial and temple complex, complete with immense statues of krogans. If Wrex is present he points out how far his race has fallen.
    • 3 features a literary Shout-Out, as an indoctrinated Hanar named "Zymandis" has the soul name of "Regards the Works of the Enkindlers in Despair".
  • In the final chapter of Neverwinter Nights Shadows of Undrentide, your adventure carries you through the halls of the titular crashed flying city. You even get to talk to the guy whose arrogant attempt to look on the face of Mystra brought low the mighty Netheril Empire.
    • It should be noted that the plan worked perfectly: he took Mystra's place as the god of magic. He simply wasn't quite up to the task...
  • Thief: The Keepers regard the ancient ruins beneath the City in this way: "When we looked upon the works of the Ancients, we saw the height that civilization can attain. When we looked upon their ruin, we marked the danger of that height."
  • Similar to The Kingdom of Zeal, Warframe has its own version called the Orokin Empire. The most powerful empire in the solar system for thousands of years with its beautiful gold and silver cities and towers. Their technology was so powerful that they mastered the ability to control life and death, cloning at high capacity, and much more. Many of its rulers were immortal because of the technology and were called Gods by their human subjects as a result. However, they soon discovered an alien threat in the universe called the sentients who didn't like how powerful the human race has become. The Orokin tried to defeat their enemy by creating a bunch of Super Soldiers called Warframes. However, because the Orokin Empire was also brutal and oppressive, the Warframes turned on the Orokin and destroyed the empire from within. Everything the Tenno encounter in the game are the after effects of the Orokin Empire's fall, including the creation of the sentients and the Tenno children themselves.
  • World of Warcraft has plenty of ruins marking the sites of the Night Elves' magnificent, but ultimately doomed civilization. Bonus points for featuring the feet of elven colossi in the ruins of Azshara, but with little left of the statues otherwise.
    • Some ruins are significantly older than that, with the fossilized remains of their builders sticking out of the walls.
    • You would hardly know it by their present existence, but Troll civilizations once spanned the entire world of Azeroth, and magnificent ruins of Troll architecture can be found in every corner of all three continents. The trolls are still around, but only the Drakkari and Zandalari maintained significant holdings until recent events demolished them.
    • The Mogu once ruled most of Pandaria before they were overthrown, leaving behind two enormous palace complexes, the Serpent's Spine(a massive wall spanning Pandaria from north to south), and countless statues scattered across the continent. Having largely descended into barbarism, they made a failed attempt to regain power during Mists of Pandaria.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: The Kingdom of Atlas has the largest military force of all of them in the present, it's a leading kingdom in technological advancement, and socially speaking, it unsurprisingly has a self-superior view of itself despite being a comparatively young kingdom and despite its contemporary socio-economic flaws. In Volume 8, Atlas falls hard. Atlas effectively ceases to exist as a territory when Atlas City literally falls on Mantle and both cities are erased by a inland sea flooding in due to the crash, leaving thousands of evacuated survivors displaced in Vacuo.


    Web Original 
  • The SCP Foundation has a few of these:
    • SCP-245 ("SCP-RPG") is a sapient character that exists in a role playing video game depicting the Foundation, including every SCP, faculty member, and the entire layouts of every facility. The game centers around one particular person in the facility at any given time, which is entirely controlled by the person currently playing the game. 245 himself is fought as the game's final boss. The character in the game who was supposed to be the villain (before SCP-245 messed up the game) is named Ozymandias, referencing the Trope Namer. It ultimately turns out that the reference is really about SCP-245. He thinks he is a powerful being with total control of the gameworld and the ability to escape into the real world, but it is shown through the game's secret endings that he actually is powerless and nothing he does in the game matters, where he realizes the significance of the reference.
    • SCP-3062 ("The Lone and Level Sands Stretch Far Away") is a shapeshifting entity who manifests in the Sahara Desert, expressly for the purpose of sadistically taunting and eventually killing people who become stranded in the desert. 3062 was once an infamous criminal in ancient Egypt. Now it wanders the Sahara, capable of tormenting and killing only people who have gotten lost. Even its tomb no longer exists (although this was by its own hand, after Foundation personnel found its tomb).
    • SCP-5052 is the wreckage of two alien spacecraft. The Heart of the Stars was the personal craft of a alien emperor, and The Hand of the Divine was a stolen colony ship, bound for Earth, that the emperor was chasing. The emperor's corpse was found lying on the desert sands just outside the Heart.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: The second season drops increasing hints that this trope happened to Amphibia in its distant past, revealing that the medieval world has ancient and long-forgotten pieces of advanced magitek scattered about the lands. It's eventually confirmed that Amphibia was once a super-advanced multiverse-faring empire, run by a megalomaniacal Digital Abomination (the Core) which believes it will last forever, but losing the Music Box caused all of Amphibia's advanced tech to shut down, and after a thousand years, all but a few have completely forgotten Amphibia's legacy. For a millennium, The Core and King Andrias have been attempting to defy this trope to a degree, preserving themselves and Amphibia's magitek underground until Andrias reclaims the Music Box and reactivates them all in the present day, but their hostility leads to the heroes fighting to destroy them for good. At the series' end, the Music Box is gone for good, the Core (along with Amphibia's part-tech moon) is obliterated, Andrias has been rendered mortal and doesn't have long left to live, and Amphibia's old war machines have all either been smashed in the war or have shut down and been left to gather dust once more.
  • Fire Lord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender fits this so well his name is even similar to Ozymandias. He wears an over-the-top red and gold costume, he rides around in a giant gold airship, and builds giant statues of himself everywhere. But in the end, none of this matters because when peace is declared, his statues are torn down, his army is destroyed, and his legacy as a conqueror is obliterated. His final fate is to live out his remaining days as a pathetic, powerless old man in jail, while his hated son and brother will be remembered as heroes.
  • In Frisky Dingo, Killface quotes this trope verbatim in his original threat for the Annihilatrix, a Superweapon designed to propel the Earth out of its orbit and into the Sun.
  • Recess had "The Madness Of King Bob"; after realizing that most of the 3rd Street Kids don't even know that other playground kings preceeded him, King Bob despairs that he'll be forgotten too. After hearing a lecture on ancient Egypt in history class, Bob decides to also erect a mighty pyramid to be remembered (ironically modeling himself after the real Ozymandias in the process), which eventually spirals into disaster and open rebellion, as his desperation for a legacy ends up turning all his subjects against him. It's all a moot point, as the pyramid, which had to be made of mud for practical reasons, melts as soon as it rains. After his Jerkass Realization, Bob apologizes to the kids, who aren't quite willing to forgive him after the crap he pulled. At least until he reappeals his tax on chewing gum, and the playground is restored to normal.
  • In Steven Universe, Pink Diamond came to Earth in hopes of turning it into a Gem colony and another facet of the Homeworld's empire. Thankfully, Rose Quartz killed her before she couldnote . However, remnants of Pink Diamond's would-be empire remain, such as the Sky Spire, the Kindergartens, other Gem structures, and a very pissed off Great Diamond Authority.
  • In ThunderCats (2011) the Cats' great Kingdom of Thundera practiced extreme forms of Fantastic Racism, with tailless Cats on the very top lording over the other species. Most notably, a captured Lizard bitterly claims that the Cats control the richest lands while leaving the rest of the animals to starve, causing him and his companion to raid the border for scraps, only to be caught and tormented by the Cats. When the Lizards invade with advanced weapons and technology, they destroy Thundera in a single night, leaving the crown prince, his brother, a Cleric, an old soldier, and two street urchins the only confirmed survivors of the once-great kingdom. As Lizard-General Slithe gleefully comments:
    Slithe: How quickly things change for the Cats: from top predator to endangered species! In a single day!
  • Transformers: Prime: In The Movie set after the Series Finale and Megatron's downfall, the gigantic statue glorifying Megatron, in the ruins of his former capital of Kaon on the long-abandoned Cybertron (recently re-settled by Megatron's victorious enemies), oozes this.

    Real Life 
  • Easter Island is widely cited by studies as an example. Once home to a flourishing, distinctive Polynesian civilization, it saw its downfall in a matter of a few dozens of years. Archeological study links it to the deforestation caused by the expense of construction of famed moai statues. Or possibly to European contact bringing, amongst other problems, entrepreneurs wanting to turn it into a giant sheep farm. Or maybe the original settlers accidentally brought over rats that ate all the seeds. It's still debated.
  • The wreck of the RMS Titanic has been upheld as a metaphor for man's hubris more times than most folk can count. The Onion even parodied this in Our Dumb Century, with the April 1912 headline "World's Largest Metaphor Hits Iceberg".
  • During the Hungarian uprising in November 1956, a hated monumental statue of Joseph Stalin (erected on the site of the city's cathedral, which had been destroyed in WW2 and the site levelled by the incoming Communists for a parade square), was physically torn down. It left only one booted foot anchored to the plinth with the rest of Uncle Joe facedown in the square. Visualised as a diorama model here, here and here.
  • Of all the thousands of great kings, emperors, and world leaders who have come and gone, the average Joe on the street who isn't a history buff will probably only be able to name the ones most popularized in books and film.
    • Ask anyone outside of France to name a famous French leader who wasn't Napoléon Bonaparte.note  You might get Louis XIV or Charles de Gaulle if you're lucky.
    • The only popularly remembered American presidents before the 20th century are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and a couple of other founding fathers, then Abraham Lincoln. (Ulysses S. Grant also gets remembered, but more as a general than as a president, and also because he's on the $50 bill.)
    • Ask a non-Brit to name an English monarch besides Henry VIII, Victoria, or one of the Elizabeths. If you ask an American, you might get George III, remembered mainly for failing to crush The American Revolution. (One irony is that many people know the name "Bloody Mary" in reference to either the drink or the legendary ghost, but they might not know who the name originally referred to.) Or ask them to name a prime minister besides Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
    • Most historically uneducated people will only think of Julius Caesar or Nero when asked to name a Roman emperor.note  Maybe Caligula (if only for being crazy) and Hadrian (if only for his famous wall in Britain) if you're lucky. Trajan, widely regarded by the Romans themselves from his reign onward as the greatest emperornote , is largely forgotten outside of Italy, except to actual students of Roman history. Even having the terminally cool title of "Optimus" granted to him by the Senate hasn't helped. For that matter, even Saint Constantine the Great, who arguably did more than anyone else to ensure the survival and spread of Christianity, is relatively obscure to Protestants and non-Christians (rather less so to Catholic and Orthodox Christians).
      • Same goes with Aurelian, the Restorer of the World himself. It's largely thanks to him that the Roman Empire didn't fall apart in the third century. None of the later emperors could pull Rome out of a crisis as well as he did, leading to the permanent partition and eventual fall of the Roman Empire. Nowadays, most people probably don't realize that Orleans (and by extension New Orleans) is named after him.
    • Ask the average westerner to name one historically famous Chinese, Japanese, or Mughal emperor off the top of their head without using Google. Probably none of them will be able to, but they'll know the name Genghis Khan (although if you're lucky enough, you may get Qin Shi Huangdi for China or Hirohito for Japan).
  • Adolf Hitler promised to establish a thousand-year Reich, with Berlin being the new world capital (to be massively expanded and renamed "Germania"). By 1945, nearly every major German city, especially Berlin, Hamburg, Mainz, Bremen, Hannover, and Dresden, had been flattened. The occupying Allied armies immediately began a program of denazification, purging every swastika and "Adolf Hitler Straße" from the country. That said, it's unlikely Hitler will be forgotten any time soon, since he's now remembered as the ultimate personification of evil.
  • Shelley's poem is loosely inspired by a statue he actually saw of Pharaoh Ramses II "The Great". Ozymandias is a Greek transliteration of his throne name.