‘Where does it hurt?’ – #lettersfromladyn #Herodotus

One Eyewitness

Where does it hurt?

Not here in Eygpt

where, with an enthusiastic mind,

our son of Mnemosyne

is blown away by Nile boats.

“Their boats with which they carry cargoes” he reports “are made of the thorny acacia, of which the form is very like that of the Kyrenian lotos, and that which exudes from it is gum. From this tree they cut pieces of wood about two cubits in length and arrange them like bricks, fastening the boat together by running a great number of long bolts through the two-cubit pieces; and when they have thus fastened the boat together, they lay cross-pieces[81] over the top, using no ribs for the sides; and within they caulk the seams with papyrus. They make one steering-oar for it, which is passed through the bottom of the boat; and they have a mast of acacia and sails of papyrus. These boats cannot sail up the river unless there be a very fresh wind blowing, but are towed from the shore: down-stream however they travel as follows: they have a door-shaped crate made of tamarisk wood and reed mats sewn together, and also a stone of about two talents weight bored with a hole; and of these the boatman lets the crate float on in front of the boat, fastened with a rope, and the stone drag behind by another rope. The crate then, as the force of the stream presses upon it, goes on swiftly and draws on the “baris” (for so these boats are called), while the stone dragging after it behind and sunk deep in the water keeps its course straight. These boats they have in great numbers and some of them carry many thousands of talents’ burden”. (Herodotus: Histories Book 11: Euterpe)

But here where time has travelled far

beyond the reach of memory.

They haven’t seen so don’t believe.

‘No ribs’ what did that even mean?

And here – 2,469 years hence –

where a ‘shipwreck’ breaches

the Nile’s surface, and fits the description,

as set down, of the mythical ‘Baris’.

Not here, stranger

but no fiction, Herodotus

dead, his credibility long defeated,

sings with Arion, the renowned harpist –

and one recounts to the other that fabled journey

on the back of a dolphin to safety at Taenarum.

Note: I wrote this earlier in the year – inpsired by a tweet or an article ‘exonerating’ Herodotus following the refloating of the shipwreck of what is very likely a Baris in the Nile. I’m not sure why I had a fancy to share it here today.

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