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This article is taken from PN Review 271, Volume 49 Number 5, May - June 2023.

Boat Gabriel Josipovici
Packed like sardines, yet upright in their seats, eyes fixed firmly ahead.

Where are they going? To the afterlife? To conquer a neighbouring country? To sell and to buy?

The beautiful symmetry of the steersman at the stern, holding the enormous primitive rudder, facing the crew. The pronounced curve of the boat, the men in the middle, at the lowest point.

They stare straight ahead, but their backs are to their goal – they are rowers, after all.

Not a boat but the model of a boat, no more than half a metre long.

Why does it move me so much? When I first saw it, in the Egyptian section of the refurbished Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and now on the card I purchased as I left and which I look at as I write?

Moves me more than would a life-size boat, a real boat, in a real river.

Is it the sense of the men crowded into that small space as a community, silently and purposefully moving in their own time yet in a timeless present, without doubts, without thoughts, plying their oars?

Buried in the sands of Beni Hassan, half way along the Nile between Lower and Upper Egypt. To emerge again in the last century and eventually end up in the Ashmolean.

I am not interested in Egyptian Archaeology. Or in Ancient Egyptian naval technology. I am not ‘interested’ in this boat. It moves me. The silence of these men moves me. It speaks to me. Let me try ...

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