March 25, 2016
March 5, 2016
Sayfawayh was asked: "You who instruct the people, why do you not relate hadith?"
He said: "Write this down: 'I was informed by Shurayk on the authority of Mughira on the authority of Ibrahim ibn ‘Abdallah likewise, with the same wording.' "
"Likewise to what?" they asked him.
"That's how I heard the hadith," he said, "and that's how I relate it."
Ibn Khalaf said: One day, a man was coming from a wedding, and Sayfawayh asked him what he'd had to eat. In the middle of the man's description, he said: "If only I could swallow the contents of your stomach!"
Abu 'l-‘Abbas ibn Mashruh tells that Sayfawayh bought a quantity of flour and took it home for his breakfast, then went out to seek his evening meal. "We baked no bread," [his patrons told him], "for lack of firewood."
He said: "So did you bake any pies?"
Abu Mansur al-Tha‘alibi narrated that a man asked Sayfawayh the meaning of al-ghislīn ["suppuration"] in God's Book. He said: "God only knows. One time I put the same question to an elderly legal scholar whose family were from the Hijaz, and could not get the slightest bit from him."
Sayfawayh stopped at a graveyard while mounted on his ass. From one grave in particular the ass shied away, and he said: "This man must have been a veterinarian."
[Incorrectly,] Sayfawayh recited the Qur'anic verse (69:32): "Then set him in a chain of ninety cubits' length."
"You added twenty cubits," they told him.
"This chain was made for harlots and full-grown reprobates," he said. "For you, a ten-penny length of ribbon will suffice."
In his presence, the Qur'anic verse (10:27) was recited: "As if their faces were overshadowed by pieces of the night." Sayfawayh said: "This, by God, is what happens to people who indulge in night prayer!"
When the verse (55:58) was recited: "As if they were ruby or coral." Sayfawayh remarked: "Not like the shameless womenfolk of today!" [as if in response to 55:56 two verses prior].
Sayfawayh was asked: "When the inhabitants of Paradise crave asida, what do they do?" He said:
"God sends them rivers of syrup, wheat and rice, and they are told: 'Make it and eat it, and excuse Us from your repast.' "
Ibn al-Jawzi, Reports of Imbeciles and Simpletons, ch. 20.
tr. by David Larsen at 9:12 AM
February 25, 2016
Comic Tales of Ibn al-Mawsili
Comic Tales of Ibn Ya‘qub
Comic Tales of Abu ‘Ubayd al-Hazmi
Comic Tales of Abu ‘Alqama
Comic Tales of Sayfawayh
(Ibn) al-Nadim, Fihrist VIII.3 (circa 987 CE)
tr. by David Larsen at 8:17 PM
February 2, 2016
tr. by David Larsen at 6:00 PM
January 22, 2016
For example, in mythic narration the wilderness retreats and ecstasies of religious devotees are combined with wilderness tales of the gods themselves. This probably happens for the same reason that the skies are thought to be inhabited by gods with altruistic foresight that they manifest through signs. Now there are life-sustaining enterprises, like mining and hunting, that obviously have things in common with wilderness retreats, but ecstatic worship and mantic prognostication are more of a matter for mountebanks and charlatans, as are all the clever arts - above all, the arts of Dionysian rite and Orphic song.
Strabo, Geography X.3.23
tr. by David Larsen at 12:08 PM
December 21, 2015
An excerpt from my translation of the Names of the Lion
by Ibn Khālawayh will appear in the expanded 2016 edition
of Technicians of the Sacred, ed. Jerome Rothenberg.
tr. by David Larsen at 10:14 AM
November 30, 2015
was bedolled with a limpid ruby. The seal upon it
was pressed in gold dust instead of clay, and the embossment
read: "I pledge to you my life and the lives of my whole family."
Inside, the greeting [said]: "To you from me,
the long-distracted by my memory and pining for you."
And the address: "To one who is [no less] love-crazed,
The heart of an infatuate [is here enclosed]."
A poem by ‘Umar ibn Abī Rabī‘a
tr. by David Larsen at 6:21 PM
October 20, 2015
September 29, 2015
Out in the thorn-trees, the folk you see, they of the droning clamor,
have suffered visitation by a year of biting [drought].
They who, in times gone by, did not [condescend to] eat
unleavened things now gobble dry flour.
Out of the flatlands and up the mountain's side they drive
emaciated cattle, harrying them with fear of their demise,
with burning torches tight in the short hairs of their tails,
tied there so that “seas” be stirred [out of the skies]
- until they are roasted through, and a cloud rears up above them,
and another upward-rearing cloud is driven to its side,
and the divinity sees it mark [the earth] with precipitation
when a rain-bringing South wind finally blows up for [the tribe].
The lofty cloud pours down its water – a rain to put
an end to great [suffering], now averted
by a quantity of sala'-wood, and 'ushar-wood to match it:
no easy burden for the cattle burdened with it.
The Book of Animals IV.466-7.
tr. by David Larsen at 8:10 PM
September 17, 2015
September 1, 2015
At this time, in another kingdom, there was a girl as beautiful as he, who fashioned the image of a man out of gold. She said to her mother and father: "I will marry a man like this, if he can be found." Both sets of parents made inquiries, and across the distance they contracted a marriage between the two, and solemnized their union as husband and wife.
It happened after this that, clutching a mirror, the king of the realm demanded of his ministers: "In all the world, is there a man whose face rivals mine?" They responded: "We who are your subjects have heard it said that there is another man in the kingdom whose beauty surpasses all others." At once the king dispatched a messenger in search of him.
On finding him, the messenger said to the young man: "The king desires the benefit of your wisdom." Straightaway the young man prepared his chariot, and had already set off for the palace when the thought hit him: "It is for my intelligence that the king summons me." To gather the teachings he thought he would need from his books, he therefore returned to his home, - where he found his wife in a state of abandon with a complete stranger. The emotional distress this caused in him had an altering effect on his face, producing an extraordinary physiognomic change for the worse that only worsened as time went on.
[Outside the palace,] the young man's reduced state did not escape the notice of the king's minister, who thought the rigors of the journey were what had thinned his face. And so he had a place set aside for him in a stable, - where, in the middle of the night, the young man spied the king's own consort entering the stable and joining one of the grooms in illicit union. His heart at once was lightened: "If this is how the wife of a king conducts herself?" he thought. "No wonder my wife does the same." At this, his worries evaporated and his face regained its former beauty.
The time came for his interview with the king, who asked: "Why have you lodged outside the palace for the past three days?" The young man responded: "After setting off with your messenger, I thought I had forgotten something, and went back along the road to my house in order to get it. There I found my wife in a state of abandon with a stranger. It pained me sharply, and in my extremes of pathos and rage, my face became altered. For three days I rested in a stable, O King, - where I saw your consort in illicit union with one of the grooms.
"If this is how your wife conducts herself," the young man continued, "then no wonder my own wife does the same. My worries have evaporated, and my face has regained its composure."
"If this is what my own wife is like," said the king, "then how much more so ordinary women!"
Thereupon, both men took off to the mountains together. They cut their beards and shaved their heads and became ascetic devotees. Adopting the view that the company of women makes sacred occupations and devotions impossible, their progress toward excellence was uninterrupted, and both men attained the way of the Pratyekabuddha.
From the Jia za pi yu jing (Ancient Book of Various Metaphors) attributed to Kang Senghui (d. ca. 280 CE), and included in the Taishō ed. of the Chinese Buddhist canon; French tr. by Édouard Chavannes, Cinq cents contes et apologues extraits du Tripiṭaka chinois (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1910-34), vol. 1, 374-6.
tr. by David Larsen at 8:36 PM
August 16, 2015
tumult of the bows and strings. And the rose is laughing.
It is a breezy day's debut into the bloom of spring,
highlit like a bride's outfit in pearls and gold.
The revels of night become day-drinks. Frivolity keeps
[the cup] going round in the same order, whether
willed [by the drinker]
or pressed upon him. Were we heated! I swear, it was
the sun's own beams that swirled in our cup and
The people were a brotherhood of truth. The tie uniting
them was a love surpassing kinship by descent.
Nursed together on the squirting stream of a pale pink
[quantity of wine], each gave his fellow nursling
and the drunken man's offense was not held against him.
No doubt about their character need trouble you.
The best teachers are the days themselves, and time's
long stretches, and those
moments when defects of fortune are overturned.
tr. by David Larsen at 11:02 AM