August 1, 2017

                A CAT and DIESEL co-presentation

DIESEL, A Bookstore, presented

NAMES OF THE LION translator
David Larsen in conversation with

Wednesday, August 9  •  7 pm
5433 College Avenue  •  Oakland, Calif.

Archived here:

Thanks to CAT, East Bay Booksellers, and discussant Stephen Sparks

June 20, 2017

Another cat poem

Abu 'l-Faraj al-Isbahani (d. 967 CE), author of The Book of Songs, complained of mice and described a cat (meter: khafīf):

    On deadly watchmen with arching backs I call for aid
        against a host with tiny teeth and whiplike tails.
    Created for malevolence, nastiness and ruin,
        their degradation dates back to Creation itself.
    The holes they bore in ceilings, walls and floors
        are as galling as bodily ulcers.
    Anything comestible, they consume it.
        Nothing drinkable is safe.
    And they know all about gnawing clothes.
        My heart is pitted by the holes they gnaw.
    What brings my anguish to a pause has Turkish whiskers
        and a blue coat with leopard spots.
    In make and manners he is a lion of the thicket.
        A lion of the thicket! think all who glimpse him.
    Into corners of the room and along the ceiling,
        his gaze is fixed on every [mouse’s] door.
    He keeps his claws in scabbards, up until
        the landing of his pounce upon the prey.
    When he voids himself, it is in private.
        None know where it happens but the dirt.
    Some folks play dress-up games with him, put jewelry
        on him, and with henna dye him first and last.
    Sometimes he struts in bridegroom’s finery,
        other times they doll him like a bride.
    Such a lovable companion! and worthy as a friend
        above the common run of friendship, and beyond it.

From The Merits of the Housecat by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti

June 5, 2017

Horse and water

As an abundant quantity of water is called ghamr ("ample"), so is a horse devoted to running. As a swift-running watercourse is called yaʿbūb ("rushing"), so is a swift-running horse. As a well that won't run dry is called jamūm ("replenished"), so is a horse whose every run is followed by more running. As an uninterrupted series of cloudbursts is called al-saḥḥ ("the flow") of rain, a horse is called misaḥḥ ("effluent") if it runs uninterruptedly. If lightness and swiftness are combined in a horse's gait, then it is called fayḍ ("overflowing") and sakb ("outpouring") after the overflowing and outpouring of water.

As the sea's water is inexhaustible, a horse that never tires of running is called a baḥr ("sea"). The Prophet, God's blessings and peace be upon him, was the first to use this expression when he said of his mount: "I find [this horse] to be a baḥr." And so the name Baḥr was given to that horse.

"On descriptors of the horse deriving from descriptors of water":
Section 17.30 of The Statutes of Lexicography by Abu Mansur al-Tha‘alibi

May 16, 2017

In praise of the cat poet

The finesse of Abū ‘Āmir al-Jurjānī is of a kind recognized by nomads and settled folk alike. How truly did the imam ‘Abd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī put it into words when he described him (meter: hazaj):

If serious brilliance of appearance is what you wish for,
and you complain that your access to joy is barred,
when desolation won't release you from its shadows,
and you would clear the torpor from your inner eyes,
confer with him whose flint throws inspiration,
and in the keenness of his discernment you'll find the spark
and all the perspicacity that you sought.
His [guidance] suffices, and you won't reject it, nor complain of his answer;
on the contrary, betake yourself to him and you'll find success
in al-Faḍl ibn Ismā‘īl, and be left wishing for no other man.

From The Statue of the Palace of al-Bākharzī


For more on Abū ‘Āmir,     
see the entry in Yāqūt's Dictionary of the Scholars,     
now in the third issue of Seedings     
(Duration Press)

May 12, 2017

Michael McClure, "Ghost Tantra #49" (San Francisco, 1966)

January 21, 2017

A madman to his malady

Muhammad told us: al-Hasan told us: Abu Musa told us: Abu ‘Awana said: Abu ‘Ali said: Muhammad ibn al-Husayn said: Abu 'l-Muwaffaq Sayf ibn Jabir, a judge of Wasit, said:

We had a neighbor whose name was ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Ash‘ath. Handsome and well-formed, he was a stand-out among his family, and a quintessential man of his day. He had been in the presence of [the first and second caliphs,] Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, may God be pleased with them.
          It happened that this man fell prey to a melancholic imbalance that scorched his wits and sent them flying. When he went out, groups of boys delighted in hooting at him and calling him "Rahmawayh!" to which he would never respond. But if he were addressed as ‘Abd al-Rahman, he would answer, "I am ‘Abd al-Rahman." I saw him one day when boys were pelting him with rocks, and I said, "Fight back, and get them off you!" He responded, "Two things prevent me from reacting: fear of God, and fear of being just like them."

He passed by one day as I was conducting a lecture of Muhammmad ibn al-Hasan's treatise on prayer. Seated next to me was my saintly brother, who was much older than me and had lost his vision. I said, "O ‘Abd al-Rahman, why don't you join the group and listen?" He said: "How can I, when [as the proverb says (no. 771)] 'Every bird hunts according to its ability'?"
          He then said, "O Ibn Jabir, if it pleases you to be at the center of this company, then your brother will certainly be pleased with the place God has for him on the Day of Resurrection." At this, my brother fell face down, weeping, while ‘Abd al-Rahman stood regarding him. "O Ibn Jabir," he said, "when I look at you I seem to see the angels rejoicing; your brother, on the other hand, I see covered up and hauled away." Then he said to me: "O Sayf ibn Jabir, store your tongue the way you store up dirhams, and cultivate a love of silence before you speak again. As long as speech is what you love, stay silent."
          "Sit [with us]!" I said to him. "In the spirit of pure friendliness, I enjoin you." He said: "Ask God to forgive you, and ask Him: 'With whom must You exercise greater mercy than Your mercy towards me?'" He then said: "O Ibn Jabir, I say what the prophet Job said, peace be upon him: 'I am touched by adversity, and You are most merciful of the merciful.'
          "While we remain alive, not one of us goes without weeping. What causes you to weep? [Consider] what was taken from me: is it not inferior to what remains? namely, my love for Him and for His prophets and His pious servants? and [my memory of] the presence of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar?" Then as he turned away he said [to God], "If the ordeal comes from You, so does the healing. And if You take away, so do You allow to remain."

Muhammad told us: al-Hasan told us: Abu Musa told us: Abu  ‘Awana related to us, saying that Abu ‘Ali Muhammad ibn al-Husayn [sic] related that Sayf ibn Jabir said:

One day I set out for the cemetery to attend a funeral. After the interment, I went wandering among the graves, where I came upon ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Ash‘ath. He was seated between two tombs with his cheek upon his knee, saying, "You who have caused me to wander the earth have driven me to this cemetery, and made me an intimate of the graves." Then he said, "I beg for God's forgiveness! I know very well that you were ordained [as my tormentor], and that if you were to disobey, you would be put back onto me by an even harsher master."
          I said to him, "‘Abd al-Rahman, who are you talking to?" He said, "To a mistress that was imposed upon me." I asked, "Who is she?" "Melancholia," he said. I said: "Why don't you pray to God, and ask Him to dispel her from you?" He said, "It may be that I do pray, Ibn Jabir, and that I attain my wish. My call for God's help is my prayer, and what I attain is submission to His command and joy in His judgment."
          I said to him, "Shall I sit with you and keep you company?" He said, "No. For companionship, God gave me solitude, just as He gave you the company of law students." And then he said, "O Sayf ibn Jabir, is it not taught that Mu’arriq al-‘Ijli said: 'I asked God for a thing twenty years ago, and He has not given it to me, and [yet] I have not given up hope'?" "Of course," I said. He then said to me, his voice raised in anger, "O Sayf! If God were to make an amputee of me, or a leper, I would know Him to be the cause, and I would know Him to be a just arbiter who does what He will."

From Madmen Who Were Intelligent by Abu 'l-Qasim al-Nisaburi

December 10, 2016

Disambiguation of the Banū Kawjak

‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī al-‘Absī, known as IBN KAWJAK AL-WARRĀQ, was a gifted literary man who practiced the stationer's trade. In Egypt he studied under Abū Muslim Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad, secretary to the vizier Abū 'l-Faḍl ibn Ḥinzāba. His writings include The Book of Tambur-Players and The Book of Noblest Aspirations to the Highest Class, a book on asceticism addressed to al-Shābushtī, author of The Book of Monasteries. He died in Syria during the reign of al-Ḥākim, around the year 394 A.H. (= 1004 CE).
       After the recapture of al-Ḥadath (in 953 CE) he said in praise of Sayf al-Dawla: (meter: khafīf):

He intended the destruction of Islam, but got his ears boxed
    at al-Ḥadath. Its walls were the destruction of his error.
Since his powers were stripped from him at spear-point,
    his soul shrinks from you. The weakling!
Fearing the ruin of his own life and property,
    he traded his stay for a departure.
And now, up in those foothills, the birds and beasts
    [of carrion] go hungry in their haunts.
How many times did you throw the birds a feast
    on the skulls of his champions?

His father al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī IBN KAWJAK was a poet and a literary man, of whom Abu 'l-Qāsim [Ibn ‘Asākir] al-Dimashqī says: "Al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī ibn Kawjak lectured in Tripoli in the year 359 (= 970), narrating hadith on the authority of his father ‘Alī, as well as Abū Mas‘ūd (secretary to [Ibn?] Ḥasnūn al-Maṣrī) and Abu 'l-Qāsim ibn al-Muntāb of Iraq, and some of the scholars kept a transcript of it. These verses are attributed to him (meter: ṭawīl):

Just after her husband's unexpected death
    it turned out that his wife was pregnant.
Her family of origin was in a distant land,
    and his would-be inheritors were at her on all sides.
But when the pregnancy came to light, they eased up
    grudgingly, and crawled away like scorpions.
She came out with a newborn boy, and won the inheritance
    of the dead father. And his relatives got no share.
When of age he came into the wealth, and the eyes
    of buxom girls competed for their pleasure in him,
and he had gained the experience that leads to intelligence,
    and his body had almost attained its full stature,
and he was desired and feared, and was desirous
    of a beautiful life, and grew a beard and mustache,
[the embrace of] a chubby pair of arms behind a curtain
    was predestined for him. He is bold and never timid against the foe.
[When he eats,] butcher-bones are all he leaves behind.
    The locks of his noble dome are kept nice and short.
The most painful thing for me was the day
    their saddled camels turned away,
        their drivers taking them to Wādī Ghabā'ib.


Al-Muḥassin ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī IBN KAWJAK AL-ADĪB was a man of distinction. Best known as a stationer, he was also a poet. His handwriting, which resembles al-Ṭabarī's, was well known and much in demand. Al-Rūdhabārī says in the history he wrote in Egypt: "The scholar and stationer al-Muḥassin ibn al-Ḥusayn al-‘Absī died in the month of Shawwāl of the year 416 (= December 1025). He studied under Abū Muslim Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad, secretary to Ibn Ḥinzāba, together with his brother ‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn." Their aforementioned father was also a man of distinction.
       I read in the Book of Syria [i.e. Ibn ‘Asākir's History of Damascus]: "Al-Muḥassin ibn ‘Alī [sic] ibn Kawjak, called Abū ‘Abd Allāh, was a scholar. In Sidon he dictated short, miscellaneous lectures, some on the authority of Ibn Khālawayh." Abū Naṣr ibn Ṭallāb, who transmitted his teachings, was said by Ibn ‘Asākir (who heard it from ‘Abd Allāh ibn Aḥmad ibn ‘Umar) to have said: "Our teacher Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Muḥassin ibn ‘Alī [sic] ibn Kawjak dictated his teachings to us in Sidon, where I studied under him in the year 394. He recited this poem to us (meter: munsariḥ):

Your good looks are leaving you. They're on their way out,
    when eyes roll and turn away from your [onetime] beauty.
You who used to slay others are now the slain.
    You come back to life and find it's moving on.
How many have noticed my affection for you, and my passion,
    and had a talk with me, and called me a middle-aged [fool]?
May God have mercy on you, young man,
    when young romantics start to call you "Sir."

Yāqūt, Dictionary of the Scholars IV.1733-4 and V.2278-9

November 4, 2016

Aere perennius


[By Demetrios:]
   A Boeotian (Oration)
   Kleon                                                                                            One (book)
   Phaidondas, or On O[ligarchy?]
   On Legislation at Athens                                                    Fi[ve] (books)
   On The Consti[tutions] at Athens

By Hegesias: The Pro-Athenian (Orations)                  One (book)
   Aspasia                                                                                       One (book)
   Alkibiades                                                                                  One (book)

By Theodektes: Of (Rhetorical) Technique                    Fou[r] (books)
   Amphiktyonikos (= On the League?)                            One (book)

By Theopompos: A Laconian (Oration)                          One (book)
   A P[an]-Ionian (Oration)                                                    One (book)
   [Maus]solus                                                                               One (book)
   [An Olym]pian (Oration)                                                    One (book)
   [Phil]ip                                                                                        One (book)
   In Praise of [Alexa]nder                                                     One (book)
   About the Olp....                                                                     One (book)
   About the ........-ios                                                                One (book)
   To Evagoras, (King) of the [Cy]pri[ot]s                      Tw[o] (books)
   Letter to [Antipa]ter                                                            One (book)
   An Advi[sory] (Oration)
   A Pan-Athenia[n] (Oration)
   An Invective Against the Teachi[ng of Plato]

By a different Theopompos: On Kingship                      One (book)



By Dionysi[os:]
   On th[e...]
   On Chil[dren]

[By Diodo?]tos: O[n the deeds of]
   Harmod[ios and Aristogeiton]

By Damokleides [...]
   On Coming Into Be[ing]
   To Alex[ander]

By Erat[o]s[the]ne[s...]            

Fragment of a library catalogue carved in Lartian marble.
Rhodes, late 2nd/early 1st c. BCE. 51 cm x 46 cm (at base).
Collection Archaeological Museum of Rhodes.

September 15, 2016

Adventures in Guest-Blogging

Three versions of a poem by Abū Ṣakhr al-Hudhalī (d. ca. 700 CE),
translated with introductions by me.

♦   ♦   ♦

As in the Collected Poems of the Tribe of Hudhayl by Abū Sa‘īd al-Sukkarī
(d. 888), hosted on Pierre Joris's blog at Jacket2

As in the Dictations of Abū ‘Alī al-Qālī (d. 966), hosted on Pierre's
blog Nomadics

As in the Book of Songs of Abu 'l-Faraj al-Iṣbahānī (d. 967),
hosted on the tumblr Lyric Poets

Plus a fourth variant attributed to Majnun Layla, hosted right here

♦   ♦   ♦

As recited by Adel Bin Hazman Al-Azimi (al-Sukkarī's version):

September 10, 2016

As attributed to Majnun

O departure of Layla! You have spared me nothing.
            To the anguish of abandonment, you added more.
The lengths that time went through to come between us
            were amazing. Done with what was between us, time stood still.
O love! Let nothing halt the nightly increase
            of my ardor for her. Let the Day of Resurrection be my relief.
To all love but ‘Āmirī love, my heart is resistant.
          "Abū ‘Amr without the ‘amr," you could call it.
My hands are at the verge of dampness, touching her. 
            She is [like a pool] ringed with plants of leafy green.
And the way her face's beauty lifts my trial and brings down rain!
            It is a marvel worthy of the Prophet's tribe.
Below her robes, the motion of her frame shows through
            quite like the motion of a willow branch in flower.
Beloved are all living things, as long as you may live,
            and when a grave contain you, beloved be the dead!
At the mention of her name, my heart quickens 
            like a rain-drenched sparrow shaking off [its wings].
If I were to make the major and minor pilgrimages, and renounce
            my visits to Layla, would I then perchance be recompensed?
No sooner do I see her than I am struck dumb,
            abandoned by all cleverness and all reserve.
If a pebble came under what I undergo, it would split the pebble.
            If the giant boulder underwent it, that boulder would crack.
Wild animals would not put up with it, if it happened to them.
            Life-sustaining waters would not swallow it, nor would a flower.
If the seas went through what I went through, [they would all fall still;]
           no more would swelling seas be crossed by waves.

Dīwān Majnūn Laylā 102-3

September 2, 2016

Choral fun in old Medina

Abu ‘Abd Allah [al-Hishami?] said: One day, Jamila convened a gathering to which she wore a long burnoose, and dressed her companions in burnooses of lesser make. Among the group was Ibn Surayj, who compensated for his baldness with a hairy wig he used to put on his head. But Jamila liked the sight of his baldness, and when Ibn Surayj was given his burnoose, he uncovered his pate and said, "By the Lord of the Ka‘ba, you've pulled one over on me!" And he fitted the cowl of his burnoose over his head while the rest of the group laughed at his baldness.

Jamila then stood up and began to dance while strumming a lute, in her long burnoose with a Yemeni mantle about her shoulders. Ibn Surayj too stood up to dance, along with Ma‘bad, Ghariḍ, Ibn ‘A’isha and Malik, all of them costumed like Jamila, with lutes in their hands which they played in time with her strumming and dancing, and joined their voices with hers in song [meter: kāmil]:

   Youth has gone - if only it had not! -
      when a light gray touch surmounts the hair's parting.
   Pretty women want companions who are other than you.
      Your intimates once, now all they do is leave.
   What I say is informed by experience truly.
      You have not heard from one so experienced before:
   Treat the noble with unmixed good, and uphold your honor.
      and from the blameworthy and his like just step aside.

Jamila then called for a dyed robe and a wig of hair like Ibn Surayj's, which she fitted to her head. The rest of the group called for similar outfits, which they all put on. Jamila began to promenade while playing the lute, and the rest of the group walked behind her, as in unison they sang [verses 3, 5 and 7 of a qaṣīda by al-Kumayt al-Asadi, meter: ṭawīl]:

   Slender of waist, they walk with stately buttocks,
     bent over like sand-grouses of al-Biṭaḥ.
   She is one of those women - shy but friendly,
      no shameless flirt but neither unperfumed.
   It's like a musk-and-wine concoction,
      the bouquet of her mouth when you get her aroused.

Jamila then gave an indelicate cry, which was echoed musically by the group. When she sat down, the others did likewise, stripping off their costumes and resuming their everyday clothes. A group of callers was at Jamila's door, and when she let them in, the male singers all departed, leaving her in conversation with her hetairai.

From the Book of Songs of Abu 'l-Faraj al-Iṣbahani

August 17, 2016

Men who loved women

Most of the desert Arab [poets] - nay, all of them - were impassioned lovers. Among those of frequent mention and widespread fame for passion and love-song were:
Qays Majnun of the Banu Amir, who was the lover of Layla
Qays ibn Dharih, who loved Lubna
Tawba ibn al-Humayyir, who loved Layla al-Akhyaliyya
Kuthayyir, who loved ‘Uzza
Jamil ibn Ma‘mar, who loved Buthayna
al-Mu’ammil, who loved al-Dhalfa’
al-Muraqqish, who loved Asma’
al-Muraqqish the Younger, who loved Fatima bint al-Mundhir
‘Urwa ibn Hizam, who loved ‘Afra
‘Amr ibn ‘Ajlan, who loved Hind
‘Ali ibn Udaym, who loved Manhala
al-Muhadhdhib, who loved Ladhdha
Dhu 'l-Rumma, who loved Mayya
Qabus, who loved Munya
al-Mukhabbal al-Sa‘di, who loved Mayla’
Hatim al-Ta’i, who loved Mawiya
Waddah al-Yaman, who loved Umm al-Banin
al-Ghamr ibn Dirar, who loved Juml
al-Nimr ibn Tawlab, who loved Hamza
Badr, who loved Nu‘m
Shubayl, who loved Falun
Bishr, who loved Hind
‘Amr who loved Da‘d
‘Umar ibn Abi Rabi‘a, who loved Thurayya
al-Ahwas, who loved Salama
As‘ad ibn ‘Amr, who loved Layla bint Sayfi
Nusayb, who loved Zaynab
Suhaym ‘Abd Bani 'l-Hashas, who loved ‘Umayra
‘Ubayd Allah ibn Qays, who loved Kuthayyira
Abu 'l-Atahiya, who loved ‘Utba
al-‘Abbas ibn al-Ahnaf, who loved Fawz
Abu 'l-Shis who loved Umama

These are just a few of the many impassioned lovers. We have limited ourselves to these few in preference to others so as not to go on too long and mar our book. For every one of these men there is a love story, relating the circumstances of their passions, with much to comment upon and describe.

From The Book of Refinement and Refined People
by Muhammmad ibn Ishaq ibn Yahya al-Washsha’