Now available from Wave Books (Seattle), the
N A M E S     O F     T H E     L I O N
compiled by Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Ḥusayn ibn Aḥmad
I B N    K H Ā L A W A Y H
tutor to the Hamdanid court at Aleppo
in the 4th century A.H. / 10th century CE

Translated  from the Arabic
with notes and an introduction
by David Larsen

who offers you these
beginning with:

Where can I get a copy?

Q. What kind of book is Names of the Lion?
A. A word list and a thesaurus. A bestiary with only one beast.

Q. Why was it written?
A. As a virtuoso display of philological learning by a man who considered himself the greatest living authority on the Arabic language, and was so considered by others.

Q. Can you say more?
A. At the time of the grammarian Ibn Khālawayh's life and work, the study of the Arabic language had reached a mature phase. Many books of grammmar and lexicography had already been written and re-written by successive generations of scholars. Although the works of Ibn Khālawayh are steeped in this tradition, they depart from received models. His longest and most innovative text, The Book of "Not in the Arabic Language," is organized aphoristically into short chapters. Each chapter begins with the phrase "In the Arabic language, there is no X, except for..." followed by all the exceptions to the stated rule. Names of the Lion is a chapter from this work. It begins: "In all the speech of the Arabs and all books of Arabic philology put together, there are no names for the lion besides what I have written for you." Hundreds of words for lion then follow.

Q. Okay, but why lions?
A. Why not lions? Ibn Khālawayh produced word-lists on other subjects: names of the wind, of the sword, of honey, etc. (You can read his names of the undershirt on this blog.) This was a well-established genre of linguistic scholarship, and it's not clear that lions were a particular obsession with Ibn Khālawayh.
      It is true however that the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) was endemic to Syria, and a real-life scourge of the pastoral economy. It is also true that no one who encounters a lion in the wild ever forgets it.

Q. Is this why are there so many Arabic words for lion?
A. In Classical Arabic there are many, many words for all kinds of things. To say why would be a rash mouthful.

Q. It almost sounds as if Names of the Lion isn't a work of literature!
A. If by "literature" you mean an intentional work of poetry or artistic prose, then it's actually not. But that's a narrow definition. "Pleasure reading" is a much broader category than that - at least for the seekers and dreamers and students of the world, and sophisticates on the lookout for the next thing.
     Formally, the text will be familiar to everyone. It is a list, and there is abundant precedent for the list as a poetic form. In our day, the list poem is a standard exercise of Creative Writing because it never fails to yield interesting results. So even though Ibn Khālawayh had no conception of Names of the Lion as a work of poetry, to enjoy it as one is practically irresistable. More fancifully, you could call it Ibn Khālawayh's answer to poetry - his vengeful attack on it, even - which makes it even more interesting.


Q. Where can I get my copy of Names of the Lion?

A. Directly from the publisher, and from Amazon and Small Press Distribution, and from a number of brick-and-mortar booksellers, including:
Unnameable (Brooklyn)
Berl's (Brooklyn)
McNally Jackson (Manhattan)
Moe's (Berkeley)