December 29, 2017

Palmette IV

Palmette IV sm
From a terracotta stamnos (ca. 470-60 BCE) attributed to the
Deepdene Painter, Metropolitan Museum of Art (41.162.20a, b).

October 24, 2017

So that's where it comes from

The heretic Basilides came out after [Simon Magus and the gnostic teachers Menander and Saturninus], saying that the high god - the creator of Mind (Greek nous), whenceforth the Word - was called ABRAXAS. In him [said Basilides] do providence, virtue and knowledge have their origin, out of which the principalities and powers and angels were made - infinite processions of angels, who streamed forth and set up the world and its 365 heavens in honor of ABRAXAS (this number being contained in the alphanumeric computation of the name). Among the last of these angels, now made makers of the world, he ranked the god of the Jews (God, that is, of the Law and the Prophets) as a latecomer, saying he was no god at all but an angel who was dealt the seed of Abraham as his portion, and spirited the children of Israel to Canaan out of Egypt land. This angel [Basilides said] was of a more violent temper than the others, and frequently engaged in stirring up wars and rebellions, even spilling human blood. Albeit a creator of the world, he was not the engenderer of Christ, who was sent by ABRAXAS in the form of a phantom without carnal substance. [Phantom Jesus] underwent no passion before the Jews, but Simon [of Cyrene] was crucified in his place. There was therefore to be no religious belief in a crucified figure, lest that belief be placed in Simon. Martyrdom was a disqualifying circumstance. The doctrine of resurrection of the flesh he rejected in the gravest terms, denying that salvation was ever promised to corpses.

Pseudo-Tertullian, Against all heresies I.5

October 12, 2017

The Terror of the Coming of the Lord

    I pray that my impieties go unindicted by Your wrath
    when there goes before the Lord a timely fire,
    and all at once the ground is seized and burns in darkness,
    and a brilliant, fiery wind parts the high canopies
    of the forests of a world gripped by general cremation.
    The shallows of the ocean are driven up in steam by the
           all-parching storm,
    and its whirling depths feed [gasses to] the flame
    belched at the ocean's surface to fuel the living pyre.
    Brimstone rivers pipe with vapors whippped to the quick
    by a boiling blast whose strength is unabating.
    The sea, the earth, the pole of heaven all make one furnace,
    and the high ground melts away, and the chained mountains
           are torched
    into titanic embers. The flocks of beasts and birds and men,
    and whatever else the eons have to show as they slip away,
    in one instant heaven's flaming summit takes into its folds.
    With fiery coals, the sweltering inferno pelts the cities,
    immolating the apartmented quarters together with
    the royal palaces. Lofty roofs with panes of metal
           high upraised
    are smelted, their upright piles oppressed by [drifting] ash.
    The lightning teems in crossed bolts of lightning
    as huge crags are brought to earth with their tops blazing.
    The sky is red, and strobes with glaring beams,
    and the winds themselves catch fire and blow brightly.
    Hard Aetna, long unmoved by its own flames,
    melts away. Its masses unmade, hard Aetna
    dissolves and runs liquid, wet as wax.
    Then all the elements will be one furnace,
    and the world will be a funeral mound heaped over
           its own cadaver.
    Yet no matter how dire the guts of the fire's raging
    with acute terrors menacing the population,
    we still persist in behaviors that are depraved.
    As when lightning erupts from the sky's eastern reaches
    and makes its way to the western quarter in one easy bolt,
    such will be the coming of the Lord when He comes to earth.

Verecundus of Junca, Of Penitential Satisfaction, 152-86.

September 12, 2017

From the chapter "On poetry"

[True] poets are the princes of discourse. They may elide glottal stops at the ends of words, but they do not add them where glottal stops are lacking. They accelerate and defer, they employ mimicry and allegory, they misappropriate [choice phrases] and lend them out, and so too are their metaphors coined and borrowed. They do not drop desinential inflections in the way of everyday speech, nor do they mangle words past correct usage. The claim that poets may go against [any and all] norms of morphology and syntax for the sake of meter is a senseless claim.
        Senseless too is the hemistich [no. 164, meter: wāfir]:

     A-lam ya’tīka wa-'l-anbā’u tamnī

    "Does it not reaches you, when the news comes..."

Although [the metri gratia lengthening of a "weak" verb's jussive-case end vowel may be poetically] admissible, it is nevertheless an error and a flaw. It is as bad as saying [meter: sarī‘]:

     Lammā jafā ikhwānuhu muṣ‘aban

    "When his brothers scorn a chief..."
      viz., "When a chief is scorned by his brothers..."

And [meter: ṭawīl]:

     Qifā ‘inda mimmā ta‘rifāni rubū‘u

    "Halt, [my two companions,] where among the things recognizable
        to you are inhabited sites."

God did not make the poets infallible, nor exempt them from flaws and errors. What is acceptable is what is correct, and everything forbidden by the Arabic language and its principles is to be rejected. When poets wish to say something that does not occur to them in accordance with their poem's meter, they must come up with a substitute fit to take its place without compression or prolixity, and without indulging in vulgar speech or outright error. A poet might say [like Ru’ba ibn al-‘Ajjāj (line 56), meter: rajaz]:

    ...[happy] as a bee awash in the sweet spittle

to mean "honey." Or a poet might say [like Labīd ibn Rabī‘a (bottom line), meter: kāmil]: the camel-stallion you tarred with a clinging clod

What the poet means is that he tarred the camel with tar, but it was necessary for him to stretch [the meaning to fit the line]. Al-A‘shā does something similar when he says [line 69, meter: basīṭ]:

    When your party rides, then horseback riding is what we do.
        And if your party comes to a halt, then we are a halting party.

His meaning is: "We ride when you ride, and we halt when you halt," but in order for it to come out right he had to dilate upon it. There is also what [Yazīd ibn al-Ṭathriyya] says [meter: ṭawīl]:

    And as long as you dwell in the Najd, [I'll say:] "O Beloved Najd!"

What he means is: "I'll dwell in the Najd as long as you dwell there." But he stretches the idea to bring the verse in line [with demands of rhyme and meter].
         My father, Fāris ibn Zakariyā, said: Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Sa‘dān, the grammarian of Hamadhan, said: Abū Naṣr al-Bāhilī, the companion of al-Aṣma‘ī, recited [lines 2,3 and 5 of Yazīd's poem] to me thus [meter: ṭawīl]:

    I have gratified, for the ladies, with one exception, my erotic longing.
        For Dhalfā’ I did not bring it to completion, yet.
    To the hill of [our] two encampments, [I say] across the distance:
        "Long many you live, O hill!" when thunder lets loose above it.
    [And to Dhalfā’:] If you leave the Najd behind, then I'll leave it too,
            and everyone who is in it.
        And as long as you dwell in the Najd, [I'll say:] "O Beloved Najd!"

The poetic record presents other such cases where poets go wrong. I talk about this in my book of poetry criticism, The Book of the Mighty Blue [Sea] (= Condemnation of Mistakes in Poetry ?).

Last chapter of The Statutes of Language for al-Ṣāḥib ibn 'Abbād
by Abu 'l-Ḥusayn Aḥmad ibn Fāris

August 28, 2017

A prayer to the herbs

      To you, O powerful herbs, this is my prayer,
      and to the parent who gifted all of you
      to all [of us], her majesty the engendering Earth.
      Unto you she willed her majesty,
      and curative remedies to be of use
      and dependable help to every kind of person.
      I am a suppliant. This is my plea. Come swiftly
      with your potencies to this place! For she
      who begat [you] gave me leave to harvest you,
      and he to whom the healer's art was given
      also approves. With kindly remedy
      support well-being's cause, to the maximum
      capacity of your powers. Grace me with them, I pray,
      so that whatever I make of you,
      or whomever I may treat, you take effect quickly
      and lead to beneficial results. [I pray] that I
      always be licensed to harvest you............
      and give thanks to you, and credit you with the outcome,
      in the name of the Mother who commanded you to be born.


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 spy 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 burst of running is followed by another. 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 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