From Technicians of the Sacred (expanded): David Larsen’s Translation of “The Names of the Lion”


(al-Ḥusayn ibn Aḥmad ibn Khālawayh) 


al-Waththāb             “The Pouncer”

al-ʿAū                       “The Distresser”

al-Mihzaʿ                   “The Smasher” 

al-Miktal                   “The Big Food-Basket”

al-ʿAkammash       “Whose Numbers are Oppressive” 

al-Murib                  “The Belligerent”

al-Sāriiyy                “The Pastoral [Scourge]”

al-Muāmi              “The Open-Mouthed”

al-Qaʿfāniyy             “Whose Tread Stirs the Dust”

al-Hijaff                     “The Imposing Bulk”

al-ʿAssās                     “Who Looks for Trouble in the Night”

al-Mukhayyas          “Whose Den Is Well Kept”

al-Sawwār                “Who Goes Straight for the Head”

al-Musāfir                 “The Wayfarer”

al-aḥḥār                   “Whose Eyes Burn”

al-Ghayyāl                “The Well-Concealed”

al-Miakk                   “The Slammer”

al-Ahyab                    “The Most Fearsome”

Dhū Libd                   “Whose Hair is Matted”

al-Dilhām                  “The Dusky”

al-Hawātima            “Terror of the Lowland”

al-Arash                      “The Raking Blow”

al-Shaddākh             “The Skull Crusher”

al-Dilhātha               “Who Strides Unflinching Into Battle”

al-Qanawar             “The Impaler”, said also of the male member of the tortoise, & the spear

Dhu ’l-ʿUfra           “Whose Hair Gets Thicker When he’s Mad”

Dhu ’l-Khīs                 “Who Has a Hiding Place”

Layth al-ʿArīn          “Lion of the Treetop Hideaway”

Layth Khaffān          “Lion of the Lion-Infested Area”

Layth al-Ghāb          “Lion of the Thicket”

Nazij                             “Prancer”

Akhram                        “Hare-Lip”

al-Shābil                    “Whose Teeth Are Interlaced”

al-Aʿfar                      “Whose Coat Is the Color of the Surface of the Earth”

al-Midlāj                    “Who Shows up Late at Night”

al-Mawthabān        “The Seated [Monarch]”

al-Dawsar                  “The Lusty”

al-Abghath                 “Whose Coat Is Ashy”

al-Aghthā                   “Whose Coat Is Shabby”

al-Ghathawthar     “The Thug”

al-Ghuthāghith        “Who Fights Without a Weapon”

al-Ghāzī                      “The Raider”

al-Mufarfir                “The Mangler”

al-Khashshāf            “The Calamity”

al-Azhar                    “The Radiant”

al-Irrīs                         “The Chief”

al-Ajwaf                    “The Big-Bellied”

al-Jāfī                        “The Brute”

al-Jāhil                      “The Unrepentant”

al-Muʿlankis             “Whose Hair Hangs in Clusters”

al-Jayfar                   “Whose Sides Are Well Filled Out”

al-Māī                      “The Cutter,” also said of a sword

al-Ququa                “The Stocky”

al-ārī                         “The Blood-Bather,” also said of an open vein

al-abūr                     “The Perseverant”

al-aʿb                        “The Difficult”

al-Mutajir               “Furiously Jealous in Defense of What Is His”

al-Mudill                     “The Brazen”

al-Hayama              “The Destroyer”

al-Ashraʿ                   “Whose Nose Is Long and Prominent”

al-Qaū                     “The Sunderer”

al-ubāib                “The Giant Lout”

al-Qirim                  “Who Takes the Whole”

al-Ruzam                    “Who Can’t Be Budged”

al-Hajjās                     “The Show-Off”

al-Muqamil             “The Brutal Shepherd”

al-ʿAntarīs                “Valiant in Battle,” [said for] the lion and the she-camel

al-Shaykh                  “The Elder”

                                                                                                            (Syria, Arabic)


Source: al-usayn ibn Amad ibn Khālawayh, Names of the Lion, translated with notes and an introduction by David Larsen (Atticus / Finch, 2009), 33-36 (revised).


(1)  As with Gertrude Stein’s insight cited elsewhere, a poetry of names emerges, even & sometimes most powerfully in forms & genres not associated with poetry as such.  In the instance of Ibn Khalawayh (d. 980 or 981 CE), he was a Persian-born grammarian much of whose  work was devoted to curiosities & anomalies of the Arabic language.  So, according to David Larsen as scholar/translator, “Names of the Lion comes from a long serial work called Kitāb Laysa fī kalām al-ʿarab (The Book of ‘Not in the Speech of the Arabs’), which has never been printed in its entirety. The title comes from the formula opening each short chapter: ‘There is in the speech of the Arabs no…’ followed by various exceptions to the stated rule.” Apart from this larger work, Names of the Lion came to be read independently along with now inextant listings of his such as Names of the Serpent and Names of the Hours of the Night.  That we may read these today – “in the procedural spirit of recent avant-garde tradition” – as acts of poesis, is an indication of how far our own practice has come in the extension of what we identify or read as poetry. 


(2)  Writes David Larsen further: “Asiatic lion populations were endemic to Syria and Iraq until modern times, and encounters between lions and human beings are documented in all other historical periods. Perhaps this is what suggested the subject to Ibn Khālawayh, who left his birthplace in western Iran to study in Baghdad, and went on to Aleppo to serve the court of Sayf al-Dawla (r. 945-967 CE) as a tutor of Arabic grammar. Although he was no zoologist, Ibn Khālawayh’s list of lion’s names is touched by a natural historian’s zeal for order and intelligibility. The genre to which it belongs is the thesaurus, a branch of lexicographical writing that proliferated alongside a relatively small number of dictionaries in the first centuries of Arabic literary culture. In other words, Names of the Lion is not a composition in verse ... [and if it now] reads like an elegiac text, it is because we of the twenty-first century mourn the lion’s lost mastery of the earth. We are also attuned to the list as a poetic form in a way that readers and writers of other periods were not. Names of the Lion may be a masterpiece of philological literature, but Ibn Khālawayh had no conception of it as a work of poetry.”


(3)  The instances of poems as namings & namings as poetry run a wide gamut of human experiences, some of which the present editor has cited numerous times in gatherings starting with the first edition of Technicians of the Sacred: Egyptian god names, Homeric ship names, African praise names, the 99 names of Allah, the 950 Sikh god names of Guru Gobind Singh, the 72 names of YHVH (The Lord) in Kabbala (including “The Name” itself), & numerous namings of objects & beings (divine & mundane) by tags & by metaphors. 


(4)  “Victory will be above all / To see truly into the distance / To see everything / Up close / So that everything can have a new name.” (Guillaume Apollinaire)