Names of the Lion


The 10th century poet of Aleppo, Ibn Khalawayh, wrote a book with 400 names of the lion in it. Here are some:

Whose coat is yellow, stained with red
Whose head and neck are big for his body
Whose face expresses great displeasure
Whose eyes are bloodshot
Whose speech is uncouth
Whose gut sloshes when he walks
Whose food has bones in it
Who eats until he’s sick of food
Who looks for trouble in the night
Whose foe is outraged in the dust
Whose prey is turned inside out
Who disregards the rights of others
Who hates frustration
Who doesn’t care what happens

Reminds you of that famous passage in Borges, doesn’t it? Was Ibn Khalawayh, like Borges, writing fiction? Did medieval Arabic really have 400 names for lions?

Here is a recent (and perhaps the only?) translation, by David Larsen:


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