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David Larsen is a U. S. poet and literary translator of Classical Arabic texts. His graduate studies in Comparative Literature ran parallel to years of activity in the San Francisco Bay Area’s experimental poetry community, culminating in a verse collection The Thorn (Cambridge, MA: Faux Press, 2005) and two and a half years as curator of the New Yipes video and poetry series. During the 2011 uprising in Egypt he was a Fulbright Scholar based in Cairo. David Larsen has taught at U. C. Berkeley, Yale and Ohio State, and is currently a Clinical Professor of Liberal Studies at NYU.
It is widely claimed that Arabic has five hundred words for "lion." The first to make this claim and back it up with an authoritative list was the grammarian Ibn Khālawayh, who spent most of his career in Aleppo, Syria. He was born in Iran, and although Arabic was a second language to him, he was recognized as one of the greatest authorities on Arabic grammar and lexicography in the 10th century CE. His best-known text was Not in the Speech of the Arabs, in which his long list of lion names first appeared as a chapter.
August 9, 2017 | 7:00pm

Names of the Lion: David Larsen in conversation with Stephen Sparks

DIESEL, A Bookstore | 5433 College Avenue | Oakland, CA

This event has already taken place.

The Center for the Art of Translation and DIESEL, A Bookstore in Oakland welcomes poet and translator David Larsen to the store to discuss his translation of 10th-century Arabic lexicographer Ibn Khālawayh’s Names of the Lion. He will be in conversation with Stephen Sparks.

Names of the Lion is a thesaurus, a word list, a bestiary with only one beast. It was written 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. At the time of Ibn Khālawayh’s life and work, the study of the Arabic language had reached a mature phase, but 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, which 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. Ibn Khālawayh produced word-lists on other subjects (names of the wind, of the sword, of honey, etc). It was a well-established genre of linguistic scholarship, and it’s not clear that lions were a particular obsession with Ibn Khālawayh. However, the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) was endemic to Syria, and a real-life scourge of the pastoral economy, and no one who encounters a lion in the wild ever forgets it.

Is Names of the Lion a work of literature? If by “literature” you mean an intentional work of poetry or artistic prose, then it’s 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. 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. You could call it Ibn Khālawayh’s answer to poetry, even his vengeful attack on it.

Contact:
Leslie-Ann Woofter
[email protected]
415.512.8812
Translator
David Larsen is a U. S. poet and literary translator of Classical Arabic texts. His graduate studies in Comparative Literature ran parallel to years of activity in the San Francisco Bay Area’s experimental poetry community, culminating in a verse collection The Thorn (Cambridge, MA: Faux Press, 2005) and two and a half years as curator of the New Yipes video and poetry series. During the 2011 uprising in Egypt he was a Fulbright Scholar based in Cairo. David Larsen has taught at U. C. Berkeley, Yale and Ohio State, and is currently a Clinical Professor of Liberal Studies at NYU.
It is widely claimed that Arabic has five hundred words for "lion." The first to make this claim and back it up with an authoritative list was the grammarian Ibn Khālawayh, who spent most of his career in Aleppo, Syria. He was born in Iran, and although Arabic was a second language to him, he was recognized as one of the greatest authorities on Arabic grammar and lexicography in the 10th century CE. His best-known text was Not in the Speech of the Arabs, in which his long list of lion names first appeared as a chapter.