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Native nameʿAbd al-Malik b. Quraib al-Aṣmaʿī
Basra, Iraq
Other namesأبو سعيد عبد الملك ابن قريب الأصمعي الباهلي
Academic background
InfluencesAl-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi, Abū 'Amr ibn al-'Ala'
Academic work
Main interestsgrammar,poetry,natural science, zoology
Notable worksFuḥūlat al-Shu’arā’, Book of Distinction, the Book of the Wild Animals

Al-Asmaʿi (أبو سعيد عبد الملك ابن قريب الأصمعي, ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Quraib (Qurayb) as-Aṣmaʿī ; [n 1] c. 740-828/833 CE), or Asmai. He was an early grammarian and one of the three leading Arabic grammarians of the Basra school.[1][2][3] The great philologist and grammarian to the court of Hārūn al-Rashīd, he was celebrated as a scholar of poetry and a pioneer of natural science and zoology[4]. A prolific author and polymath, he wrote on a range of topics from grammar and genealogy to zoology, and the scientific studies on animal and human anatomy which he conducted. He was credited with composing an epic on the life of Antarah ibn Shaddad.[citation needed] He was a protégé of Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi and Abu 'Amr ibn al-'Ala', and a contemporary and rival of Abū ʿUbaidah and Sibawayhi of the Basra school.[5][6]

The tenth century biography Al-Aṣma’ī comes through Isḥaq al-Nadīm, who uses the narrative method known as “isnad” or ‘chain of transmission’ tradition. Al Nadīm had read the written account of Abū ‘Abd Allāh ibn Muqlah[n 2] who himself was reporting Abū al-‘Abbas Tha‘lab’s report[8], which gave Al-Aṣma’ī‘s full name to be ‘’’‘Abd al-Malik ibn Qurayb ibn ‘Abd al-Malik ibn ‘Ali ibn Aṣma’ī ibn Muẓahhir ibn ‘Amr ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Bāhilī.’’’

In the thirteenth century the celebrated biographer Ibn Khallikān provided a more elaborate account telling several of the numerous adventures and anecdotes he collected. Khallikān calls him “a complete master of the Arabic language,” and “the most eminent of all transmitters of the oral history and rare expressions of the language.”[9][10]


Al-Aṣma’ī was born and probably died in Basra[n 3], some said in 213 AH / 828-829 CE, others in 217 AH / 832-833 CE [13] and Khatīb Abū Bakr said he was aged 88 years. [12]

His father was Qurayb Abū Bakr from ‘Āṣim and his son was Sa’īd. He belonged to the family of the celebrated poet Abū ‘Uyaynah al-Muhallabī.[n 4][15] His nephew, ‘Abd al- Raḥmān Abū Muḥammad Abū al-Ḥasan, who also wrote, was average as author, but reliably transmitted his uncle’s work. [13]

Al-Aṣma’ī was descended from Adnān[16] and the tribe of Bahila.[17] The governor of Basra brought him to the notice of caliph al-Rashid, who made him tutor to his sons Al-Amin and Al-Ma'mun.[6] Al-Rashid, an insomniac, was said to have once held an all-night discussion with al-Asmaʿi on pre-Islamic and early Arabic poetry.[18] Al-Aṣma’ī was popular with the influential Barmakid viziers [2] and acquired wealth as a property owner in Basra.[19] Some of his protégés attained high rank as literary men.[20]

His ambitious aim to catalogue the complete Arabic language in its purest form, led to a period he spent roaming with desert Bedouin tribes, observing and recording their speech patterns.[5]

Rivalry between Al-Aṣma’ī and Abū ‘Ubaida[edit]

His great critic Abū ʿUbaidah was a member of the Shu'ubiyya movement, a chiefly Persian cultural movement. Al-Aṣma’ī, as an Arab nationalist and champion of the Arabic language, rejected foreign linguistic and literary influences.

Al-Nadīm reports that Abū ‘Ubaida had said that al-Aṣma’ī claimed his father travelled on a horse of Salm ibn Qutaybah.[n 5] Abū ‘Ubaida had exclaimed,

“Praise be to Allāh and thanks to Allāh, for Allāh is greater [than His creatures]. One boasting of what he does not own is like a person wearing a false robe and, by Allāh the father of al-Aṣma’ī never owned any animal other than the one inside of his robe!"

Ubaida’s reference here to al-Asma’ī’s father seems to relate to the story given by Khallikān of al-Asma’ī’s grandfather, Alī ibn Asmā who had lost his fingers as the punishment for theft.[23]

A corollary to 'Ubaida’s anecdote is related by Khallikān, that once al-Faḍl Ibn Rabī, the vizier to caliph al-Rashid, had brought forth his horse and asked both Al-Aṣma’ī and Abū 'Ubaida (who had written extensively on the horse) to identify each part of its anatomy. Abū 'Ubaida excused himself from the challenge, saying that he was an expert on Bedouin culture not a farrier; When al-Aṣma’ī then grabbed the horse by the mane, named each part of its body while, at the same time, reciting the Bedouin verses that authenticated each term as proper to the Arabic lexicon, Al-Faḍl had rewarded him the horse. Whenever after this, Aṣma’ī visited Ubaida he rode his horse. [24] Al-Aṣma’ī, was a perennial bachelor and when Yahya, a Barmakid vizier of the caliph, presented him with the gift of a slave girl, the girl was so repulsed by Al-Aṣma’ī's appearance, Yahya bought her back.[9]

Shaykh Abū Sa’īd reported that Abū al-‘Abbas al-Mubarrad had said al-Aṣma’ī and Abū ‘Ubaida were equal in poetry and rhetoric, but where Abū ‘Ubaida excelled in genealogy, al-Aṣma’ī excelled in grammar – “al-Aṣma’ī, [like] a nightingale [would] charm them with his melodies”[25]

Al-Aṣma’ī’s funeral was attended by the blind poet satirist Abū al-‘Aynā Muḥammad ibn al-Qāsim[n 6] who related that “Allāh invoked al-Faḍl ibn Abi Isḥaq on his behalf, and ‘Abd al-Raḥmān, his nephew, recited the prayers saying, ‘What does it matter to him who is called home, after what Allāh has revealed to him?’"

Works[n 7][edit]

Of Asmaʿi's works listed in the Fihrist about half a dozen are extant. These include the Book of Distinction, the Book of the Wild Animals, the Book of the Horse, and the Book of the Sheep, and Fuḥūlat al-Shu‘arā a pioneering work of Arabic literary criticism.[28]

Most existing collections of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry were compiled by al-Asmaʿi's students based on the principles he taught.[2] In the modern era, German Orientalist Wilhelm Ahlwardt collected and republished al-Asmaʿi's magnum opus Asma'iyyat, considered to be one of the primary sources of early Arabic poetry.[29]

  • Disposition of Man or Humanity (كتاب خلق الانسان) - Kitab Khalaq al-Insan
  • Categories (كتاب الاجناس)
  • Al-Anwā’ (كتاب الانواء) – “Influence of the stars on the weather”[30]
  • Marking with the Hamzah) (كتاب الهمز)
  • Short and Long (كتاب المقصور والممدود)
  • Distinction, or of Rare Animals (كتاب الفرق) - Kitab al-Farq
  • Eternal Attributes [of God] (كتاب الصفات)
  • Gates[n 8] (كتاب الابواب) or Merit (كتاب الاثواب)
  • Al-Maysir and al-Qidāḥ[n 9] (كتاب الميسى والقداح)
  • Disposition of the Horse (كتاب خلق الفرس)
  • Horses (كتاب الخيل) - Kitāb al-Khail
  • The Camel (كتاب الابل) - Kitāb al-Ibil
  • Sheep (كتاب الشاء) - Kitāb al-Shā
  • Tents and Houses (كتاب الاهبية والبيوت)
  • Wild Beasts (كتاب الوحوش) - Kitab al-Wuhush
  • Times (كتاب الاوقات)
  • Fa‘ala wa-Af‘ala [gram.]) (كتاب فعل وافعل)
  • Proverbs (كتاب الامثال)
  • Antonyms (كتاب الاضداد)
  • Pronunciations/Dialects (كتاب الالفاظ)
  • Weapons (كتاب السلاح)
  • Languages/Vernaculars (كتاب اللغات)
  • Etymology (كتاب الاشتقاق)
  • Rare Words (كتاب النوادر)
  • Origins of Words (كتاب اصول الكلام)
  • Change and Substitution [gram.] (كتاب القلب والابدال)
  • The Arabian Peninsula (كتاب جزيرة العرب)
  • The Utterance/Pail) (كتاب الدلو)
  • Migration (كتاب الرحل)
  • The Meaning of Poetry (كتاب معانى الشعر)
  • Infinitive/Verbal Noun (كتاب مصادر)
  • The Six Poems [n 10] (كتاب القسائد الست)
  • Rajaz Poems (كتاب الاراجيز)
  • Date Palm/Creed (كتاب النحلة)
  • Plants and Trees (كتاب النبات والشجر)[n 11]
  • The Land Tax (كتاب الخراج)
  • Synonyms (كتاب ما اتفق لفظه واختلف معناه)
  • The Strange in the Ḥadīth[n 12] (كتاب غريب الحديث نحو ماثتين ورقة رايتة بخط السكرى)
  • The Saddle, Bridle, Halter and Horse Shoe[n 13] (كتاب السرج والنجام * والشوى والنعال)
  • The Strange in the Ḥadīth-Uncultured Words (كتاب غريب الحديث والكلام الوحشى)
  • Rare Forms of the Arabians/Inflections/Declensions (كتاب نوادر الاعراب)
  • Waters of the Arabs (كتاب مياة العرب)
  • Genealogy [n 14] (كتاب النسب)
  • Vocal Sounds [n 15] (كتاب الاصوات)
  • Masculine and Feminine (كتاب المذكر والمؤنث)
  • The Seasons كتاب المواسم[n 16]

Contribution to Early Arabic Literature[edit]

Al-Aṣma’ī was among a group of scholars who edited and recited the Pre-lslāmic and Islāmic poets of the Arab tribes up to the era of the Banū al-‘Abbās[n 17][33]

He memorised thousands of verses of rajaz poetry[25] and edited a substantial portion of the canon of Arab poets, but produced little poetry of his own. [15]. He met criticism for neglecting the ‘rare forms’ (nawādir - نوادر) and lack of care in his abridgments.[n 18]

List of Edited Poets[n 19][edit]

Al-Nābighah[n 20] al-Dhubyānī (whom he also edited and condensed), Al-Ḥuṭay’ah[n 21]

  • Al-Kumayt ibn Ma‘rūf [n 50][99]
  • Al-‘Ajjāj al-Rājaz, Abū Shāthā’ ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ru’bah.[n 51]. For his son, see Ru’bah.[107]
  • Ru’bah ibn al-‘Ajjāj, called Abū Muḥammad Ru’bah ibn ‘Abd Allāh [n 52], was a contemporary of al-Aṣma’ī whose poetry al-Aṣma’ī recited.
  • Jarīr ibn ‘Aṭīyah[n 53] al-Aṣma’ī was among group of editors who included Abū ‘Amr [al-Shaybānī], and Ibn al-Sikkīt.[114][115][n 54]

External Links[edit]

  • al-Aṣmaʿī.
  • Wafayat al-Ayan The Obituaries Of Eminent Men By Ibn Khallikan, Oriental Translation Fund For Britain and Ireland.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Khallikān (II, 123)
  2. ^ al-Ḥasan ibn ‘Ali ibn Muqlah, Abī ‘Abd Allāh; brother of the vizier of al-Muqtadir and al-Qāhir, Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī, calligrapher[7]
  3. ^ Al-Nadīm and Khallikān both cite Basra, however Khallikān reports a disputed claim that he died in Merv, (now in Turkmenistan). Other sources claim he died at Baghdad. [11][12]
  4. ^ Abū ibn Muḥammad ibn Abi ‘Uyaynah (late 8th -early 9th century).[14]
  5. ^ Salm ibn Qutaybah ibn Muslim al-Bāhilī. (d.766); governor of al-Baṣrah and later of al-Rayy during the reign of al-Manṣūr.[21][22]
  6. ^ He lived at Baghdad died at al-Basrah in 895/896. [26][27]
  7. ^ Cf. Flügel, Gram. Schulen, p. 78.
  8. ^ Prob. of Heaven; Qur’ān 38: 50)
  9. ^ Al-maysir was the drawing of arrows to obtain part of a slaughtered animal; see Richardson, Dictionary, p. 1542. AI-qidāḥ were arrows without heads used for fortune telling and gambling.
  10. ^ Omitted in Beatty MS.
  11. ^ botanical work identifying 276 plants or plant genus; and plants from across the Arabian Peninsula.[31]
  12. ^ In the hand of al-Sukkarī, about 200 folios
  13. ^ This title is incorrect in Flügel text and the word “halter" is badly written in Beatty MS. Perhaps al-burs, a kind of wooden camel halter.
  14. ^ Omitted in Beatty MS.
  15. ^ Omitted in Beatty MS.
  16. ^ Omitted in Beatty MS.
  17. ^ For translations of some of these ancient poems, [32]
  18. ^ note on various translation in Flügel and Beatty MS.[34]
  19. ^ Compare this list with Aṣma’ī, Fuḥālat al-Shu‘arā’.
  20. ^ Nickname of many poets. (i) Al-Nābighah al-Dhubyānī, Ziyād ibn Mu‘āwiyah, a protégé of the princes of al-Ḥīrah and Ghassān. (ii) Al-Nābighah, ‘Abd Allāh ibn. Al-Mukhāriq. A man of the Banū Shaybān, patronized by the caliphs ‘Abd al-MaIik and al-Walīd (685-715). [35][36][37][38][39]
  21. ^ Ḥuṭay’ah, Abū Mulaykah Jarwal ibn Aws. poet in the time of Mu’āwiyah (661-680).[40][41][42][43]
  22. ^ Al-Ja‘dī, or al-Ju‘dī[44] became a Muslim and a poet of early Islam.
  23. ^ Wrote fourth poem of the Mu‘alaqāt, became a Companion of the Prophet, died after 661. [45][46][47][48][49]
  24. ^ Abū Ka‘b; Pre-Islamic poet, became a Muslim, lived to age of about a 100 years.[50][51][52]
  25. ^ Tribal hero and poet, just before Islām.[53][54]
  26. ^ Pre-Islāmic poet, uncle of the great Imru’ al-Qays ibn Ḥujr ibn al-Ḥārith, possibly first to use the al-qaṣīdah (ode).[55] [56][49]
  27. ^ Poet, joined the Prophet late in life, died at al-Yamāmah.[57][58][59]
  28. ^ Almost certainly Maymūn ibn Qays, called al-Kabīr (“the elder” or "the great”)
  29. ^ Poet, lived just before Islām.[60][61][62][49]
  30. ^ Poet, became a Muslim, was deformed, lived in humiliation due to his brother’s disloyalty. Died in reign of second caliph.[63][64][65]
  31. ^ Only Flügel correct.
  32. ^ Bishr ibn Ḥāzim in Beatty MS. Tribal poet, late C6th. [66][67][68][69]
  33. ^ Beatty MS has Bishr ibn Ḥāzim.
  34. ^ Poet and Companion of the Prophet, died 665.[70][71][72][73][69]
  35. ^ Omitted in Flügel.
  36. ^ Poet of al-Ḥīrah, late C6th.[74][75][76]
  37. ^ Poet lived after the Prophet, before first caliph.[77][78]
  38. ^ Flügel has “al-Rabbāḥī”, Beatty and Tonk MSS “al-Rājiz.”
  39. ^ Poet lived in caliphate of ‘Abd al-Malik (685-705). [79][80][69]
  40. ^ Early Islamic period poet. Beatty MS calls his father Wūthīl; Flügel adds “al-Āmilī” to his name.[81] [82][83][84]
  41. ^ (or Ṣu‘lūk) Pre-Islamic poet famed for charity.[85][86][87]
  42. ^ Pre-Islāmic poet, famously generous.[88][89][90][69]
  43. ^ Poet; Flügel probably correctly has Ibn Habib, meaning Muhammad ibn Ḥabīb, but Beatty and Tonk MSS have the editor Ibn Jundub
  44. ^ Pre-Islāmic poet, became a Muslim.[91][92]
  45. ^ Name correct in Flügel, garbled in Beatty and Tonk MSS.
  46. ^ Nicknamed ‘al-Ruqayyāt’ after three women named Ruqayyah; one of the five great Quraysh poets. He fought for Ibn al-Zubayr and died ca.704. [93][94][95][96]
  47. ^ Early poet of the Banū Asad Tribe.[97][98], name given is Mudarris.[99]
  48. ^ Poet of the Numayr Tribe, lived in southern Iraq, met many caliphs. (d.800.) [100][101]
  49. ^ Beatty MS inserts muḥdath (“originator”), or muhaddith (“relator”) here.
  50. ^ Poet of a Bedouin family of poets, early period of Islam. [102][103][104]
  51. ^ Poet of al-Baṣrah, master of rajaz verse. Died early C8th. [105][106]
  52. ^ Authority on rajaz poetry and Arab folklore; lived at al-Baṣrah; died as a fugitive soon after 763. [105][108][109][110]
  53. ^ His lineage was a branch of the Tamīm Tribe; he was the famous court poet, first with caliph al-Ḥajjāj in Iraq, after with ‘Abd al-Mālik (685-705) at Damascus. He died in 728/729. [111][112][113]
  54. ^ For life of Aṣma’ī, see Ibn Khallikān, Biographical Dictionary, translated from the Arabic by McG. de Slane (Paris and London, 1842), vol. ii. pp. 123-127. *For his work as a grammarian, G. Flügel, Die grammatischen Schulen der Araber (Leipzig, 1862), pp. 72-80.


  1. ^ Versteegh, p. 110.
  2. ^ a b c Merriam-Webster, p. 78.
  3. ^ Versteegh, p. 25, Ar. Linguistic Trad..
  4. ^ Alkhateeb, p. 132.
  5. ^ a b Chejne, p. 43.
  6. ^ a b Carter, p. 22.
  7. ^ Khallikān, p. 266, III.
  8. ^ Khallikān, p. 83, I.
  9. ^ a b Adamec, p. 43.
  10. ^ Khallikān, pp. 123, II.
  11. ^ Adamec.
  12. ^ a b Khallikān & p125, II.
  13. ^ a b Dodge, p. 121.
  14. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 9, pt XVIII.
  15. ^ a b Dodge, p. 361.
  16. ^ Khallikān & p123, II.
  17. ^ Caskel, p. 921.
  18. ^ Ouyang, p. 81.
  19. ^ Thatcher, p. 763.
  20. ^ Thatcher, p. 763, I.
  21. ^ Ṭabārī, pp. 326-27, III. II.
  22. ^ Ziriklī, p. 168, III.
  23. ^ Khallikān, p. 125, II.
  24. ^ Khallikān & p124, II.
  25. ^ a b Khallikān, p. 124, II.
  26. ^ Mas‘udi, pp. 120-25, VIII.
  27. ^ Khallikān, p. 56, III.
  28. ^ Van Gelder, p. 2.
  29. ^ Nasser, p. 210.
  30. ^ Khallikān, p. 126, II.
  31. ^ Fahd, p. 814.
  32. ^ Mufaḍḍal, Mufaḍḍalīyāt (Lyall) and Tammām, Al-Ḥamāsah.
  33. ^ Dodge, p. 344.
  34. ^ Dodge, pp. 119-121.
  35. ^ Isbahani, p. 128, pt IV.
  36. ^ Isbahani, p. 15.1, pt VI.
  37. ^ Isbahani, p. 162, pt.IX.
  38. ^ Qutaybah, p. index, Ma‘ani.
  39. ^ Qutaybah, p. 70, Shi‘r.
  40. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 43, pt.II.
  41. ^ Khallikān, p. 209,n.18, 1.
  42. ^ Qutaybah, p. 180, Shi’r.
  43. ^ Dodge, pp. 312, 345, 564.
  44. ^ Nawawī, p. 777.
  45. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 93, pt. XIV.
  46. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 137, pt.XV.
  47. ^ Qutaybah, p. 148, Shi’r.
  48. ^ Nicholson, p. 119.
  49. ^ a b c Dodge, p. 345.
  50. ^ Ṭabarī, p. 3060, Annales, I.
  51. ^ Ziriklī, p. 71, pt. II.
  52. ^ Dodge, pp. 173, 345.
  53. ^ Qutaybah, p. 470, Shi‘r.
  54. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 2, pt. IX.
  55. ^ Qutaybah, p. 64, Shi’r.
  56. ^ Baghdādī, p. 23, Khizānat, pt.II.
  57. ^ Qutaybah, p. 135, Shi’r.
  58. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 77, pt. VIII.
  59. ^ Dodge, pp. 164, 166, 173, 345.
  60. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 52, pt. III.
  61. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 39, pt. XIV.
  62. ^ Baghdādī, p. 130, Khizānat.
  63. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 66, pt. XIV.
  64. ^ Khallikān, pp. 648-656, pt. III.
  65. ^ Dodge, pp. 137, 346.
  66. ^ Qutaybah, p. 145, Shi’r.
  67. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 98, pt XVI.
  68. ^ Aṣma’ī, p. 27, Fuḥūlat.
  69. ^ a b c d e Dodge, p. 346.
  70. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 52, pt. II.
  71. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 166, pt. XVIII.
  72. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 174, pt. XXI.
  73. ^ Qutaybah, pp. 219, 250, Shi’r.
  74. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 185, pt. XXI.
  75. ^ Qutaybah, p. 85, Shi’r.
  76. ^ Khallikān, pp. 618-619, III.
  77. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 98, IV.
  78. ^ Qutaybah, p. 230, Shi’r.
  79. ^ Tammām (Rückert), p. 335, select,816.
  80. ^ Qutaybah, pp. 242, 262, Shi’r pt.III.
  81. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 14, pt.XII.
  82. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 5, pt.XIX.
  83. ^ Baghdādī, p. 249, pt. II.
  84. ^ Khallikān, pp. 613-614, III.
  85. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 190, pt.II.
  86. ^ Qutaybah, p. 425, Shi’r.
  87. ^ Aṣma’ī, p. 21 n.8, Fuḥūlat.
  88. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 63, pt.X.
  89. ^ Tammām (Rückert), p. 78, select.
  90. ^ Mas‘ūdī, p. 223, IV.
  91. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 157, pt. XIX.
  92. ^ Qutaybah, p. 173, Shi’r.
  93. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 155, pt.IV.
  94. ^ Ṭabarī (Annales), p. 812, pt.II.
  95. ^ Ziriklī, p. 352, pt.IV.
  96. ^ Dodge, pp. 244, 312, 322, 328, 346.
  97. ^ Ziriklī, p. 153, pt. VIII.
  98. ^ Tammām (Rückert), p. 741, select, 434.
  99. ^ a b Dodge, p. 347.
  100. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 64, XV.
  101. ^ Qutaybah, p. 486, Shi’r.
  102. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 109, pt.XIX.
  103. ^ Qutaybah, pp. 35, 81, ‘Uyūn, I.
  104. ^ Qutaybah, p. 7, ‘Uyūn, IV.
  105. ^ a b Khallikān, p. 527, I.
  106. ^ Qutaybah, p. 374, Shi’r.
  107. ^ Dodge, pp. 252, 348.
  108. ^ Durayd, p. 159.
  109. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 84, pt. XXI.
  110. ^ Dodge, pp. 193, 252, 312, 348, 356.
  111. ^ Khallikān, p. 294, I.
  112. ^ Iṣbahānī, p. 38, VII.
  113. ^ Dodge, pp. 125, 209, 235, 289, 348, 349.
  114. ^ Dodge, p. 348.
  115. ^ Thatcher, p. 763, Aṣmai,I.


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