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The cosmic bull bears the earth-disk (rimmed by Mount Qaf) and stands on the fish (Bahamut). Islamic cosmography.
Zekeriya Kazvinî, Acaib-ül Mahlûkat (The Wonders of Creation), in Turkish from the Arabic of al-Qazwini. c.1553[1]

Kuyūthā (Arabic: كيوثاء) is the cosmic bull in medieval Islamic cosmography. It is said to carry on its back the angel who shoulders the earth and the rock platform upon which the angel stands. The bull is said to stand on the giant fish or whale, Bahamut.

The bull is variously described as having 40,000 horns and legs, or as many eyes, ears, mouths and tongues in the oldest sources. The number of appendages can vary in later versions. Its breathing is said to control the tides of the ocean.

Kīyūbān (Arabic: کیوبان) or Kibūthān (Arabic: کبوثان) also appear in printed editions of Qazwini's cosmography. These have been claimed to be corruptions of Leviathan (Arabic: لوياتان). Alternate names include Al-Rayann.

Kuyootà, Kuyoothán were forms of the name as transcribed by Edward Lane, and given as Kuyata (Spanish), Kujata (first English translation, 1969), and Quyata (revised English translation) in various editions of Jorge Luis Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings.


The angel-supporting ruby mountain ("montagne de rubis") balanced on the multi-horned bull. Islamic cosmography.[a]
Gentil Album (1774), p. 34. Held by the Victoria and Albert Museum.[2][3]

"Kuyootà" was Edward Lane's transcription of the beast's name according to an Arabic source not clearly specified.[b][4] This became "Kuyata" in Jorge Luis Borges's El libro de los seres imaginarios (originally published as Manual de zoología fantástica, 1957[5]).[6][7] Then in its first English translation Book of Imaginary Beings (1969) it was further changed to "Kujata",[c][8] and then to "Quyata" (in the 2005 translation).[d][9]

Kuyūta is yet another spelling in print, re-transcribed from Lane.[10] Kujūta was given by Thomas Patrick Hughes's Dictionary of Islam.[11]

"Kuyūthā" appears in a copy of al-Qazwini's cosmography[e] and as "Kīyūbān (Arabic: کیوبان) or Kibūthān" (Arabic: کبوثان) in Wüstenfeld's 1859 printed edition of al-Qazwini.[12][13][14] These names are said to be corrupted text,[15] and have been emended to "Leviat[h]an" (Arabic: لوياتان), by German translator Hermann Ethé.[14][17]

"Kuyoothán" is an alternate spelling from the source Lane identifies as Ibn-Esh-Shiḥneh,[18] which was some manuscript Lane had in his possession.[19]

and .[Arabic verification needed]

Rakaboûnâ is one variant name for the bull, as read from some manuscript of Al-Damiri (d. 1405) by French Dr. Nicolas Perron, though the original text has al-thawr Kuyūtha (Arabic: الثور كيوثا, 'the bull Kuyūtha'. Cairo ed. of 1819)[20][21] Al-Rayann is the name of the bull as it appears in Muḥammad al-Kisāʾī (ca. 1100)'s version of the Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyā’ ("Tales of the Prophets").[22] A reshaping of its nature must have occurred in Arab storytelling, some time in the pre-Islamic period.[23] One proposed scenario is that a pair of beasts from the bible were confused with each other;[15] the behemoth mis-assigned to the fish, and the aquatic leviathan to the bull.


Lūyātān (Arabic: لوياتان)[Arabic&Latinization verification needed] was the bull's reconstructed correct name in Arabic according Hermann Ethé's notes.[14] Accordingly, he translates the bull's name as Leviathan in his German translation of Qazwini.[f]

Other commentators such as Maximillan Streck [de] have also stated that the bull derived from the biblical Leviathan, much as the name of the Islamic cosmic fish Bahamut derived from the biblical Behemoth.[24][25]

Lane's summary[edit]

Borges relied on Islamic traditional cosmography as summarized by Edward Lane in Arabian Society in the Middle Ages (1883).[26]

Lane's summary of Arabic source[b] explains that "Kuyootà" was the name of the bull created by God to hold up a rock of "ruby", on which stood an earth-propping angel. God created the angel, rock, then the bull in that order according to this source,[g] then a giant fish called Bahamut to sustain the bull underneath. Before this, the earth was oscillating in wayward directions, and all these layers of support were needed to achieve stability.[4]

The bull had 4,000 eyes, ears, noses, mouths, tougues, feet, according to Lane's summary,[4] but the number is 40,000 eyes, limbs, etc. in several (older) Islamic sources, as discussed below.

Arabic sources[edit]

Kuyūthā[e][h] is the name of the bull in the text of al-Qazwini (d. 1283)'s popular cosmography, The Wonders of Creation. This approximates Lane's spelling "Kuyootà". There exist a multitude of "editions" and manuscripts of al-Qazwini, which vary widely.[28]

Al-Damiri (d. 1405) on authority of Wahb ibn Munabbih, is one source he specifically named as being used by Lane, in his summary.[i][29] This so-called al-Damiri's account is considered to be a mere later redaction of al-Qazwini's cosmography printed on the margins,[30] and it may be noted that in Qazwini's account, Wahb ibn Munabbih acts as narrator.[31] A translation of Al-Damiri into French was undertaken by Nicolas Perron. The bull's name was however "Rakaboûnâ" (Rakabūnā) in al-Damiri, according to Perron's translation.[21]

The name of the bull is wanting in Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1229)'s geography, Mu'jam al-Buldan.[32] Yaqut is thought to have borrowed from al-Tha'labi (d. 1038)’s Qiṣaṣ al-anbīyāʾ ("Lives of the Prophets"),[33] one of the two earliest sources containing the cosmology.[34]

Ibn al-Wardi (d. 1348) (Kharīdat al-ʿAjā'ib, "The Pearl of Wonders"), considered to be a derivative rearrangement of Yaqut,[35] is an alternate source used by Lane who noted variant readings from it.

Number of appendages[edit]

The bull has 4,000 legs in al-Damiri (d. 1405). But in Qazwini (d. 1283), the bull has 40,000 eyes, etc., with "teeth" (German: zähnen) replace "tongues" in Lane's list. The larger number repeats what is found in older texts: "40,000 horns and 40,000 limbs" according to Yaqut (d. 1229)'s geography,[32] 70,000 horns and 40,000 legs according to al-Tha'labi (d. 1038)’s Lives[36] and 40,000 eyes, ears, mouths and tongues according to Muḥammad al-Kisāʾī's Lives of the Prophets.[34]

The bull has 40 humps, 40 horns, and four feet according to Ibn al-Wardi (d. 1348) in another passage,[37] (although in the corresponding passage he merely repeats Yaqut's 40,000 horns and feet).[38]

Its horns extended from the earth to God's Throne (Arabic: عرش, ʿarš), entangling it[39] or lying like a "prickly hedge" underneath.[40]

Gem rock above bull[edit]

As for the rock platform supported by the bull, which Lane said was made of "ruby", the Arabic word used in original sources yāqūt (ياقوت) has ambiguous meaning.[41] Many of the Islamic sources have specifically indicated the rock was a green gem, viz.: "rock (made) of green jacinth",[42][43] "green rock",[40] "green corundum", etc.[39] It is given as "green emerald" in a Latin translation of ibn al-Wardi.[44]

God created the angel, rock, then bull in that order (the order they are arranged, one on top of another), according to Qazwini.[45] However, in other sources, God created in the order of angel then bull, so that the angel could stand on the bull's hump, but as this was unstable, God inserted the rock platform above the bull's hump.[40][39][j] These sources also say that God also inserted a sandhill between the great bull and the great fish.[40][39][k]

Bull controlling tides[edit]

The bull's breathing is said to control the ocean tides according to some sources.[46] Among the oldest sources (al-Tha'labi), the bull (ox) had its nose in the sea, and breathed once a day,[l] causing the sea to rise when it exhaled, and ebb when it inhaled.[40] The bull had its two nostrils pinned against two holes in the "green corundum" enabling it to breathe (Yaqut).[39][m]

On a related natural phenomenon, the bull and fish were considered responsible for drinking the water that tapped off from the land into the sea, maintaining the base level of the ocean's water. However, once their bellies become full they will become agitated (Ibn al-Wardi),[49] and it is a sign of the advent of Judgment Day (Yaqut).[39]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • "Kuyūtha". A Book of Creatures. 22 April 2019. Retrieved 2020-10-24. and "Etymology Corner: A Lot of Bull"

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ The top disc is one of 7 earths, within a ring of emerald mountains, surrounded by sea ("mer autour de la montagne d'emeraude"). Copied from the book Oudjetoulinde. Text commentaries of Massabi and Meschat.
  2. ^ a b Lane introduces the source as an "account as inserted in the work of one of the writers above quoted".
  3. ^ di Giovanni's English translation Book of Imaginary Beings, 1969.
  4. ^ Hurley's English translation Book of Imaginary Beings, 2005
  5. ^ a b "الصخرة أن تدخل تحت قدمي الملك ثم لم يكن للصخرة قرار فخلق الله تعالى ثورا عظيما يقال له كيوثاء (..the rock to under the feet of the malak (angel), and as the rock was not steady, God created a great bull called Kuyūthā)"
  6. ^ Just as he translates the great fish's name, Bahamūt as Behemot (German for Behemoth).
  7. ^ Angel, then bull, then rock on the bull's hump, according to Ibn al-Wardi, Yaqut al-Hamawi, and al-Tha'labi.[27]
  8. ^ "Kīyūbān/Kibūthān" is Wüstenfeld ed. published in the West, as noted.
  9. ^ "Ed-Demeeree, on the authority of Wahb Ibn-Munebbih, quoted by El-Isḥáḳee, 1, 1."
  10. ^ Also Ibn al-Wardi.[38]
  11. ^ Also Ibn al-Wardi.[38][46][47]
  12. ^ Yaqut says it "breathed two breaths" each day, but this can be read as one breath out and one breath in.
  13. ^ Ibn al-Wardi also referred to this.[48] The bull breathed through ducts (foramina) in the "green emerald".[38]


  1. ^ "Islamic World Map". World Treasures: Beginnings. Earth. Library of Congress. 29 July 2010.
  2. ^ Archer, Mildred; Parlett, Graham (1992), Company Paintings: Indian Paintings of the British Period, Victoria and Albert Museum, pp. 117, 121, ISBN 9780944142301
  3. ^ Ramaswamy, Sumathi. "Going Global in Mughal India". Duke University. p. 73.; album; pdf text
  4. ^ a b c Lane, Edward William (1883). Lane-Poole, Stanley (ed.). Arabian society in the middle ages: studies from the Thousand and one nights. London: Chatto & Windus. pp. 106–107.
  5. ^ Borges & Guerrero (1967), p. 3.
  6. ^ Borges, Jorge Luis; Guerrero, Margarita (1978) [1957]. El Libro de los seres imaginarios. Bruguera. pp. 36–37. ISBN 9788402081773.
  7. ^ Borges & Guerrero (1967), p. 67–68.
  8. ^ Borges, Jorge Luis; Guerrero, Margarita (1969). Book of Imaginary Beings. Norman Thomas di Giovanni (trans.). Dutton. p. 141. ISBN 9780525475385.
  9. ^ Borges, Jorge Luis; Guerrero, Margarita (2005). Book of Imaginary Beings. Andrew Hurley (trans.); Peter Sis (illustr.). New York: Viking. p. 164. ISBN 9780670891801.
  10. ^ Hastings, James (1957), Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 4, Scribner, p. 174, al-Damiri, Ibn Ibnal-Wardi, etc., ap. Lane
  11. ^ Hughes, Thomas Patrick (1885). Earth, the. A Dictionary of Islam: Being a Cyclopaedia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies, and Customs, Together with the Technical and Theological Terms, of the Muhammadan Religion. W. H. Allen. pp. 102–103.
  12. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 214, note 195 transcribes "Kīyūbān/Kibūthān" from Wüstenfeld ed., I, p. 148
  13. ^ Wüstenfeld (1849), p. 145.
  14. ^ a b c Ethé (1868), p. 488, notes to Wüstenfeld's p. 145, line 5.
  15. ^ a b Guest, Grace D.; Ettinghausen, Richard (1961), "The Iconography of a Kāshān Luster Plate", Ars Orientalis, 4: 53, note 110, JSTOR 4629133, The passage in Qazwīnī dealing with these ideas is on p. 145 of Wüstenfeld's edition (where the names of the two animals are confused with each other and where also the Leviathan appears in a corrupt Arabic form form; see also tr. Ethé, p. 298
  16. ^ Streck (1936), "al-Ḳazwīnī", Ency. of Islām, p. 842
  17. ^ Wüstenfeld's edition has been criticized for being a collation (composite), mostly based on the Codex Gotha 1508, portions replaced with text from other manuscripts; for being thus based on a late 18th century copy; and not using a shorter recension that was the most widely disseminated.[16]
  18. ^ Lane (1883), p. 106, note 1
  19. ^ Lane, Edward William (1839). The Thousand and One Nights: Commonly Called, in England, the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. Vol. 1. London: Charles Knight. pp. 20, 23.
  20. ^ Al-Damiri (1819). Kitāb ḥayāt al-ḥayawān al-kubrā, etc. Cairo/Bulaq: al-ʿAmira. p. 164.
  21. ^ a b Ibn al-Mundir, Abū Bakr b. Badr (1860), Le Nâċérî: La perfection des deux arts ou traité complet d'hippologie et d'hippiatrie arabes, vol. 3, Perron, Nicolas (tr.), Bouchard-Huzard, p. 481: Note 14 to p. 457 by Perron
  22. ^ Muḥammad al-Kisāʾī, Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyā’, Thackston (1997), p. 10
  23. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 238.
  24. ^ Streck, Maximilian [in German] (1936), "Ḳāf", The Encyclopaedia of Islām, vol. IV, E. J. Brill ltd., p. 615, ISBN 9004082654
  25. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 236, note 268
  26. ^ Borges & Guerrero (2005), pp. 25, 164 (on "Bahamut" am "Quyata"), and Hurley's note to them, pp. 221, 234, saying that the entries derive from Lane, Arabian Society.
  27. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 215, and note 196
  28. ^ Streck (1936), "al-Ḳazwīnī", Ency. of Islām, p. 841
  29. ^ Lane (1883), p. 107, note 2.
  30. ^ Streck (1936), "al-Ḳazwīnī", Ency. of Islām, p. 844.
  31. ^ The passage begins "Wahb ben Munabbih sagt..." (in German), Ethé (1868), p. 297
  32. ^ a b Jwaideh (1987), pp. 34–35.
  33. ^ Brinner (2002).
  34. ^ a b Jwaideh (1987), p. 34, notes 1, 2
  35. ^ Jwaideh (1987), p. 19, note 4.
  36. ^ Brinner (2002), p. 6.
  37. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), p. 215, note 196: Ibn al-Wardī, Kharīdat al-ʿajāʾib (Cairo, 1939), p. 239.
  38. ^ a b c d Ibn al-Wardi (1835), pp. 36–37, Tornberg's Latin translation.
  39. ^ a b c d e f Yaqut al-Hamawi's geography, Jwaideh (1987), p. 34
  40. ^ a b c d e al-Tha'labi's Lives of Prophtets, Brinner (2002), p. 7
  41. ^ Rustomji, Nerina (2013). The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture. Columbia University Press. p. 71. ISBN 9780231140850.
  42. ^ "Felsen aus grünem Hyacinth", Ethé's German translation of Qazwini, Ethé (1868), p. 298
  43. ^ Streck (1936), p. 615.
  44. ^ accusative, smaragdum viridem, Ibn al-Wardi (1835), pp. 36–37
  45. ^ Ethé (1868), p. 298.
  46. ^ a b Chalyan-Daffner (2013), pp. 215–216 and notes 196, 107: Ibn al-Wardī, Kharīdat al-ʿajāʾib, p. 16.
  47. ^ Lane (1883), p. 107, note 1..
  48. ^ Lane (1883), pp. 106, note 1..
  49. ^ Chalyan-Daffner (2013), pp. 215–216 and note 200: Ibn al-Wardī, Kharīdat al-ʿajāʾib, p. 15.
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