Many terrible and conflicting things
The Death of Abdul Alhazred According to Ibn Khallikan
By Luis G. Abbadie
“Like all true poets, Abdul Alhazred was consumed by the invisible monster of yet unwritten poetry, which, craving to be fleshed out, ultimately claims that of its chosen scribe”.
–Justin Geoffrey, Wandering Memories
The single most influential biographical piece about the poet and heretical mystic Abdul Alhazred (Sana’a, c.670–Damascus, 738 AD), author of the Kitab Al Azif or Necronomicon, has arguably been the brief entry included by Shams al-Dīn Abū Al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Khallikan (1211–1282) in the first draft of his extraordinary work, The Obituaries of Eminent Men and History of the Sons of the Epoch (Wafayāt al-aʿyān wa-anbāʾ abnāʾ az-zamān), compiled between 1256 and 1274. The scroll written and distributed among his peers by Ibn Khallikan in 1264 contains said entry. All copies of the book released after 1274 were expurgated, Alhazred’s entry omitted (along with others such as Ibn Shacabao, Abdul Bàez Ibn al Saqr al Aswad, and Abdul Yasar ibn al Yamani), and most of Ibn Khallikan’s works were burned shortly after his death in October, 1282. (1) This is why some researchers have vainly sought mention of Alhazred in Ibn Khallikan’s work and, finding nothing, have doubted that he ever included Alhazred among the many personalities he researched. (2) As pointed out by Dr. Henry Armitage:
“The earliest of his biographers was Ibn Khallikan, in the twelfth century, but he gives only rumors and conjectures for most of Alhazred's life. Most other sources seem to be derived from Ibn Khallikan's text.” (3)Long believed to be lost, the oft-quoted biographical note by Ibn Khallikan about Abdul Alhazred, author of the Necronomicon, has finally become available for researchers and students of the life and works of this singular eighth-century poet. Dr. Henry Armitage found an unexpurgated copy of the first volume of Ibn Khallikan’s The Obituaries of Eminent Men, at the Cairo Museum, as is well known by those who have read his authoritative monograph A Brief Biography of Abdul Alhazred (4) (published in 2004 as a Miskatonic University Press chapbook, with additional notes by Laurence J. Cornford). However, the fragile condition of said copy caused it to be very difficult to consult or reproduce. Fortunately, a second copy has been located by Dr. Venustiano Carranza, former professor of Paleo-Semitic Philology and Oriental Antiquities of the Universidad Autónoma of Mexico, at the Vatican Library; he has translated it from the Arabic and, in 1999, presented a copy for the archives of the Universidad Valencia of Montecruz (Montecruz, Jalisco, Mexico), and it is thanks to him that we have now procured a full copy of the account of Alhazred’s life which shaped the popular conceptions –and misconceptions- of the general public until modern times, due to the widespread and context-less paraphrasing of a few portions of this piece.
While it lacks several details contained in Theodorus Philetas’ biography of Alhazred, appended to his translation of the Necronomicon, which Ibn Khallikan probably omitted for the sake of his age’s moral standards, he also draws from varied, then-extant sources and allows us to complete a fuller picture of the life and times of Abdul Alhazred, particularly when studied in contrast with the various biographical works, both ancient and modern, currently available. (5)Whenever Ibn Khallikan’s biographical note on Alhazred is quoted or mentioned, most of the time it is as reference to the best-known legend concerning Alhazred’s death, as a victim to some supernatural creature. This is due to the fact that nearly all such quotes are in actuality second-hand references, (6) based on H.P. Lovecraft’s brief citation of Ibn Khallikan in his “History of the Necronomicon (An Outline)”. (7) I found it curious that among the few actual direct quotes from the text, these are more often than not from the famous death episode. (8) Upon reading the actual text, the reasons became obvious: Ibn Khallikan dedicated an unusually lengthy portion to discussing in detail various sources concerning Alhazred’s death. This legend was presumably the matter of much debate among scholars in Ibn Khallikan’s day, and he must have intended to settle the matter somewhat.
We now disclose this long-lost document here as a monographic issue of the Journal of Pseudobibliography (9) thanks to the collaboration of Professor Eduardo Báez Escorza, director of the “Antonio Hernán” library of Montecruz.
Luis G. Abbadie
Montecruz, Jalisco, June 6, 2012
Ibn Khallikan, Vol. 1, p. 6-10 of the unexpurgated manuscript; translated by Dr. Venustiano Carranza Betancourt for the Seminary of Pseudobibliography of the Universidad Valencia of Montecruz, February 1999
ABDUL ALHAZREDOf the youth of the poet Abdul Alhazred, scarce is known, yet it is said that in his many travails, he knew early slavery, (10) even though the beauty of his voice and of his written words brought him to know praise and wealth, being known at some point by the appellative of Master of Songs, thanks to his much-celebrated works, "The Song of My Heart" and "Poems To The Prince". (11)
Abdul Alhazred flourished as a poet in Sanaá during the Ommiade Caliphate, circa 738 AD, and for his darkly toned qasidahs he was widely renowned. Still, his success was small compared to the greater fame and wealth of Dhu Al-Rummah who, it was rumored, dipped his quill in sinister ink to write with such majesty. Alhazred became consumed with jealousy and bitterness. To become more famous… to become the greater poet… The obsession drove him to reach for ever deeper truths and to immerse himself in the forbidden teachings. He set out to find what the Sanaá could not offer. Traveling far and wide, he summoned dark knowledge among the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon and the subterranean necropolis of Memphis. (12) He swore that he visited the fabulous Irem, the djinn-built City of Pillars, and even claimed to have found proof of a race older than mankind.
After early apprenticeship under the Saracen mystic Yakoob Ishak, (13) Alhazred is said to have walked most of the known world at one time or another. Exiled to the desert of the Khaliyeh by the ruler of Yemen after being horribly tortured, (14) he spent seven years in a nameless city buried in the desert, (15) making several mysterious pilgrimages to these and other ancient and shunned places. Ten years did he spend wandering through the desert, overcome my madness; for surely all of these boasts are but marks of Alhazred’s madness, by which he was overtaken as years passed, (16) his literary genius woefully lost to morbidity and delirium, as he wrote of things which had little or no place for the teachings of the Prophet, since Alhazred, indifferent to the Muslim faith he grew with, worshipped instead unknown gods whom he called Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu. Alhazred’s final years were wasted writing about devils or djinns called Great Old Ones who, according to him, had raised cities before the rise of the tribes of ‘Ad and Thamood, and the sons of Adam; (17) and these Old Ones now dwelt in places not of the world, awaiting the time when they would rise anew. One such city was the one Alhazred swore to have found buried in the sands, having read therein the records of times before man. Of this nameless city, and what he found therein, Alhazred declared to have dreamed (18) the night when he composed his cryptic couplet:
That is not dead which may eternal lie,
And with strange Aeons even death may die.
His travels took him also to Punt, Chaldea, and Alexandria, wherein he sought ever to further his knowledge of unwholesome lore and science. He is also said to have made a forbidden black pilgrimage to the accursed city of Chorazin. In his last years, he lived an anonymous life in Damascus, where he dropped from public view altogether. Forgotten was his rivalry with Dhu Al-Rummah; vanished were his beautiful poems. In their place, he had begun a new work with a new ambition: the Al Azif or Necronomicon. The author’s intention: to release the Great Old Ones upon the earthly plane – but to bind them by his grim will.
Of his final death or disappearance many terrible and conflicting things are told. And of his Necronomicon, only rumors remain. (19) From various scattered accounts, and discarding contradictory details, it may be gathered that Abdul Alhazred was seized in broad daylight by an invisible monster, and rent horribly apart in front of a large number of terror-frozen witnesses. (20)
Indeed, out of the varying accounts of his death, there remain two narrations which are claimed to have been penned by living witnesses thereof. The first such testimony, an incomplete letter signed by an Ismail of Damascus which was found in Alexandria, swears that the mad poet was seized by the claws of a Beast whose face and flesh could not be seen, in the high light of the Seventh Sun Before the Bells. He was butchered over the Yellow Market of the Qafila al-Bedouin (Caravan of the Bedouins). There in the seventh light, the great Lord of Songs was devoured bodily, and his thrashing limbs were seen to be torn apart in the very air, and swallowed by a Nothingness. Indeed as the sky-held fragments of the Second and Sacred (Alhazred) gushed with gouts of blood, the blood itself gave shape to the Beast around him, filling the air with veins. Two hundred and more are the men who beheld this. So sayeth the fragment of the Alexandrian scroll before me. (21)
The second testimony, preserved by a family from Damascus, offers further detail concerning his loathsome death, narrating how Alhazred was clawed at the door of his house in Damascus by an invisible monster whose terrible howl was all that could be heard. The monster tore him with its claws and sank its teeth upon his neck sucking all of his blood. Then it cut off his head from his neck, leaving the mangled body on the street. The head was later found with his eyes bulging out of their orbits, and his ripped tongue at a place which people avoid. At length there was talk concerning this death and many things were told about what Abdul had prophesied about his own end and how he feared that it would occur. (22)
Alhazred’s book, the Kitab Al Azif, was rendered unto Greek by the scholar Theodorus Philetas, under the title by which it is better known and loathed, Necronomicon. It was banned and condemned by the Caliphs, after which one Abdul Yasar (23) fled unto Al Andalus (Spain) with the manuscript, and later by the Patriarch of Constantinople, but some copies are said to remain sheltered away at the homes of men disdainful of human and holy laws.
(1) Professor Kent David Kelly: Necronomicon: The Cthulhu Revelations. Wonderland Imprint, 2012 (Kindle edition)
(2) “Extant versions (Ibn Khallikan updated the work several times) do not seem to include an entry for Abdul Alhazred, either under that name, or any recognizable variant.” Dan Clore, “A Necronomicon Glossary” (online document)
(3) Dr. Henry Armitage in A Brief Biography of Abdul Alhazred p. 5 (Miskatonic University Press, Arkham, 2004; with additional notes by Laurence J. Cornford).
(4) H. Armitage, op. cit.
(5) Those by Theodorus Philetas, Dr. H. Armitage, Al Burux of Jativa’s Els Que Vigilen (c.1425), the (probably apocryphal yet impossible to discard) Narratives contained in Book One of the Necronomicon, and accounts generally thought of as spurious such as Ibn Nussaq’l’s alleged “Al Azif Epilogue”, El Rashi’s “The Life of the Master” and the pseudo-epigraphical “The Saga of Abdul Alhazred” (found in later copies of the Necronomicon as part of the book itself), as well as the modern novelized biography authored by Donald Tyson; see Bibliography for detailed references.
(6) In spite of the overabundance of quotes and misquotes in literature concerning Alhazred, Ibn Khallikan’s work has only been quoted directly having consulted the actual text a handful of times: by H.P. Lovecraft, in his “History of the Necronomicon” (see note 7); by Dr. Henry Armitage, in “A Brief Biography of Abdul Alhazred (Nightscapes Nº 4, 1997; Miskatonic University Press, 2004); by Pietro Pizzari in his introductory materials to Necronomicon: Magia Nera in un Manoscritto della Biblioteca Vaticana (Atanor, Rome, 1993); by Dr. Venustiano Carranza in Necronomicon: Nuova Edizione con Sconvolgenti Rivelazioni e le Tavolette di Kutu (Fanucci, Rome, 1994); and by Mac Carter and Tony Salmons in their biographical work The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft (Image, 2009). To all of them we acknowledge our debt for dispelling the myths concerning this valuable text.
(7) Originally published by Wilson H. Shepherd, under the title “History and Chronology of the Necronomicon”, The Rebel Press, Oakman, AL, 1938.
(8) We find such quotes in the works of Pietro Pizzari, Kent Kelly, and Venustiano Carranza; Mac Carter and Tony Salmons make a more lengthy quote, but still present a graphic version of the death episode.
(9) Journal of Pseudobibliography Vol. III, Nº 5, June 2012, issued by UVAM Ediciones, official imprint of the Universidad Valencia of Montecruz (UVAM). This digital copy is being published simultaneously with permission from Dr. Mark L. Abbott, director of the Journal, in consideration of the value of Ibn Khallikan’s piece for worldwide researchers of Pseudobibliography, Paramythology, Alhazredic Daemonology, Necronomy and related disciplines.
(10) Professor Kelly mentions that Ibn Khallikan “implies enslavement” (Kent D. Kelly, op. cit., Notes to Scroll III), while Pietro Pizzari, op. cit., interprets certain passages of the Necronomicon as allusive to Alhazred’s ship bound to Constantinople sinking and Alhazred himself being rescued on the shore, and sold as a slave to the man who will become his teacher (not Yakoob or Yaqub, but his second, unnamed, master who accompanied him in one of his visits to the Nameless City and may have been, in this author’s opinion, the sahir Ibn Shacabao).
(11) cf. H. Armitage, op. cit.
(12) This paragraph, until this point, is quoted by Mac Carter and Tony Salmons in The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft (Image, 2009), p. 1-2.
(13) Called Yakthoob in Dr. John Dee’s Necronomicon (translation by Lin Carter, see PRICE, Robert M. (ed.): Necronomicon: Selected Stories and Essays Concerning the Blasphemous Tome of the Mad Arab (Chaosium, Oakland, CA, 2002) p. XXX; his name is also spelt Yakoob, according to Alfred Ward (cf. Armitage, Op.cit.) and sometimes Yaqub or Yakoob Ishak. Sometimes mistaken for tenth Century mystic Ya'kub Ibn Ishak Ibn-Sabbah al-Kindi (d. CE 850) whom professor Stanislaus Hinterstoisser –see Colin Wilson, “Introduction” in the John Hay (ed.) Necronomicon– also mistakenly believed to be the Kitab Al Azif’s actual author. However, Yaqub or Yaktoob, Alhazred’s teacher, lived at least one full century before Al-Kindi.
(14) This is detailed by Theodorus Philetas in his “Concerning the Life of Abdul Alhazred”, which has been translated (from Olaus Wormius the Elder’s Latin version) by Donald Tyson in Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred (Llewellyn, St. Paul MN, 2005). Tyson also expanded this episode in his novel Alhazred (Llewellyn, St. Paul MN, 2006).
(15) While other sources state that Alhazred spent seven years wandering in the desert, Dr. Armitage attributes said seven year period to a misinterpretation on behalf of Ibn Khallikan’s translator: “The problem arises because Alhazred speaks of spending seven years in the city and ten years in the desert. The translator did not realise that the two dates were running concurrently, and so he moved the first date the to earlier visit”. (H. Armitage, op. cit., Footnote 9)
(16) Dr. Armitage refers to this opinion of Ibn Khallikan’s in H. Armitage, op. cit.
(17) Quoted from “Alhazred’s final years” on by Pierre Menard within his short story “Las Ruinas Trapezoédricas”, in Obras Completas, Zaragoza, 1963, p. 174.
(18) This is mentioned by H.P. Lovecraft in his short story “The Nameless City”, written in 19XX, one of several indications that Lovecraft was directly familiar with a copy of Ibn Khallikan’s work, and not quoting second-hand in his “History of the Necronomicon”.
(19) From “In his last years…” to this point, this is quoted by Mac Carter and Tony Salmons, op. cit., p. 3-4.
(20) From “was seized” on, this paragraph is quoted by Dr. Venustiano Carranza in Venustiano Carranza; Sergio Basile; Giampiero de Vero & Zahir Shah: Necronomicon: Nuova Edizione con Sconvolgenti Rivelazioni e le Tavolette di Kutu (Fanucci, Rome, 1994), p.49.A near-literal paraphrase is found in H.P. Lovecraft, op. cit.
(21) From “was seized by the claws” on, this paragraph is quoted by professor K.D. Kelly, op. cit., in the essay “Masks of Madness: The Secret History of the Necronomicon”.
(22) From “was clawed at the door” on, this paragraph is quoted –presumably from the very manuscript found in the Vatican Library which we have now translated– by Pietro Pizzari, in Necronomicon: Magia Nera in un Manoscritto della Biblioteca Vaticana (Atanor, Rome, 1993), p. 22.
(23) Abdul Yasar ibn al Yamani, also known by the Hispanicized form of his name, Abdelésar, was one of Alhazred’s most noteworthy disciples; when he left for Moorish Spain, he claimed to be his former master Abdul Alhazred in the flesh, and to possess the key to longevity. He appears to have authored a distorted copy of Al Azif in which he reinterpreted the Alhazredic lore as concealing the ancient Egyptian religion under different names. Hisstory is detailed by Rafael Llopis in El Novísimo Algazife o Libro de las Postrimerías (Hiperión, Madrid, 1980).
ARMITAGE, Henry: A Brief Biography of Abdul Alhazred (Originally published in Nightscapes ezine Nº 4, 1997; Miskatonic University Press, 2004. With additional notes by Laurence J. Cornford).
CARRANZA, Venustiano; BASILE, Sergio; DE VERO, Giampiero & SHAH, Zahir: Necronomicon: Nuova Edizione con Sconvolgenti Rivelazioni e le Tavolette di Kutu (Fanucci, Rome, 1994)
CARTER, Mac & SALMONS, Tony: The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft (Image, 2009)
CLORE, Dan: “A Necronomicon Glossary”, in The Dan Clore Necronomicon Page
CULP, Robert C.: “Al Azif Epilogue” Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press association (August) 1975
KELLY, Kent David: Necronomicon: The Cthulhu Revelations. Wonderland Imprints, 2012 (Kindle edition).
LLOPIS, Rafael: El Novísimo Algazife o Libro de las Postrimerías (Hiperión, Madrid, 1980).
MENARD, Pierre: Obras completas. Zaragoza, 1963, edition under care of Adolfo Bioy Casares.
PIZZARI, Pietro: Necronomicon: Magia Nera in un Manoscritto della Biblioteca Vaticana (Atanor, Rome, 1993)
PRICE, Robert M. (ed.): Necronomicon: Selected Stories and Essays Concerning the Blasphemous Tome of the Mad Arab (Chaosium, Oakland, CA, 2002) Containing:
-CARTER, Lin: “The Necronomicon: The Dee Translation”
-LARKIN, Stephen T.: “The Saga of Abdul Alhazred”
-LOVECRAFT. H.P.: “History of the Necronomicon (An Outline)”
-ST. ALBANS, David T.: “The Life of the Master”
TYSON, Donald: Alhazred (Llewellyn, St. Paul MN, 2006)
-Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred (Llewellyn, St. Paul MN, 2005)
WILSON, Colin: “Introduction”, in HAY, George (ed.) Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names (consulted for this work in the Spanish translation for Mundo Desconocido magazine, Extra Nº 2, Apr. 981).
“Many terrible and conflicting things: The Death of Abdul Alhazred According to Ibn Khallikan” Copyright © 2012 Luis G. Abbadie