Weekly Arabic Translation Challenge: The Crime of al-Ma’arri’s Father

Scholar, poet, and translator Kevin Blankinship has been hosting a weekly Arabic translation challenge on Twitter, through @AmericanMaghreb. Phase two of the challenge begins today:

By Kevin Blankinship

Here’s how it works:

Al-Ma`arri’s tomb

Each Tuesday we’ll post a challenge, including a brief introduction; an Arabic text of poetry or prose to translate, whether classical or modern (we have a few guest hosts lined up with expertise in contemporary Arabic literature!); and a mention of any existing translations. Then, we’ll invite *your* translations with a deadline of that Friday at noon. You can submit them in the WordPress comments, Facebook or Twitter (@AmericanMaghreb, #ArabicTranslationChallenge), or via email at info@arablit.org — submit wherever you feel comfortable, but please do submit!

Then on Saturday, we’ll do a roundup of highlights from that week, but not like a “contest” —  the point is to have a wide range of translation styles, without privileging any one of them. And of course, we want as many people as possible to play — the more attempts, the more valuable this thing is! We’ll run the weekly challenge from now until the end of June as a kind of pilot program, then reassess whether and how to keep it going. We would love to hear your suggestions for poetry or prose to translate, or for ways to improve the weekly posts.

Submissions to the challenge can be translations into English, but also in French, Spanish, or Italian, or the target language of your choice.

Now to this week’s challenge! Since the summer issue of ArabLit Quarterly is about “Crime,” over the next three weeks we’ll look at texts broadly related to this theme—betrayal, vice, scandal, villainy, and maybe even a little murder! Since I (Kevin) personally have spent years writing about blind author and alleged heretic Abu l-`Ala’ al-Ma`arri (d. 1057 CE), I wanted to put up a simple text with a profound message: al-Ma`arri’s self-written epitaph, which to my knowledge still adorns his tomb in Ma`arrat al-Nu`man, 70 km southwest of Aleppo, Syria:

هذا جَنَاهُ أبي عليَّ      وَمَا جَنَيتُ عَلَى أَحَدِ

[This is my father’s crime against me,

which I myself committed against none]

The grim suggestion is that al-Ma`arri very birth was a tragedy—perpetrated as a crime by his father—and his own childlessness a service to humanity. Not without hope, however, al-Ma`arri took to writing in order to cope with tragedies such as the death of his parents or his own physical ailments (he was blind from age four and seems to have had trouble walking). A bittersweet portrait that fits our own uncertain times. We look forward to your translations of al-Ma`arri’s brief but profound sentiment!

Kevin Blankinship is a scholar, poet, critic, and translator. As assistant professor at Brigham Young University, he teaches Arabic language and literature, Islam, and the Qur’an.


  1. Perfect approach

  2. My father’s felony chases me,
    whereas I conducted no sin against anyone

  3. My father committed this against me,
    but I have not perpetrated against any.

  4. How about…

    I am a victim of my father’s crime,
    And a criminal to none

  5. Perhaps:

    “This is his infliction – my father’s – upon me,
    That I have inflicted myself on nobody.”

    On the surface it reminds me of the chorus’s speech in Oedipus in Colonus:

    μὴ φῦναι τὸν ἅπαντα νι-
    κᾷ λόγον· τὸ δ᾽, ἐπεὶ φανῇ,
    βῆναι κεῖθεν ὅθεν περ ἥ-
    κει πολὺ δεύτερον ὡς τάχιστα.

    “Not to be born is, beyond all estimation, best; but when a man has seen the light of day, this is next best by far, that with utmost speed he should go back from where he came.” (1224-7, Jebb’s translation because I don’t trust my own any more.)

    But surely it is not al-Ma’arri’s childhood suffering he is bemoaning in these lines, but his mortality, his human mortality. Surely that’s what underlies the surface complaint?

    1. The Arabic text needs to be checked because it has been widely known as: هذا ما جَنَاهُ أبي عليَّ وَمَا جَنَيتُ عَلَى أَحَدِ
      My translation:
      The crime my father dealt me, a crime I dealt none.
      I believe it’s important to keep the wordplay on جنى

  6. Thanks for the challenge. My suggestion:

    This that my father reaped on me,
    I did not reap on another.

    1. Or perhaps better:

      This my father reaped on me
      I reaped upon no other

  7. I can translate to spanish

  8. This wrong my father did to me but which I did to no-one.

    1. Keep them coming!

  9. What about:

    By this, my father me wronged,
    But never did I anyone wrong.

  10. This is my father’s crime against me; I have done nothing to anybody.

    (It’s so hard to resist the urge to comment and vacillate and go full-on philologist about the choices one has made or not made, especially having seen a couple of great entries on Twitter! Taking a deep breath…)

    1. No reason not to go full-on philologist!

  11. I reap what my father sowed
    Even though I never sowed any

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