BŪTĪMĀR, a semilegendary aquatic bird, also called ḡamḵᵛorak (lit. “the little griever”) according to some lexicographers, usually equated with Ar. mālek al-ḥazīn (reported by Damīrī, II, pp. 313-14, as meaning literally “the sad owner [of waters]”). The būtīmār is noted in Persian literature for a lore that can be traced back at least as far as the time of Jāḥeẓ (d. 255/868), quoted by Damīrī (d. 808/1405; loc. cit.): “one of the oddities of the world is the behavior of the mālek al-ḥazīn, for he keeps sitting [sic] near waters or water sources, and, when the water [begins to] dry up, he grieves at its disappearance and remains [there] sad and depressed; [further,] fearing lest his drinking water should increase its diminution, he sometimes refrains from drinking till he dies of thirst” (an abridged version of this observation is found in Qazvīnī, d. 682/1283, p. 285). References to this ornithological legend are common in Persian literature. One of the earliest examples is by the poet Lāmeʿī Gorgānī (5th/11th century; p. 58): “The būtīmār is left with frustration, grief, and regret; his grief is that the pool might one day become destitute of water.” Qāʾānī Šīrāzī (d. 1270/1853) was more specific: “There is a little bird enamored of water, named būtīmār, for he is constantly bā tīmār [lit. “with sorrow,” i.e., “sorrowful”; see further below]; he sits by the brook, without drinking any water from it, [fearing] that, if he does, the water of the brooks will diminish.” The legend has been turned to advantage, however, by ʿAṭṭār Nīšābūrī (d. 618/1230) in his allegorical Manṭeq al-ṭayr, in which the būtīmār puts forward in eleven distichs an excuse for its unwillingness to leave its beloved seaside to venture on a proposed long and hazardous journey in search of a king (Sīmorḡ), pleading its devotion to the sea and its constant anxiety and painful worries about the decrease of even a single drop of sea water (p. 55). Through this legend the būtīmār has come to symbolize in Persian literature a gloomy person dispirited by unrealistic apprehensions or conjectures and, by extension, a grief-stricken person (for other literary examples, see Dehḵodā, s.v. būtīmār).
The word būtīmār is generally considered by lexicographers to be a hybrid compound of bū, short for Ar. abū “father of . . .” (but also used to form nicknames), and Pers. tīmār “care, worry,” meaning literally “father of sorrow”; thus it is probably a calque of the Arabic mālek al-ḥazīn.
The zoological identification of the būtīmār is a matter of some debate. Whereas in modern Arabic sources the mālek al-ḥazīn is unanimously identified as Ardea L., heron, also called balašūn, Scott and his colleagues (p. 36) have identified the būtīmār as Botaurus stellaris L., bittern, discussing all species of heron under the name ḥawāṣīl (pp. 41-42), which looks rather like an Arabic plural noun but is not found in Arabic sources. These equate “bittern” with wāq (see, e.g., Ghaleb, s.vv. wāq, balašūn, and mālek al-ḥazīn). However, this equation is not accepted by all modern authors (e.g., Dehḵodā, who identifies būtīmār as the heron). In fact, of all the members of the Ardeidae family, Ardea cinerea L., the common (or gray) heron, described as “standing motionless for long periods of time in or near the water, holding its neck erect or retracted between its shoulders” (Scott et al., loc. cit.), seems best to fit the Persian legend of the būtīmār. Other incorrect synonyms for būtīmār are found in some early Persian sources and have been transmitted uncritically by later lexicographers. For example, Tonokābonī gives būtīmār as the Persian equivalent of mālek al-ḥazīn (p. 790), (Arabic) šefnīnbarrī as equivalent of būtīmār (p. 197), and (Greek) ṭarīqūn (p. 581) and (Arabic) yamām (p. 880) as equivalents of šefnīn-e barrī. This set of correspondences, reproduced in Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, Dehḵodā’s Loḡat-nāma, and M. Moʿīn’s Farhang-e fārsī, is not totally accurate. Ebn al-Bayṭār specifies that šefnīn (barrī) = yamām = Gk. ṭarīqūn, i.e., the turtledove (cf. Aristotle, tr. Ebn al-Beṭrīq, p. 544, where Gk. trūgṓn, identified as the turtledove, is always translated al-ṭorḡolla). A more recent example is found in the “standard” Persian translation of the Bible (Leipzig, 1895), where in Leviticus 11:17 and in Deuteronomy 14:16 būtīmār is used to render “the great owl,” or “the long-eared owl,” whereas in Leviticus 11:19 “heron” is translated as kolang, properly the crane; this error in turn has led the translators/compilers of Qāmūs-e Ketāb-e Moqaddas (pp. 193, 194-95) to list būtīmār as the equivalent of būm “owl.”
Aristotle, De natura animalium, tr. Ebn al-Beṭrīq, Ṭebāʿ al-ḥayawān (early 3rd/9th cent.), ed. ʿA. Badawī, Kuwait, 1977.
Shaikh Farīd-al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār Nīšābūrī, Manṭeq al-ṭayr, ed. Ṣ. Gowharīn, 4th ed., Tehran, 1365 Š./1986.
Kamāl-al-Dīn Moḥammad Damīrī, Ketāb ḥayāt al-ḥayawān al-kobrā, 2 vols., Cairo, 1319/1901-02; repr. Tehran, 1364 Š./1985.
Ebn al-Bayṭār, al-Jāmeʿ le-mofradāt al-adwīa wa’l-aḡḏīa, 2 vols., Būlāq, 1291/1874.
E. Ghaleb, Dictionnaire des sciences de la nature, 3 vols., Beirut, 1965-66.
Lāmeʿī Gorgānī, Dīvān, ed. S. Nafīsī, Tehran, 1319 Š./1941.
Mīrzā Ḥabīb-Allāh Qāʾānī Šīrāzī, Dīvān, ed. N. Nayyerī, Tehran, 1363 Š./1984.
Qāmūs-e Ketāb-e Moqaddas, tr. and compiled by J. W. Hawkes et al., Beirut, 1928.
Abū Yaḥyā Zakarīyāʾ Qazvīnī, ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵlūqāt wa ḡarāʾeb al-mawjūdāt, Cairo, 1319/1901-02; repr. Tehran, 1364 Š./1985-86.
D. A. Scott et al., Parandagān-e Īrān, Tehran, 1975.
Moḥammad Moʾmen Ḥosaynī Tonokābonī, Toḥfa-ye Ḥakīm Moʾmen [Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn], Tehran, n.d. [1360 Š./1981?].
Originally Published: December 15, 1990
Last Updated: December 15, 1990