Posts Tagged ‘Omar Khayyam’

Introducing the heritage of Omar Khayyam

May 23, 2010

Middle East Online, May 23, 2010

Khayyam’s quatrains have given him an international prominence

Khayyam is venerable, honored figure who brings to mind delicacy, gracefulness of ancient Persian civilization.

By Kourosh Ziabari – TEHRAN

May 18 is dedicated to the commemoration of Omar Khayyam in the Iranian solar calendar; the calendar which Khayyam has invented himself. To the Western world which has always been enchanted by the magnificence and glory of oriental culture, Omar Khayyam is a venerable and honored figure who brings to mind the delicacy and gracefulness of ancient Persian civilization. The Iranian polymath, astronomer, philosopher and poet is internationally known for his insightful rubaiyyat (quatrains) which the influential British poet Edward FitzGerland translated from Persian into English 150 years ago.

Omar Khayyam constitutes an inseparable part of Iran’s impressive history of literature and science. He is associated with the development of the most accurate solar calendar of the world, namely the Jalali calendar, which, according to the astronomers and mathematicians is far more exact and precise than the Gregorian calendar. It’s said that the solar calendar which Omar Khayyam devised shows an error in the calculation of days and months only once in each 10,000 years.

Khayyam was born in 1048 in the Neyshapur city of the Greater Iran. The literary potency of Khayyam was so significant that made him the best composer of quatrains among the Persian poets; however, he is also known for his contributions to astronomy and one of his most major breakthroughs was the reformation of Persian calendar under the Seljuk King Sultan Jalal al-Din Malekshah Saljuqi after whom the Persian solar calendar was named. Khayyam was a prominent figure of mathematics, literature, philosophy and astronomy in his age. Some of the orientalist historians believe that Khayyam was the student of Avicenna, the distinguished Persian physician, theologian and paleontologist of the 10th century. In one of his poems, Khayyam introduces himself as a follower of Avicenna’s ideological path; however, this studentship seems to be a mystical and spiritual affinity rather than a direct mentor – student relationship.

The quatrains of Khayyam which have given him an international prominence are a collection of poems with philosophical essence and ontological nature in which Khayyam reveals his skeptical standpoints regarding the modality of material world and the existence of human being. It’s widely believed that Khayyam had a pessimistic, cynical viewpoint regarding the material world as he typically tried to direct criticism against the hypocritical, insincere man and portray his crave for a utopian world which is practically impossible to realize:

Yesterday This Day’s Madness did prepare;

To-morrow’s Silence, Triumph, or Despair:

Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:

Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.

Contextually, Khayyam’s quatrains can be divided into five main categories: 1- the mysteries of universe 2- the inevitabilities of life such as destiny and the disloyalty of the world 3- questions 4- the modality of social life 5- the cheerful moments of life

There are several translations of Khayyam’s quatrains available in various languages including English, German, Dutch, French, Italian, Danish and Arabic. Edward FitzGeraldn’s translation is considered to be the most authentic and complete version of Khahyam’s quatrains in English; however, the versions of Edward Henry Whinfield, John Leslie Garner and John Leslie Garner are the other acceptable and widely-read translations of Rubayiat.

The quatrains of Khayyam are available in more than 25 languages. One of the most remarkable translations of Khayyam’s poetry into languages other than English belongs to Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt. He was a 19th century German author who published a consistent Deutsch translation comprised of 395 quatrains in 1881. He was a tutor in the family of Russian aristocrat and priest Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin and had the opportunity to learn Persian by the virtue of Russia’s proximity to the Greater Iran. The success of Bodenstedt’s translation of Rubayiat in German can be compared to that of FitzGerald in English.

The other notable translation belongs to the prolific Swedish writer Eric Axel Hermelin who competently translated the quatrains into Swedish. Hermelin who passed away in 1944 is known for his contribution to the translation of Persian poetry into Swedish. He translated several works by the distinguished Iranian poets including Attar, Rumi and Nezami and paved the ground for the translation of other masterpieces of Persian literature into European languages, including, among others, Swedish.

Despite being literarily less momentous and significant than Ferdowsi’s 60,000-couplet poetic opus “Shahnameh” which revived the Persian language in the crucial epoch of Arabs’ conquest of Persia, Rubayiat has received enormous attention in different countries and the international community has glorified Khayyam and exalted his artistic masterpiece extensively.

Tunisia has constructed a set of hotels named after Khayyam. One of the lunar craters has been named in honor of Omar Khayyam. The Omar Khayyam crater is located at 58.0N latitude and 102.1W longitude on the surface of moon. The Outer Main-belt Asteroid 1980 RT2 is also named in honor of Omar Khayyam. The Argentine Marxist revolutionary and guerrilla leader named his son in honor of Khayyam and his work. Omar Pérez López is a Cuban writer and poet.

The American clergyman and activist Martin Luther King Jr. quoted Khayyam in his speech Why I oppose war in Vietnam: “It is time for all people of conscience to call upon America to come back home. Come home America. Omar Khayyam is right ‘The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on.”

The late American novelist Kurt Vonnegut refers to Khayyam’s “moving finger writes” quatrain in his novel “Breakfast of Champions” when the protagonist Dwayne Hoover reveals that he had been forced to memorize it in high school.

Anyway, Khayyam has been given so much international attention that even the primary school students in the United States know him well. He is only one out of hundreds of figures who constructed the pedestals of Persian civilization. He was a pioneer in science and literature and now reminds the world the matchless and unparalleled civilization of Iranian people; the people whom the U.S. President threatens with a nuclear strike on the roofs of their homes.

Kourosh Ziabari is a freelance journalist from Iran


Omar Khayyam, poet, philosopher of Persia

October 31, 2009

Omar Khayyam of Persia,

In his his lifetime, Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) achieved great fame as a master of philosophy, jurisprudence, history, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. The Great Seljuq Empire owed the reform of its calendar to him. The result was the Jalali era (named after Jalal-ud-din, one of the kings)-‘a computation of time,’ wrote Gibbon, ‘which surpasses the Julian, and approaches the accuracy of the Gregorian [calendar].’ He measured the length of the year as 365.24219858156 days, a number improved to 365.242196 days only in the 19th century and the current measure is 365.242190 days.


He not only discovered a general method of extracting roots of an arbitrary high degree, but his Algebra contains the first complete treatment of the solution of cubic equations which he did by means of conic sections. He was also part of the Islamic tradition of investigating Euclid and his parallel postulate. Arguing that ratios should be regarded as ‘ideal numbers,’ he conceived a much broader system of numbers than used since Greek antiquity, that of the positive real numbers. In many such areas, he furthered the remarkable work of al-Beruni. Commissioned to build an observatory in the city of Esfahan, he led a team of astronomers to do so.

Omar Khayyam (‘Tentmaker’, possibly his father’s profession) was not only a top-notch mathematician but also a major poet. The world today knows him for his quatrains, the Rubaiyat. Besides the social attitudes of the times, they reveal a sensitive, intelligent, humble, gently-mocking yet good-humored man, skeptical of divine providence and certainty of truth, wistful of an ever-present evanescence, mystical in one, lamenting human ignorance in another. Many of his 500 or so quatrains celebrate wine, exhorting all those who take themselves too seriously to partake of it while time permits. He “chooses to put his faith in a joyful appreciation of the fleeting and sensuous beauties of the material world. The idyllic nature of the modest pleasures he celebrates, however, cannot dispel his honest and straightforward brooding over fundamental metaphysical questions.”

Khayyam was attached to the court of the Seljuks-of Khorasan, later of Baghdad, Samarkand and Esfahan as well-and lived amidst political turbulence interspersed with quiet periods. His ideas frequently attracted flak from the growing religious conservatism of Sunni Turks. According to Professor Iraj Bashiri, Khayyam—synthesizing the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, the neo-Platonian al-Farabi, and Ibn Sina (Avicenna)—believed that

“God had created the world but . [it] had been a necessity for God and, therefore, inevitable. The stages leading to the creation of matter followed each other as night follows day . This ascription of limits to the power of the Almighty is the most startling notion in Khayyam’s Quatrains. It jolts the unwary reader out of the routine of orthodox thinking and places him or her in the uncomfortable position of the unwilling blasphemer. Yet, Khayyam’s God is more real and approachable than the fearful Creator of orthodoxy . [he] formally rejects the Creator/creature relationship for a cause and effect relationship . God becomes the cause of a necessary creation . that develops of its own accord, and at its own pace. A number of Khayyam’s quatrains concentrate on what religion teaches about the powers of the Almighty and  the limitations of that power.”

Here are ten sample quatrains (translated by EH Whinfield).

O unenlightened race of humankind,
Ye are a nothing, built on empty wind!
Yea, a mere nothing, hovering in the abyss,
A void before you, and a void behind!

All my companions, one by one died
With Angel of Death they now reside
In the banquette of life same wine we tried
A few cups back, they fell to the side.

Some are thoughtful on their way
Some are doubtful, so they pray.
I hear the hidden voice that may
Shout, “Both paths lead astray.”

The secrets eternal neither you know nor !
And answers to the riddle neither you know nor !
Behind the veil there is much talk about us, why
When the veil falls, neither you remain nor !

Drinking wine is my travail
Till my body is dead and stale
At my grave site all shall hail
Odor of wine shall prevail.

Heed not the Sunna, nor the law divine;
If to the poor his portion you assign,
And never injure one, nor yet abuse,
I guarantee you heaven, and now some wine!

Slaves of vain wisdom and philosophy,
Who toil at Being and Nonentity,
Parching your brains till they are like dry grapes,
Be wise in time, and drink grapejuice like me!

You, who in carnal lusts your time employ,
Wearing your precious spirit with annoy,
Know that these things you set your heart upon
Sooner or later must the soul destroy!

Never in this false world on friends rely,
(I give this counsel confidentially);
Put up with pain, and seek no antidote;
Endure your grief, and ask no sympathy!

You know all secrets of this earthly sphere,
Why then remain a prey to empty fear?
You can not bend things to your will, but yet
Cheer up for the few moments you are here!

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