Just as it is difficult (if not impossible) to say exactly what Omar Khayyám wrote, so also it is difficult, except in the broadest outline, to establish the facts of his life. The scanty information available on Omar Khayyám is embroidered by romantic legend, attempts to discredit him (or to show him repenting), and idle speculation. One source, for example, calls him inhospitable and bad-tempered, but this characterization is not borne out by other information. Another source maintains that Omar Khayyám believed in metempsychosis, then tells the following story to prove it: One day when Omar Khayyám and his students were walking about the college, they came across a donkey too stubborn to move with its load of bricks. Omar Khayyám explained that the donkey was inhabited by the soul of a former lecturer at the college, whose beard had transmigrated to the donkey’s tail, and he got the donkey to move by improvising a quatrain on it. Such is the nature of most of the information on Omar Khayyám.
The poet’s full name was Ghiyasoddin Abolfath Omar ibn Ebrahim Khayyámi, the name Khayyám meaning “tent-maker,” probably referring to the trade of one of his ancestors. His family had lived in Nishapur for generations before he was born. After attending school at Nishapur, he continued his studies at Balkh, distinguishing himself especially in geometry and astronomy. Following his schooling, he worked for the magistrate of Samarkand, the ruler of...
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