Omar Khayyám’s contemporaries spoke of his mathematical, scientific, and scholarly achievements with immense respect, heaping upon him such epithets as Sage of the World, Philosopher of the Universe, Lord of the Wise Men, and Proof of the Truth—but none mentioned his poetic achievement. One reason for the omission is obvious: Omar Khayyám’s quatrains were not published (at least by the regular mode then prevailing) during his lifetime, but only gradually came to light in various citations and manuscripts during the following centuries. Meanwhile, apparently, the quatrains were circulating, either orally or in clandestine written versions, with potent effect. So much may be gathered from the backhanded compliment of a successor, one Abu’l-Hasan Ali Qifti (1172-1248), a defender of the faith who wrote in Tarikh al-Hukama (thirteenth century) that the Sufis, a mystical Islamic sect, had been corrupted by Omar Khayyám’s quatrains: “. . . these poems are like beautiful snakes, outwardly attractive, but inwardly poisonous and deadly to the Holy Law.” Qifti’s remarks indicate why the Rubáiyát could not be published during Omar Khayyám’s lifetime, but, ironically, the religious critics’ citation of offending quatrains was one way they were circulated and preserved.
Omar Khayyám’s ranking alongside the snake in the Garden of Eden is certainly a tribute to his poetic power; nevertheless, the opposition of religious zealots and the embrace of the mystical Sufis finally did him in. As Persian poets with more substantial divans (collections) came to the fore—such as Jall...
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Under what circumstances was The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám first published? What is the significance of these facts?
What was Omar Khayyám best known for during his lifetime? Describe his accomplishments outside the literary field.
What is the symbolic importance of wine in many interpretations of the Rubՙyt?
What is Sufism and how might it be relevant to understanding the Rubՙyt?
Who are Hassan ibn Sabbah and Niẓm-al-Mulk and what was their relationship to Omar Khayyám?
What special problems does translation into English, or any other language, pose for understanding the Rubՙyt?
What is the verse form used by Omar Khayyám in the Rubՙyt? What is its importance in the history of Persian literature?
Bloom, Harold, ed. Edward FitzGerald’s the “Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.” Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004. Presents an introduction to FitzGerald’s infamous study and chapters that consider the “fin de siècle cult” of FitzGerald’s work, comparisons with poets such as Tennyson, “forgetting” FitzGerald’s study, and more. Bibliography, index.
Dashti, Ali. In Search of Omar Khayyám. Translated by L. P. Elwell-Sutton. London: Allen and Unwin, 1971. A very reliable study of Omar Khayyám, which includes a review of his age and the known facts of his life, a collection of seventy-five quatrains that the author argues can be attributed with some confidence to Omar Khayyám, and a sympathetic and sensitive identification of themes in the poems.
FitzGerald, Edward. Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. 4th ed. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1879. This is the last edition the author saw to press and thus the official, final version of the poem.
_______. Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: A Critical Edition. Edited by Christopher Decker. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997. Decker provides a scholarly critique of Omar Khayyám’s life, FitzGerald’s translations of the Rubáiyát, and the merits of the various editions of this famous set of poems. Decker’s book is a useful tool for...
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