(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What is the purpose of life? Several possible answers are suggested in the Rubՙyt, but all are rejected in favor of the joys of drinking wine.

Should people devote their energies in this world to the accumulation of wealth and to attaining status in society? The number one goal of many people, perhaps most, in life is to make as much money as possible. However, do people who are so obsessed with wealth have any opportunity to really enjoy the fruits of their labors? The slave and the sultan are both invited to the huge party imagined by Omar Khayyám, and both have a great time. After all, the miser and the spendthrift leave this world on the same terms, each without money. According to Omar Khayyám, it is better to have another drink and not worry about status or money.

What about the life of the mind? Omar Khayyám writes that the wise words of all the learned sages are only dim dreams muttered by zombies in a trance, who soon fall back to earth and whose mouths are finally stuffed with dust in the end. He says he was once wed to reason, but he divorced her and took the daughter of the vine for his bride. After challenging the most profound mathematical questions of his day, Omar Khayyám confesses that the deepest understanding he ever attained was at the bottom of a glass of wine. His reformation of the calender meant nothing compared to the ability to shrink all time to the present, majestic moment through the magic of wine.

All that remains is God, but the consolations of religion are also seemingly disparaged in the imagery of the Rubՙyt. Instead of burning, the bush of Moses has trapped him, and he reaches out to readers with a pale and lifeless hand. The psalmist, David, has fallen mute and sings no inspiring songs. Jesus Christ breathes deeply from his earthy tomb, but he does not arise. Many in Omar Khayyám’s society pined for the paradise promised by the prophet,...

(The entire section is 792 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Decker, Christopher. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A Critical Edition. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1997.

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