Omar Khayyam: The Enigma

Topics: Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Omar Khayyám, Persian literature Pages: 7 (2371 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Omar Kahyyam was primarily a mathematician and an astronomer. He was an extremely intelligent individual who wrote many theories in physics and metaphysics. He is also attributed with the reformation of the Persian calender with seven other great intellects to create a calender more accurate than the Gregorian calender. Ironically he is known to the world today for his translated collection of lyrical quatrains called the Rubaiyat. His life and works are somewhat of a mystery because he was rather unpopular until after his death. Yet the work he is most known and beloved for is considered to have been a gross mistranslation of both character and content. This paper will be divided into six sections. The first is the prologue. The prologue was used to introduce Omar to the reader. Next there will be a brief biography of his life and major influences of his work. Following this will be a section on his magnum opus and only work, The Rubaiyat. This will include literary criticism of his famous work. After this there will be a brief conclusion to sum up the overall paper followed by an epilogue with my opinion on Khayyam. Finally in my bibliography the reader will see my sources for research and my opinion on those books.

In the history of world literature Omar Khayyam is an enigma. No poet of any time period has received greater recognition and fame through such a enormous misreading of his work. Known today world wide, Khayyam's works would undoubtable be unheard of in modern day literature in they were not translated by English writer Edward FitzGerald. The paradox is that FitzGerald misinterpreted both Khayyam and his works in his translation to start an unending conflict1. FitzGerald added to his editions of the Rubaiyat a biographical sketch entitled "Omar Khayyam: The Astronomer Poet of Persia." In this he wrote his opinion that Khayyam was an anti-religious materialist who believed life's only meaning was to be found in wine, song, and worldly pleasures: Having failed (however mistakenly) of finding any Providence but Destiny, and any world but this, he set about making the most of it; preferring rather to soothe the soul through the senses into acquiescence with things as he saw them, than to perplex it with vain disquietude after what they might be.... He takes a humorous or perverse pleasure in exalting the gratification of sense above that of intellect, in which he must have taken great delight, although it failed to answer the questions in which he, in common with all men, was most vitally interested2....

This was how Fitzgerald interpreted the minimal facts of Khayyam's life. Many later studies of Khayyam reveal a more accurate description of his life and his writings. Omar's full name was Ghiyath ud Din Abu'l Fatah Omar bin Ibrahim al Khayyam. From his name and the customs of the time it can be interpreted that his father was a tent maker, which is the meaning of Khayyam. It can also be seen that his father was named Ibrahim. Omar used the name Khayyam as his pen name. He was born at Naishapur in the province of Khorastan (located in the northeastern part of present day Iran) on May 18, 10483. Omar's great influence and teacher was Imam Mowaffak whom he and many others studied under. It was through Imam that Omar met two other of his pupils and befriended them. One was Nizam ul Mulk, and the other was Ben Sabbah. These three studied under Imam for about four years, in these four years they became great friends and influences on each other. Towards the end of their studies with Imam they made a pact. Based on the superior education all three of them had obtained the judged that at least one of them would become rich and important. They made a pact that when one of them did become of some importance they would split their fortunes three ways. After years of traveling Nizam became a chief...

Literature World Masterpieces(New York:Prentice Hall, 1991)98.
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