We can’t lose an opportunity to wish Omar Khayyám a happy birthday. He was born on this day in 1048 in Nayshapur, now in modern Iran. And fortunately, we have Don Share to remind us of the event over at his blog “Squanderman...
We can’t lose an opportunity to wish Omar Khayyám a happy birthday. He was born on this day in 1048 in Nayshapur, now in modern Iran. And fortunately, we have Don Share to remind us of the event over at his blog “Squanderman.”
As Don notes: “A brilliant polymath, Khayyám was a mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, physician and poet. Most renowned during his lifetime as a mathematician, Khayyam wrote the influential Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (1070), which, according to this Wikipedia entry, ‘laid down the principles of algebra, part of the body of Persian Mathematics that was eventually transmitted to Europe. In particular, he derived general methods for solving cubic equations and even some higher orders.’”
Mostly, however, Khayyám is remembered for his Rubáiyát, and in the English language, that means Edward FitzGerald‘s translation:
Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand Of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.
Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows …
Alright, alright … these are really really tired rhymes. But keep in mind that FitzGerald was writing in the late Victorian era, when nobody had gotten sick of them yet. To criticize today would be like getting grumpy at the words of Christmas carols. They have to be taken on their own terms.
According to Carol Rumens over at The Guardian:
The 101-verse semi-narrative FitzGerald finally assembled is the product of a ruthless editorial job – but how much poorer English poetry would be without it. His endeavour might more generously be termed “transcreation”. Khayyám, an agnostic famed during his lifetime as a mathematician and astronomer rather than a poet, and his mediator, a nineteenth-century English sceptic who believed that “science unrolls a greater epic than the Iliad”, may not meet in a true linguistic union, but there seems to be a “marriage of true minds” nevertheless (and, yes, you’ll note a passing trace of Shakespeare in FitzGerald’s diction).
The speaker that emerges with such authority and panache, despite the stiffish western dress of iambic pentameter, has a voice unlike any other in Victorian poetry, and a philosophical sensibility which, while it has been compared to that of Epicurus and Lucretius, is new and distinct. A whole culture must have suddenly seemed within the imaginative reach of the poem’s first audience.
“Stiffish western dress of iambic pentameter”? Who sez? We must also respectfully disagree with the wise Don Share when he refers to the “jiggered” verse of Edward Fitzgerald. We’ll grant him the use of that word in the sense of exhausted or shopworn. Khayyam’s verses had been quoted by cheesy wannabe seducers until the Circes began laughing them out of the room. But Fitzgerald’s verses would not have become clichés if they had not been so good in the first place. Would we even talk about Khayyam today if it were not for Fitzgerald’s verses.
Khayyam is remembered in other ways, as Journalist Kourosh Ziabari reminds us:
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 Che Guevara named his son Omar 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
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