Omar Khayyam

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Omar Khayyam

(ō`mär kīäm`), fl. 11th cent., Persian poet and mathematician, b. Nishapur. He was called Khayyam [tentmaker] probably because of his father's occupation. The details of his life are mostly conjectural, but he was well educated and became celebrated as the outstanding mathematician of his time. As astronomer to Sultan MalikshahMalikshah
, 1055–92, third sultan of the Seljuks (see Turks). In 1072 he succeeded his father to head an empire that controlled parts of Arabia, Mesopotamia, and areas near the Persian Gulf. His rule was aided by the powerful vizier, Nizam al-Mulk.
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, he was one of a group that undertook to reform the calendar. Their work led to the adoption of a new era, the so-called Jalalian or Seljuk era, beginning Mar. 15, 1079. Although he wrote a number of important mathematical studies, Omar's fame as a scientist has been greatly eclipsed in the West by the popularity of his Rubaiyat, epigrammatic verse quatrains. The work was little known in Europe until the freely paraphrased English translation of them was first published by Edward FitzGeraldFitzGerald, Edward,
1809–83, English man of letters. A dilettante and scholar, FitzGerald spent most of his life living in seclusion in Suffolk. His masterpiece, a translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,
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 in 1859. This influenced all subsequent evaluations of his poetry, even among native speakers of Persian, where FitzGerald's translation led to a new appreciation of his output. FitzGerald omitted many of the quatrains (which were independent and unconnected) and rearranged them into a unity expressing his conception of Omar's philosophy; it is, however, impossible to establish definitely that many of the nearly 500 quatrains attributed to Omar are really his work. The hedonism of his verse often masks his serious reflections on metaphysical issues. The verses have been offered in literally hundreds of editions.


See study by A. Dashti (tr. 1972).

Khayyam, Omar:

see Omar KhayyamOmar Khayyam
, fl. 11th cent., Persian poet and mathematician, b. Nishapur. He was called Khayyam [tentmaker] probably because of his father's occupation. The details of his life are mostly conjectural, but he was well educated and became celebrated as the outstanding
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Omar Khayyam


(full name Abu ’l-Fath Omar ibn Ibrahim). Born circa 1048 in Nishapur; died there after 1122. Persian and Tadzhik poet, mathematician, and philosopher.

Omar Khayyam spent most of his life in Balkh, Samarkand, Isfahan, and other cities of Middle Asia and Iran. In his philosophy he was a follower of Aristotle and Avicenna. His extant mathematical works reveal him to be an outstanding scholar. In his treatise On the Proofs of Problems in Algebra and Almucabala he presented in geometric form a systematic exposition of the solution of equations to the third degree inclusively. His treatise The Difficulties of Euclid’s Definitions contains an original theory of parallel lines. In his treatise On the Art of Determining the Quantity of Gold and Silver in a Body Consisting of Them he examined the well-known classical problem solved by Archimedes.

Omar Khayyam won worldwide fame as a poet with his cycle of quatrains, the Rubaiyat. Scholars have not yet ascertained which of the rubaiyat (quatrains) ascribed to him were actually his, but it is possible with reasonable certainty to accept the authenticity of 66 rubaiyat, found in the oldest manuscript copies. Differing radically from existing traditional Persian lyric poetry, Khayyam’s poetry is devoid of pretentious imagery and of affected beauty. It is made to serve Khayyam’s philosophical ideas, which are precisely defined: the grass growing from the dust of the dead symbolizes the idea of the eternal cycle of matter; the potter, his shop, and his jugs symbolize the interrelationship between the Creator, the world, and the individual. The cult of wine, the glorification of the freethinking reveler, and the denial of a life after death constitute a sharp polemic with the prevailing religious dogmas. Khayyam’s style is pithy, the descriptive means are simple, the verse is expressive, and the rhythm is supple. The basic ideas in his poetry are an impassioned castigation of hypocrisy and an appeal for personal freedom.

In medieval Persian and Tadzhik poetry, Khayyam is the only poet in whose verse the lyrical hero emerges significantly as an autonomous individual, alienated from both king and god. A rebel and god-defier and an opponent of force, Khayyam’s hero questions the religious dogma of a divinely reasoned world order. Because Khayyam’s rubaiyat pose many complex problems, they have received differing interpretations from scholars.


Rubaiyyate Khayyam. Tehran, A.H. 1335 (A.D. 1956).
Kolliyate asare parsiye khakime Omare Khayyam. Tehran, A.H. 1338 (A.D. 1959).
In Russian translation:
Traktaty. [Translated by B. A. Rozenfel’d; introduction and commentary by B. A. Rozenfel’d and A. P. Iushkevich.] Moscow, 1961.
Rubaiiat. [Translation and introduction by V. Derzhavin.] Dushanbe, 1965.
Rubaiiat. [Translated by G. Plisetskii.] Moscow, 1972.


Morochnik, S. B., and B. A. Rozenfel’d. Omar Khaiiam —poet, myslitel’, uchenyi. [Dushanbe] 1957.
Aliev, R. M., and M.-N. Osmanov. Omar Khaiiam. Moscow, 1959.
Rozenfel’d, B. A., and A. P. Iushkevich. Omar Khaiiam. Moscow, 1965.
Swami Gowinda Tirtha. The Nectar of Grace: Omar Khayyam’s Life and Works. Allahabad [1941].
Ali Dashti. Dami ba Khaiiam. Tehran, A.H. 1348 (A.D. 1969).
Ali Dashti. In Search of Omar Khayyam. London, 1971.


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