The poetry genius of Omar Khayyam ascended to the summit of world fame in an odd, circular way. This path, sometimes lost in the wilds of obscurity, lasted many centuries and concealed many surprises.
During his lifetime Khayyam was famous, mainly as a scientist. His advances in mathematics and astronomy are simply astounding: 500 years before the European mathematicians Khayyam derived a formula that later was called “Newton’s binomial” in the West, and the solar calendar developed under his guidance still retains the palm of primacy in the accuracy of calculations. Today it seems almost incredible that a medieval astrologer who carried out his calculations without precision instruments made discoveries that for many centuries outstripped the development of world science. Therefore, it is easy to imagine with what ecstasy Khayyam’s scientific achievements were perceived by his contemporaries. However, in his homeland, he was known not only as an outstanding scientist, but also as a brave philosopher, great sage, a unique erudite, and besides that he was also a man, well-versed in the arts highly valued in the East, doctoring and divination by the stars. “The most learned man of the century”, “the proof of Truth”, “The King of Philosophers of the East and the West” – this is not the full list of honorary titles with which Khayyam’s countrymen were awarded. It is noteworthy, however, that there was
And it is not surprising: Khayyam-poet was known to his compatriots much less than Khayyam-scientist or Khayyam-thinker. Ancient historians, in their notes, bypassed his poetic work by the side, at best limited to fugitive remarks such as the fact that Khayyam was the author of “good Arabic and Persian verses.” In addition, many of his poems over time mixed with the works of other authors. Only after the book of Hayam’s poems translated by E. Fitzgerald into English appeared in 1859, the West discovered for himself the great poet of the East. This moment was a belated start of the world literary glory of Khayyam.
Generously showering Khayyam with talents and honors, fate, however, stinted to bestow on him with happiness. The full name of the poet is Giyas ad-Din Abul-Fatah Omar ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyam. He was born in Nishapur, in the east of Iran. Probably his father was an artisan. At least, this is indicated by the last part of the full name of the poet, used by him as a literary pseudonym: in Arabic, “hayam” means “shyushy tent.” Studying in a madrasah – the highest Muslim educational institution – the young man received thorough knowledge in mathematics, physics, astronomy, philosophy, jurisprudence, history, medicine, versification. At the age of twenty-five, Khayyam wrote “A Treatise on Evidence of Algebra Problems,” which brought him fame.
This was followed by an almost fabulous twist of fate: the young scientist received an invitation to the capital of Isfahan, where he was given the most powerful observatory of the Middle Ages, the group of “the best astronomers of the century”, and moreover – the patronage of Malik-shah and the chief vizier Nizam-al-Mulk, necessary freedom of research.
Moving to the capital marked the beginning of the brightest period of Khayyam’s life, which was crowned with the creation of the famous solar calendar and significant works on mathematics and philosophy. But the happy star of Khayyam turned down: together with the death of the high patrons, the observatory was closed and the scientist, irretrievably lost its former influence, fully experienced the envy of ill-wishers and hatred of religious fanatics. The glory of a brilliant mathematician gave way to the insecure glory of the seditious philosopher, suspected of freethinking and even apostasy. The threat of persecution forced Khayyam to be cautious, to avoid public appearances. In recent years, he led a closed way of life, confining himself to teaching in madrassas and communicating only with the most devoted disciples and friends.
Verses, which many centuries later brought him world fame, Omar Khayyam, apparently, composed throughout his life. They were written in the form of quatrains, called rubai.