AKA Hakim Abolfath Omar ebn Ibrahim Khayyam Nieshapuri
Birthplace: Nishapur, Iran
Location of death: Nishapur, Iran
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: Middle Eastern
Occupation: Mathematician, Poet
Executive summary: Rubaiyat
The great Persian mathematician, astronomer, freethinker and epigrammatist, who derived the epithet Khayyam (the tentmaker) most likely from his father's trade, was born in or near Nishapur, where he is said to have died in AH 517 (AD 1123). At an early age he entered into a close friendship both with Nizam-ul-mulk and his schoolfellow Hassan ibn Sabbah, who founded afterwards the terrible sect of the Assassins. When Nizam-ul-mulk was raised to the rank of vizier by the Seljuk sultan Alp-Arslan (AD 1063-1073) he bestowed upon Hassan ibn Sabbah the dignity of a chamberlain, whilst offering a similar court office to Omar Khayyam. But the latter contented himself with an annual stipend which would enable him to devote all his time to his favorite studies of mathematics and astronomy. His standard work on algebra, written in Arabic, and other treatises of a similar character raised him at once to the foremost rank among the mathematicians of that age, and induced Sultan Malik-Shah to summon him in AH 467 (AD 1074) to institute astronomical observations on a larger scale, and to aid him in his great enterprise of a thorough reform of the calendar. The results of Omar's research were a revised edition of the Zij or astronomical tables, and the introduction of the Ta'rikh-i-Malikshahi or Jalali, that is, the so-called Jalalian or Seljuk era, which commences in AH 471 (AD 1079, 15th March).
Omar's great scientific fame, however, is nearly eclipsed by his still greater poetical renown, which he owes to his ruba'is or quatrains, a collection of about 500 epigrams. The peculiar form of the ruba'i -- four lines, the first, second and fourth of which have the same rhyme, while the third usually (but not always) remains rhymeless -- was first successfully introduced into Persian literature as the exclusive vehicle for subtle thoughts on the various topics of Sufic mysticism by the sheikh Ab Sa'id bin Abulkhair, but Omar differs in its treatment considerably from Abu Sa'id. Although some of his quatrains are purely mystic and pantheistic, most of them bear quite another stamp; they are the breviary of a radical freethinker, who protests in the most forcible manner both against the narrowness, bigotry and uncompromising austerity of the orthodox ulema and the eccentricity, hypocrisy and wild ravings of advanced Sufis, whom he successfully combats with their own weapons, using the whole mystic terminology simply to ridicule mysticism itself. There is in this respect a great resemblance between him and Hafiz, but Omar is decidedly superior. He has often been called the Voltaire of the East, and cried down as materialist and atheist. As far as purity of diction, fine wit, crushing satire against a debased and ignorant clergy, and a general sympathy with suffering humanity are concerned, Omar certainly reminds us of the great Frenchman; but there the comparison ceases. Voltaire never wrote anything equal to Omar's fascinating rhapsodies in praise of wine, love and all earthly joys, and his passionate denunciations of a malevolent and inexorable fate which dooms to slow decay or sudden death and to eternal oblivion all that is great, good and beautiful in this world. There is a touch of Byron, Swinburne and even of Schopenhauer in many of his ruba'is, which clearly proves that the modern pessimist is by no means a novel creature in the realm of philosophic thought and poetical imagination.
Religious Mission: Hajj
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