Omar Khayyam was born at sunrise on Wednesday May 18 in
the year 1048 C.E. at Nishapur. As befitting a sage who
mastered astronomy and reformed the calendar, it took a
detailed analysis of the stellar and planetary positions
described in the horoscope cast at his birth to arrive
at this information. This analysis was only accomplished
in the twentieth century.
Prior to this time even the exact year of
Omar’s birth remained in doubt. Details of the
analysis as well as an astrological life sketch based on
this horoscope are presented in “The Nectar of Grace:
‘Omar Khayyam’s Life and Works” by Swami Govinda
Tirtha published in Kitabistan, Allahabad, India by the
Government Central Press, Hyderabad-Dn. in 1941. This
beautiful labor of love is by far the most comprehensive
treatment of the life and works of Omar Khayyam that I
have ever come across. This unique and valuable resource
is little known in the United States and is difficult to
primarily known in the West today for his poetry;
usually Edward FitzGerald’s 1859 presentation (rather
than translation) which introduced the Rubaiyat to the
English speaking world. However, such was the not at all
the case during his lifetime. Not until two centuries
after Omar’s death did a few quatrains appear under
his name. He
was known in his own time as a sage, scholar, Hakim
(wise man) who had mastered virtually all branches of
knowledge of his time – astronomy, astrology,
mathematics, medicine, physics, philosophy, religion,
am I leaving anything out? He was a pioneer of free
expression, deplored hypocrisy, most certainly was not a
drunkard or libertine, and is reported to have had a
truly astounding memory!
revision of the calendar in 1079 C.E. to yield the
Jalaali calendar (named after Jalaal-ol-Din Malek -shaah-e
Saljuqi, the ruler who commissioned the calendar
revision and was Omar’s patron)
is accurate to one day in 3770 years, which is
superior to the Julian calendar, and was only approached
by the Gregorian calendar which we use today. The
Gregorian calendar is named after Pope Gregory XIII who
introduced the latest changes in 1582 C.E., over 500
years after Omar’s work. The Jalaali calender is a
very natural solar calendar based on the spring eqinox
as the start of the new year (Norooz). If the exact time
of the spring equinox event (Saal-Tahveel) occurs before
midday Teheran time that day is 1 Farvardin (new year),
otherwise the following day is 1 Farvardin and the
preceding month of Esfand is extended by one day.
mathematics, Omar developed means of solving cubic
equations (he identified 13 distinct cases) using an
ingenious selection of conic sections. He demonstrated
cubic equations that have two solutions, but did not
seem to realize that a cubic can have three solutions.
He discoursed on the significance of Euclid’s
controversial 5th postulate (the parallel
postulate), although he did not grasp that this
postulate can be both true and not true – each
assumption leading to a valid (i.e. fully consistent)
geometry. Omar also seems to have been the first to
develop the binomial theorem and determine the binomial
coefficients for the case where the exponent is a
turn our attention now for a moment to physics and the
structure of the universe. Time and space and the world
they make have engaged the attention of scientists
through all ages. Their speculations have brought forth
a host of secular sciences. Although a superior
scientist, Omar’s philosophical reflections on this
subject as reflected in his poetry are neither
scientific nor mystical. Again I call upon Tirtha’s
work in selecting and translating quatrains attributed
to Omar. Omar calls the Wheel of Time an Imaginary
this Wheel at which we gape and stare,
Chinese lantern -
like we buy at fair;
lamp is Sun and paper shade the world,
we the pictures whirling unaware.
Science fails to solve the mystery of the cosmos.
The Skies rotate, I cannot guess the cause;
all I feel is grief, which in me gnaws;
all my life, I find myself
same unknowing dunce that once I was!
This whirl of time, it simply causes pains,
for my heart, my evil ways are banes;
worldly lore that winds in labyrinths,
wisdom forging newer iron chains.
Time is only a tyrant causing universal change
My grief prolongs, I find it nev’r allays,
lot is swinging now in higher sways;
ye not on Time, for under veil
thousand tricks he juggles as he plays.
Ye mount on steeds and brandish steels in fight,
With all your boasts, in trenches soon alight;
tyrant Time will never spare a life,
breaks the Dukes by day and Knights by night.
As Spheres are rolling woes alone increase,
land us just to sink in deeper seas;
souls unborn would only know our plight,
how we pine, their coming-in will cease.
Omar is at war with the Sphere and wishes to
Had I but on the skies divine control,
kick this bluish ball beyond the goal;
forthwith furnish better worlds and times,
love will cling to every freeman’s soul.
But the final solution is that the tyrant Sphere
has no real existence, hence we best avoid all trouble
by being content.
Aye hear me please, my old and dearest friend!
naught of world -
it hath no root or end;
quiet on thy balcony content
view how Wheel would play its turn-and-bend.
Desire no gain from world, with bliss you trade;
good or bad of Times you need not wade;
sedate, so that the whirling Wheel –
snap itself and blow up days it made.
After a long life filled with accomplishments,
honors, and disappointments too, Omar died in Nishapur
on Thursday March 23, 1122 C.E. (12 Moharram, 516 AH) at
the age of 73. Some references give the year of Omar’s
death as 1131 C.E.; however, I’m going to follow
Tirtha on this one because I find a depth in his
research generally unmatched by others. Omar never
married and insofar as we know had no children.
many excellent websites featuring Omar’s work and I
would like to recommend a few that commend themselves to
your further exploration of the life and works of this
truly great man. Omar
valued continued learning through all of his long
life – not a bad example to follow.
Khayyam (general) – here
This link works but takes four more steps to get to the
biographical article: 1) go to the
archive; 2) go to biographies index; 3) go to “K”;
and finally 4) click on Khayyam.
on cubic equations – here
Omar on cubic equations – here
and Euclid’s 5th postulate - here
FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat – here
H. Whinfield’s translation of the Rubaiyat (500
quatrains!) as well as Fi tzGerald
of Omar Khayyam (literal translation, meaning,
translation, German, Farsi) –
literal translation and the meaning are poetry by
Norooz to all (Farvardin 1, 1380; Wednesday March 21,
2001) and remember to celebrate Omar’s 953rd birthday
on May 18!