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Omar Khayyám (‘Umar al-Khayyam) was a Persian mathemetician, astronomer, and poet from Nishapur. He wrote a number of rhymed quatrians in a Persian verse form called the ruba’i (roba’i). He was known for his scientific accomplishments but his verse was ignored during his day, and would have probably been ignored today, were it not for Edward FitzGerald.

FitzGerald was a scholar, translator, and man of letters in Victorian England. A manuscript of Khayyám’s verse fell into his hands in 1857, and in 1859 he published an anonymous translation of it. Like FitzGerald’s previous translations of Greek, Latin, and Spanish works, it was largely ignored.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti is credited with discovering the book a year later and sparking its immense popularity. The Victorian era was entranced with The Rubáiyát and with orientalism in general.

According to some critics, FitzGerald missed some of the sublties of Khayyam’s work. FitzGerald’s translation may not be the most faithful, but is as much a work of FitzGerald’s as it is of Khayyám’s. He thematically connected unrelated quatrains, creating a melancholy meditation on the transitory nature of existence and, above all, the pleasures of wine.

Five editions of The Rubáiyát were published by FitzGerald during his lifetime. Each time he revised and polished his verse for publication, and there are significant differences between the editions. The curious can compare all five editions at www.arabiannights.org. The edition I’ve noded is the fifth.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 1-10
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 11-20
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 21-30
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 31-40
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 41-50
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 51-60
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 61-70
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 71-80
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 81-90
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 91-101