Skip to main content

Omar Khayyam

Omar Khayyam

The Persian astronomer, mathematician, and poet Omar Khayyam (1048-ca. 1132) made important contributions to mathematics, but his chief claim to fame, at least in the last 100 years, has been as the author of a collection of quatrains, the "Rubaiyat."

Omar Khayyam was born in Nishapur in May 1048. His father, Ibrahim, may have been a tentmaker (Khayyam means tentmaker). Omar obtained a thorough education in philosophy and mathematics, and at an early age he attained great fame in the latter field. The Seljuk sultan Jalal-al-Din Malik Shah invited him to collaborate in devising a new calendar, the Jalali or Maliki. Omar spent much of his life teaching philosophy and mathematics, and legends ascribe to him some proficiency in medicine. He died in Nishapur.

Astronomical and Mathematical Works

The product of the efforts of Omar and his two collaborators was a set of astronomical tables entitled Al-zij al-Malikshahi after their royal patron. Of this there remains only the table of 100 fixed stars, whose latitude is given for the first year of the Maliki era (1075), and some contradictory descriptions of the Maliki calendar. It is clear that this calendar was intended to retain the basic months of the old Sassanian calendar, in which a year consisted of 12 months of 30 days each plus 5 epagomenal days, with an extra month of 30 days intercalated every 120 years. The intercalation of 30 days in 120 years made the year a Julian year, as in the Julian calendar a day is intercalated every 4 years. The Sassanian and Julian calendars are based on a year of 365.15 days, which is not accurate; Omar and his collaborators devised a modification of the intercalation scheme to overcome this inaccuracy, but the details are obscure.

Omar's work on mathematics is known principally through his commentary on Euclid's Elements and through his treatise On Algebra. In the commentary he is concerned with the foundations of geometry and, in particular, strives to solve the problems of irrational numbers and their relations to rational numbers, in the process very nearly becoming the first to acknowledge irrationals as real numbers; and he examines Euclid's fifth postulate, the "parallel postulate," which distinguishes Euclidean from non-Euclidean geometry. Omar tried to prove the parallel postulate with only the first four postulates by examining a birectangular quadrilateral. The task was an impossible one, but in the course of his attempted proof Omar recognized the logical results of some forms of non-Euclidean geometry. On Algebr a is a classification of equations with proofs of each, some algebraic but most geometric. The most original part is found in his classification of cubic equations, which, following Archimedes, he solved by means of intersecting conic sections.

The "Rubaiyat"

Shortly after Omar's death, collections of rubaiyat circulated under his name. These poems consist of 4 lines of 13 syllables each with the rhyme scheme AABA or AAAA; the rhythm within each line is rather free. Rubaiyat had been popular in Persia since the 9th or 10th century as occasional verses extemporaneously recited by all classes of persons; they were used both to express a sort of hedonistic appreciation of life and also Sufi mystical experiences.

Omar's Rubaiyat is known in the West largely through the rather inaccurate paraphrase translation of Edward FitzGerald (1859), which in any case seems to contain a number of non-Khayyamian verses. FitzGerald considerably distorted the original to make it conform to Victorian romanticism; these distortions and the non-Khayyamian verses have led some to believe that Omar was himself a Sufi mystic. Recent discoveries of early-13th-century manuscripts of the Rubaiyat, however, have shown that Omar's poetry follows the other tradition of this form of poetry and celebrates, with humorous skepticism, wit, and poetic skill, the joys of wine and homosexual love.

Further Reading

A biography of Omar Khayyam is Harold Lamb, Omar Khayyam: A Life (1934). The most authoritative treatment of his poetry is Arthur John Arberry, ed. and trans., Omar Khayyam (1952). On Omar's contribution to mathematics see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam (1968). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Omar Khayyam." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Omar Khayyam." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/omar-khayyam

"Omar Khayyam." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/omar-khayyam

Omar Khayyam

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 Malikshah, 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 FitzGerald 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).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Omar Khayyam." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Omar Khayyam." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/omar-khayyam

"Omar Khayyam." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/omar-khayyam

Omar Khayyam

Omar Khayyam. Anglicized version of ‘Umar al-Khayyām (1048–1125 (AH 439–c.519)). Muslim mathematician and astronomer who made important contributions to the development of algebra, but who is perhaps best known as a poet. He composed four-line verses (i.e. rubāʿiyyāt, ‘quatrains’) which became known through the Eng. version of Edward Fitzgerald as The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Fitzgerald does not appear to have realized that the terms of the original verses are Sūfī. Thus ‘wine’, far from being the one compensation which God has allowed in a hard world, is a common symbol of the recollection (dhikr) of God (the most spectacular example is al-Khamriyya, the Wine Ode of the Sūfī, Ibn al-Fāriḍ; the tavern (khanaqah) is the assembly place of derwishes.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Omar Khayyam." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Omar Khayyam." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/omar-khayyam

"Omar Khayyam." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/omar-khayyam

Omar Khayyám

Omar Khayyám (1048–1131) (active 11th century) Iranian poet, mathematician, and astronomer. He so impressed the Sultan that he was asked to reform the calendar. His fame in the West is due to a collection of quatrains freely translated by Edward Fitzgerald as The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Omar Khayyám." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Omar Khayyám." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/omar-khayyam

"Omar Khayyám." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/omar-khayyam

Omar Khayyám

Omar Khayyám. Work for cont., ten., bass soloists, ch., and orch. by Bantock to text drawn from Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyát of Omar Khayyám (1859). In 3 parts (Birmingham 1906, Cardiff 1907, Birmingham 1909, then perf. complete in London and Vienna 1912).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Omar Khayyám." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Omar Khayyám." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/omar-khayyam

"Omar Khayyám." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/omar-khayyam

Khayyám, Omar

Khayyám, Omar See Omar Khayyám

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Khayyám, Omar." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Khayyám, Omar." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/khayyam-omar

"Khayyám, Omar." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/khayyam-omar

Khayyam, Omar

Omar Khayyam: see Omar Khayyam.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Khayyam, Omar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Khayyam, Omar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/khayyam-omar

"Khayyam, Omar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/khayyam-omar

Omar Khayyám

Omar Khayyámam, Amsterdam, Assam, Bram, cam, cham, cheongsam, clam, cram, dam, damn, drachm, dram, exam, femme, flam, gam, glam, gram, ham, jam, jamb, lam, lamb, mam, mesdames, Omar Khayyám, Pam, pram, pro-am, ram, Sam, scam, scram, sham, Siam, slam, Spam, swam, tam, tram, Vietnam, wham, yam •in memoriam • ad nauseam •iamb, Priam •grandam • Edam • goddam •quondam • Potsdam • cofferdam •Rotterdam • Oxfam • Birmingham •Abraham • logjam • CAD-CAM •minicam • Nicam •Eelam, Elam •flimflam • oriflamme • Suriname •ad personam • diazepam • tangram •ashram • telegram • milligram •epigram • centigram • dithyramb •program, programme •cardiogram • radiogram • echogram •mammogram •aerogramme (US aerogram) •microgram • dirham •electrocardiogram • ideogram •heliogram • diaphragm • diagram •parallelogram • kilogram • hologram •encephalogram • anagram •monogram • sonogram • kissogram •pentagram • cryptogram • photogram •tam-tam • wigwam • whim-wham

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Omar Khayyám." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Omar Khayyám." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/omar-khayyam

"Omar Khayyám." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved April 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/omar-khayyam