The nature of a translation very much depends on what interpretation one places on Khayyam's philosophy. The fact that the rubaiyat is a collection of quatrains – and may be selected and rearranged subjectively to support one interpretation or another – has led to widely differing versions. Nicolas took the view that Khayyam himself clearly was a Sufi. Others have seen signs of mysticism, even atheism, or conversely devout and orthodox Islam. FitzGerald gave the Rubaiyat a distinct fatalistic spin, although it has been claimed that he softened the impact of Khayyam's nihilism and his preoccupation with the mortality and transience of all things. Even such a question as to whether Khayyam was pro- or anti-alcohol gives rise to more discussion than might at first glance have seemed plausible.
Edward FitzGerald versions
illustration for The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: "Earth could not answer; nor the Seas that mourn"
Of the five editions published, four were published under the authorial control of FitzGerald. The fifth edition, which contained only minor changes from the fourth, was edited after his death on the basis of manuscript revisions FitzGerald had left.
FitzGerald also produced Latin translations of certain rubaiyat.
As a work of English literature FitzGerald's version is a high point of the 19th century and has been greatly influential. Indeed, the term "Rubaiyat" by itself has come to be used to describe the quatrain rhyme scheme that FitzGerald used in his translations: AABA.
However, as a translation of Omar Khayyam's quatrains, it is not noted for its fidelity. Many of the verses are paraphrased, and some of them cannot be confidently traced to any one of Khayyam's quatrains at all. Some critics informally refer to the FitzGerald's English versions as "The Rubaiyat of FitzOmar", a nickname that both recognizes the liberties FitzGerald inflicted on his purported source and also credits FitzGerald for the considerable portion of the "translation" that is his own creation.
In fact, FitzGerald himself referred to his work as "transmogrification". "My translation will interest you from its form, and also in many respects in its detail: very un-literal as it is. Many quatrains are mashed together: and something lost, I doubt, of Omar's simplicity, which is so much a virtue in him" (letter to E. B. Cowell, 9/3/58). And, "I suppose very few People have ever taken such Pains in Translation as I have: though certainly not to be literal. But at all Cost, a Thing must live: with a transfusion of one’s own worse Life if one can’t retain the Original’s better. Better a live Sparrow than a stuffed Eagle" (letter to E. B. Cowell, 4/27/59).
Perhaps the most famous of FitzGerald's verses is this one, of which the final version is much beloved:
Quatrain XI in his 1st edition:
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness - And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
Quatrain IX, 59 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Im Frühling mag ich gern im Grüne weilen Und Einsamkeit mit einer Freundin teilen Und einem Kruge Wein. Mag man mich schelten: Ich lasse keinen andern Himmel gelten.
Edward Henry Whinfield
Two English editions by Whinfield (1836-?) consisted of 253 quatrains in 1882 and 500 in 1883.
Quatrain 84 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
In the sweet spring a grassy bank I sought And thither wine and a fair Houri brought; And, though the people called me graceless dog, Gave not to Paradise another thought!
The first French translation, of 464 quatrains in prose, was made by J.B. Nicolas, chief interpreter at the French Embassy in Persia in 1867.
Prose stanza (equivalent of Fitzgerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Au printemps j’aime à m’asseoir au bord d’une prairie, avec une idole semblable à une houri et une cruche de vin, s’il y en a, et bien que tout cela soit généralement blâmé, je veux être pire qu’un chien si jamais je songe au paradis.
John Leslie Garner
An English translation of 152 quatrains, published in 1888.
Quatrain I. 20 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Yes, Loved One, when the Laughing Spring is blowing, With Thee beside me and the Cup o’erflowing, I pass the day upon this Waving Meadow, And dream the while, no thought on Heaven bestowing.
Quatrain 177 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
In Spring time I love to sit in the meadow with a paramour perfect as a Houri and goodly jar of wine, and though I may be blamed for this, yet hold me lower than a dog if ever I dream of Paradise.
Richard Le Gallienne
Richard Le Gallienne (1866–1947) produced a verse translation, subtitled "a paraphrase from several literal translations", in 1897. In his introductory note to the reader, Le Gallienne cites McCarthy's "charming prose" as the chief influence on his version. Some example quatrains follow:
Look not above, there is no answer there; Pray not, for no one listens to your prayer; Near is as near to God as any Far, And Here is just the same deceit as There. (#78, on p. 44)
And do you think that unto such as you; A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew: God gave the secret, and denied it me?-- Well, well, what matters it! Believe that, too. (#85, p. 47)
"Did God set grapes a-growing, do you think, And at the same time make it sin to drink? Give thanks to Him who foreordained it thus-- Surely He loves to hear the glasses clink!" (#91, p. 48)
Edward Heron-Allen (1861–1943) published a prose translation in 1898. He also wrote an introduction to an edition of Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo) ’s translation into English of Nicolas’s French translation.
Example quatrain (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
I desire a little ruby wine and a book of verses, Just enough to keep me alive, and half a loaf is needful; And then, that I and thou should sit in a desolate place Is better than the kingdom of a sultan.
The best-known version in French is the free verse edition by Franz Toussaint (1879–1955) published in 1924. This translation consisting of 170 quatrains was done from the original Persian text, while most of the other French translations were themselves translations of FitzGerald's work. The Éditions d'art Henri Piazza published the book almost unchanged between 1924 and 1979. Toussaint's translation has served as the basis of subsequent translations into other languages, but Toussaint did not live to witness the influence his translation has had.
Quatrain XXV (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Au printemps, je vais quelquefois m’asseoir à la lisière d’un champ fleuri. Lorsqu’une belle jeune fille m’apporte une coupe de vin, je ne pense guère à mon salut. Si j’avais cette préoccupation, je vaudrais moins qu’un chien.
A. J. Arberry
In 1959, Professor A. J. Arberry, a distinguished scholar of Persian and Arabic, attempted to produce a scholarly edition of Khayyam, based on thirteenth-century manuscripts. However, his manuscripts were subsequently exposed as twentieth-century forgeries.
Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah
While Arberry’s work had been misguided, it was published in good faith. The 1967 translation of the Rubáiyat by Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah, however, created a scandal. The authors claimed it was based on a twelfth-century manuscript located in Afghanistan, where it was allegedly utilized as a Sufi teaching document. But the manuscript was never produced, and British experts in Persian literature were easily able to prove that the translation was in fact based on Edward Heron Allen's analysis of possible sources for FitzGerald’s work.
Quatrains 11 and 12 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
Should our day's portion be one mancel loaf, A haunch of mutton and a gourd of wine Set for us two alone on the wide plain, No Sultan's bounty could evoke such joy.
A gourd of red wine and a sheaf of poems — A bare subsistence, half a loaf, not more — Supplied us two alone in the free desert: What Sultan could we envy on his throne?
Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs
A modern version of 235 quatrains, claiming to be "as literal an English version of the Persian originals as readability and intelligibility permit", published in 1979. Their edition provides two versions of the thematic quatrain, the first (98) considered by the Persian writer Sadeq Hedayat to be a spurious attribution.
98. I need a jug of wine and a book of poetry, Half a loaf for a bite to eat, Then you and I, seated in a deserted spot, Will have more wealth than a Sultan's realm.
234. If chance supplied a loaf of white bread, Two casks of wine and a leg of mutton, In the corner of a garden with a tulip-cheeked girl, There'd be enjoyment no Sultan could outdo.
In 1988, the Rubaiyat were translated by a Persian translator for the first time.Karim Emami's translation of the Rubaiyat was published under the title The Wine of Nishapour in Paris. The Wine of Nishapour is the collection of Khayyam's poetry by Shahrokh Golestan, including Golestan's pictures in front of each poem. Emami was an outstanding translator of English in Iran, who had also translated many contemporary Persian poems.
Example from Emami's work:
It's early dawn, my love, open your eyes and arise Gently imbibing and playing the lyre; For those who are here will not tarry long, And those who are gone will not return.
Example quatrain 160 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XI in his 1st edition, as above):
In spring if a houri-like sweetheart Gives me a cup of wine on the edge of a green cornfield, Though to the vulgar this would be blasphemy, If I mentioned any other Paradise, I'd be worse than a dog.
Ahmed Rami, a famous late Egyptian poet, translated the work into Arabic. His translation was sung by Umm Kulthum.
In 1991 Ahmad Saidi (1904-1994) produced an English translation of 165 quatrains grouped into 10 themes. Born and raised in Iran, Saidi went to the United States in 1931 and attended college there. He served as the head of the Persian Publication Desk at the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II, inaugurated the Voice of America to Iran, and prepared an English-Persian military dictionary for the Department of Defense. His quatrains include the original Persian verses for reference alongside his English translations. His focus was to faithfully convey, with less poetic license, Khayyam’s original religious, mystical, and historic Persian themes, through the verses as well as his extensive annotations. Two example quatrains follow:
Quatrain 16 (equivalent of FitzGerald's quatrain XII in his 5th edition, as above):
Ah, would there were a loaf of bread as fare, A joint of lamb, a jug of vintage rare, And you and I in wilderness encamped— No Sultan’s pleasure could with ours compare.
The sphere upon which mortals come and go, Has no end nor beginning that we know; And none there is to tell us in plain truth: Whence do we come and whither do we go.
Many Russian-language translations have been undertaken, reflecting the popularity of the Rubaiyat in Russia since the late 19th century and the increasingly popular tradition of using it for the purposes of bibliomancy. The earliest verse translation (by V. L. Velichko) was published in 1891. The version by Osip Rumer published in 1914 is a translation of FitzGerald's version. Rumer later published a version of 304 rubaiyat translated directly from Persian. A lot of poetic translations (some based on verbatim translations into prose by others) were also written by German Plisetsky, Konstantin Bal'mont, Ts. Banu, I. Tkhorzhevsky, L. Pen'kovsky, and others.
In Polish, several collections of Rubaiyat have appeared, including one by Professor Andrzej Gawroński, which is regarded as the best.
Fan Noli produced an Albanian translation, the melody and poetics of which are highly regarded.
At least four versions exist in the Thai language. These translations were made from the work of Edward FitzGerald many years ago. Their respective authors are HRH Prince Narathip Prapanpong, Rainan Aroonrungsee (pen name: Naan Gitirungsi), Pimarn Jamjarus (pen name: Kaen Sungkeet), and Suriyachat Chaimongkol.
The earliest translation in Hungarian consisted of a few stanzas taken from the French version of Nicolas, by Béla Erődi in 1919-20. Lőrinc Szabó finalized his translation of the Fitzgerald version in 1943.
First Czech translator is Josef Štýbr. At first he translated from English (from Fitzgerald's "translations") (1922), after that from original language (1931). Translation from original can be found on Czech wikisource (770 poems). Next translators are mentioned here.
The first translator into Slovene was Alojz Gradnik, his translation being published in 1955. It was translated again by slovene translator and poet Bert Pribac in 2007 from the French Toussaint edition.
The first translation of nine short poems into Serbo-Croatian was published in 1920, and was the work of Safvet beg Bašagić. In 1932, Jelena Skerlić-Ćorović re-published these nine, alongside 75 more poems. In 1964, a noted orientalist Fehim Bajraktarević published his translation of Rubaiyat.
Hồ Thượng Tuy translated from English into Vietnamese (from FitzGerald’s 1st edition) in 1990.
Nguyễn Viết Thắng produced a Vietnamese translation of 487 rubaiyat, translated from English and Russian in 1995, published in Hanoi in 2003.
Xabier Correa Corredoira published a Galician translation in 2010.
Christos Marketis translated 120 rubaiyat into Greek in 1975.
Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das (1864–1945) translated the original Persian quatrains and Edward Fitzgerald's English translations into Sanskrit and pure-Telugu. Pandit Narayana Das claimed his translation was more literal than that of Fitzgerald. See: Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasu
In Japan, until 1949, more than 10 poets and/or scholars made translations into Japanese. The first complete translation from Persian into the modern Japanese language was made by Ryosaku Ogawa in 1949, which is still popular and has been published from Iwanami Shoten (it is now under public domain and also freely available from Aozora Bunko). Historically, the first attempt is 6 poems translated by Kambara Ariake in 1908. In 1910, Kakise Hikozo translated 110 poems from the 5th edition of FitzGerald's translation. The first translation from Persian into the classical Japanese language was made by a linguist Shigeru Araki in 1920. Among other various translations, Ogawa highly evaluates Ryo Mori (ja:森亮)'s one produced in 1931.
Naum Faiq, A prominent Assyrian journalist and author translated the quatrains into Syriac. The translation exist in its manuscript form and remains unpublished.
Authenticity and analysis
The number of quatrains attributed to Khayyam varies from about 1,200 (according to Saeed Nafisi) to over 2,000. Many scholars believe that not all the attributed quatrains are authentic and some have been added to Khayyam's Diwan in later years for various reasons. A few literary researchers, for example, Mohammad-Ali Foroughi and Farzaneh Aghaeipour have selected and published a subset of the quatrains believed to be original using various research methods.
"Wine of the Mystic" by Paramahansa Yogananda, is an illustrated interpretation of the FitzGerald translation. Each quatrain is accompanied with Persian text, a glossary of terms, Yoganada's spiritual interpretation, and practical interpretation. It won the 1994 Benjamin Franklin Award in the field of Religion. Yogananda makes an argument for the mystical basis of Khayyam's Rubaiyat.
In Who is the Potter? ,Abdullah Dougan, a Naqshbandi Sufi, provides a verse-by-verse commentary of the Rubaiyat. Dougan says that while Omar is a minor Sufi teacher compared to the giants – Rumi, Attar and Sana’i, for us he is a marvelous man because we can feel for him and understand his approach. The work is much more accessible than Sana’i’s for instance; "Every line of the Rubaiyat has more meaning than almost anything you could read in Sufi literature". Dougan says that the many critics of Fitzgerald miss the point as he is only an instrument for what Allah wanted to happen – there have been many more literally correct translations, but Fitzgerald’s is divine inspiration, something far superior, a miracle. In Dougan’s opinion, while many read the Rubaiyat literally and hence see Omar as a materialist, he is in fact a spiritual teacher and is much maligned because people do not understand him. Abdullah Dougan says the work is deeply esoteric and "if you approach the quatrains with that in mind, the poem will have a tremendous impact on you as you try to understand it."
Religious beliefs were deeply instilled in the people of the time, which gave much influence to the clergy, and the prosecution of poets who made statements contradictory to religious messages were prevalent, as was the case with Hafiz (whose house was raided several times, and was forced to burn some of his more liberal poems) and Ferdowsi (who was branded a heretic and was not permitted to be buried in the Muslims graveyard).
The mystic interpretation of themes in poetry which were contrary to Islamic teachings became popular after the Safavid dynasty rise to power and the establishing of Twelver school of Shi'a Islam as the official religion of Iran. At this time poets such as Ferdowsi (who glorified the pre-Islamic Iran and patriotism), Hafiz (with his Epicurean view on life) and Khayyam (with openly agnostic themed poetry) had already found their roots among Iranian culture and their works were looked upon as masterpieces of Persian literature. In order to justify their popularity and lay “credence” to their messages, many Haram themes were interpreted as having hidden mystical meanings and parallels were drawn between verses and Shi'a themes and traditions. Some religious hardliners however repudiated Khayyam and the like altogether (and to a lesser extent still do today).
Putting aside all this Khayyam never identified himself as a Sufi nor did anyone in his time. In fact on several occasions he mocks the devoutly religious who criticize the non religious.
Like Shakespeare's works, Omar Khayyám's verses have provided later authors with quotations to use as titles:
Equally noteworthy are these works likewise influenced:
The satirist and short story writer Hector Hugh Munro took his pen name of 'Saki' from Edward FitzGerald's translation of the Rubaiyat.
The American author O. Henry humorously referred to a book by "Homer KM" with the character "Ruby Ott" in his short story "The Handbook of Hymen. " O. Henry also quoted a quatrain from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in "The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Highball."
Oliver Herford released a parody of the Rubaiyat called "The Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten" in 1904, which is notable for its charming illustrations of the kitten in question on his philosophical adventures.
Lovecraft was obsessed with the Arabian Nights and had no doubt read the Fitzgerald translation - the couplet follows Fitzgerald's metre and rhyme pattern for the first half of a Khayyam quatrain.
The artist/illustrator Edmund Dulac produced some much-beloved illustrations for the Rubaiyat, 1909.
The play The Shadow of a Gunman (1923) by Sean O'Casey contains a reference to the Rubaiyat as the character Donal Davoren quotes "grasp this sorry scheme of things entire, and mould life nearer to the heart's desire."
The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges discusses The Rubaiyat and its history in an essay, "The Enigma of Edward FitzGerald" ("El enigma de Edward FitzGerald") in his book "Other Inquisitions" ("Otras Inquisiciones", 1952). He also references it in some of his poems, including "Rubaiyat" in "The Praise of the Shadow" ("Elogio de la Sombra", 1969), and "Chess" ("Ajedrez") in "The Maker" ("El Hacedor", 1960). Borges' father Jorge Guillermo Borges was the author of a Spanish translation of the FitzGerald version of The Rubaiyat.
Science fiction author Paul Marlowe's story "Resurrection and Life" featured a character who could only communicate using lines from the Rubaiyat.
Wendy Cope's poem "Strugnell's Rubiyat" is a close parody of the FitzGerald translation, relocated to modern day Tulse Hill.
The Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf based his novel Samarkand (1988) on the life of Omar Khayyam, and the creation of the Rubaiyat. It details the Assassin sect as well, and includes a fictional telling of how the (non-existent) original manuscript came to be on the RMS Titanic.
A canto was quoted and used as an underlying theme of the 1945 screen adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray: "I sent my soul through the invisible, some letters of that after-life to spell, and by and by my soul did return, and answered, 'I myself am Heaven and Hell.'"
The Rubaiyat was quoted in the 1946 King Vidor Western film Duel in the Sun, which starred Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones: "Oh threats of hell and hopes of paradise! One thing at least is certain: This life flies. One thing is certain and the rest is Lies; The Flower that once is blown for ever dies."
In the film The Music Man (based on the 1957 musical), town librarian Marian Paroo draws down the wrath of the mayor's wife for encouraging the woman's daughter to read a book of "dirty Persian poetry." Summarizing what she calls the "Ruby Hat," the mayor's wife paraphrases FitzGerald's Quatrain XII from his 5th edition: "People lying out in the woods eating sandwiches, and drinking directly out of jugs with innocent young girls."
The film "Omar Khayyam" also known as "The Loves Of Omar Khayyam" was released in 1957 by Paramount Pictures and includes excerpts from the Rubaiyat.
The Rubaiyat was quoted in the film 12 Monkeys (1995) around 11 minutes in.
The British composer Granville Bantock produced a choral setting of FitzGerald's translation 1906-1909.
Using FitzGerald's translation, the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness set a dozen of the quatrains to music. This work, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Op. 308, calls for narrator, orchestra, and solo accordion.
The Rubaiyat have also influenced Arabic music. In 1950 the Egyptian singer Oum Koulthoum recorded a song entitled "Rubaiyat Al-Khayyam."
Woody Guthrie recorded an excerpt of the Rubaiyat set to music that was released on Hard Travelin' (The Asch Recordings Vol. 3).
Elektra Records released a compilation album named Rubáiyát in 1990 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Elektra Records record label.
Coldcut produced an album with a song called "Rubaiyat" on their album Let us Play! (1997). This song contains what appears to be some words from the English translation. This was probably influenced by the ambitious 1970 album by jazz-soul harpist Dorothy Ashby, "The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby," which has become something of a cult classic. The lyrics quote from several of the poem's verses, and the tracks' highly stylized and heavily reverberated production values and pop mysticism have made it a favorite of samplers, beat-diggers, and fans of psychedelic jazz and R&B.
The famed "skull and roses" poster for a Grateful Dead show at the Avalon Ballroom done by Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse was adapted from Edmund J. Sullivan's illustrations for The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
The work influenced the 2004 concept album The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam by the Italian group Milagro acustico (it).
A copy of the Rubaiyat plays a role in an episode of the TV series New Amsterdam and is shown to be the inspiration for the name of one of the lead character's children, Omar York.
In Cyberflix's PC game Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, the object is to save three important items, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, one of Adolf Hitler's paintings, and a notebook that proves German officials were attempting to gain geo-political advantage by instigating communist revolution. Two passages from the book are also included in the game as clues to progress the narrative.
Some versions of the computer game Colossal Cave Adventure feature a ruby-covered yacht called "Omar Khayyam" (a pun - the "ruby yacht" of Omar Khayyam).
In Australia, a copy of FitzGerald's translation and its closing words, Tamam Shud ("Ended"), were a major component of the unsolved Taman Shud Case.
The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds over 1,500 items related to the Rubaiyat, including two copies of the first edition, hundreds of editions, translations, and parodies, several Persian manuscripts containing rubaiyat, and ephemera, manuscripts and correspondence documenting the phenomenon of "Omariana"
Who is the Potter? - a commentary on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Abdullah Dougan - a modern Sufi's understanding.
at Baidu Baike can find a list of 48 Chinese translations.
Contemporary Persian and Classical Persian are the same language, but writers since 1900 are classified as contemporary. At one time, Persian was a common cultural language of much of the non-Arabic Islamic world. Today it is the official language of Iran, Tajikistan and one of the two official languages of Afghanistan.