Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat Sun photo

Black Chancery text

small blue Moon glyph


Home Sitemap Book Tour Astrology Astronomy Mythology Order Sample Readings Testimonials About Carl Contact



Hakim Omar Khayyám: the Rubáiyát

I want to tell a story that happened in Iran, then called Persia, a thousand years ago. I also want you to know that I knew and loved this story and one of its protagonists decades before Imáms, Muslims, the Koran or Iran came to the foreground of the American consciousness. It seems that three boys came to study with the Imám Mowaffak, a revered and illustrious teacher of the Koran in Naishápúr. It was widely believed that "every boy who read the Koran or studied the traditions in his presence would assuredly attain to honor and happiness." The three boys, studying long and hard together, struck up a friendship. After some time one of them proposed that although it was unlikely that all three of them would "attain honor" and become successful, it was without a doubt that one of them would. They therefore agreed that whomsoever among them should come to fortune, he would share it equally with the other two, "and reserve no pre-eminence for himself."

They went their ways, and the years rolled by. Of the three, Nizám ul Mulk became vizier (administrator of affairs) to the Sultan of Persia, and eventually his two boyhood friends sought him out for their share in his good fortune. At the vizier’s request, the Sultan granted a position to Hasan bin Sabbáh, one of the other two, but Hasan was disgraced trying to replace his benefactor the vizier, and fell from office.

Hasan became leader of a sect of fanatics, and in 1090 gained control of the castle fortress of Alamut, known as "the eagle’s nest." Legend tells that he acquired the Alamut in bargaining with the owner by requesting only that portion of land that could be covered by the skin of a cow. Hasan then proceeded to divide a cow’s hide into such thin layers that he was able to cover the entire surface of the fortress, and the owner felt obliged to live up to his end of the bargain.

The amazing and compelling story of Hasan bin Sabbáh, who in fact assassinated his benefactor, is continued here, but let’s return now to the story of the third boy. He also sought out the vizier to claim his share, saying "The greatest boon you can confer upon me is to let me live in a corner under the shadow of your fortune, to spread wide the advantages of Science, and to pray for your long life and prosperity." When the vizier realized he was sincere, he gave Omar a yearly pension of 1200 mithkals of gold from the Naishápúr treasury, granting him financial independence for the rest of his life.

Hakim Omar Khayyám, or Ghiyath al-Din Abu’l-Fath Umar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khayyami, was born May 18, 1048 in Naishápúr, Persia, and died in the same city in the year of the Hegira 517, 1123 AD. One of the greatest men of science, and of his era in general, he followed a Persian poetical tradition in that “Khayyám” was actually his Takhallus, or trade name, for “Khayyám” tells us that he was a tent-maker, perhaps derived from his father’s trade. (We have Archer, Baker, Smith, Fletcher, Mason and Miller in the West.)

Given the freedom conferred on him by the vizier, Omar Khayyám set about studying astronomy, algebra, and “knowledge of every kind.” When the Shah decided to reform the calendar, Omar was one of eight employed to do so. The Jalali calendar they created surpassed both the leap year Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar created almost 500 years later and still used today. Omar reckoned the length of the year to be 365.24219858156 days. This was a 1 hour off every 5500 years, whereas the Gregorian calendar used today has a 1 day error every 3330 years. We now know that the length of the year slowly changes in its sixth decimal place within a person’s lifetime: at the end of the 19th century the year was 365.242196 days in length; today it is 365.242190 days long, agreeing with Omar’s figure to six decimal places, or to a few parts in 365 million!

Omar also made advancements in algebra and astronomy, including developing Pascal’s triangle of polynomial coefficients, and discovering a geometric method of solving cubic equations by intersecting a parabola with a circle. But he is most known for leaving the world with that great jewel, The Rubáiyát.

One of the greatest men of science—and in general—of his era, Omar Khayyám died in Naishápúr in the year of the Hegira 517, A.D. 1123. He often held conversations in a garden with Khwájah Nizámi, a student from whom this last reference to him has been recorded. He told Khwájah, "My tomb shall be in a spot where the north wind may scatter roses over it." This confused the student, for although he greatly respected Omar, he knew that his words contradicted the Koran’s: "No man knows where he shall die." Many years later, after visiting Khayyám’s grave, the student recounted, "and lo! it was just outside a garden, and trees laden with fruit stretched their boughs over the garden wall, and dropped their flowers upon his tomb, so that the stone was hidden under them."

Omar's story, my story, your story, dramatize our human condition: the promise of our life and of our dreams. And our dreams and aspirations remind us of what we have come here to be: what we already are. If only we can get out of our own way. Our dreams live and die with us, and are ours alone to bring forth on Earth, just as we bring ourselves forth on Earth.

I end Omar's story and mine with the opening and final rubáiyát (quatrains) of Omar’s Rubáiyát as translated by Edward Fitzgerald, fifth edition. Omar Khayyám is close to my heart. Aside from loving the sentiment and beauty of his verse, I feel a strong kinship with him, to the point of wondering if I might even be his reincarnation. Both of us have been poets, mathematicians, astronomers and astrologers. And we share an earthy side: he was a tent-maker—or perhaps that was just his Takhallus—and for many years I was a truck driver. And so it goes.





Above: The first and last three rubáiyát from Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát
              as translated by Edward Fitzgerald, fifth edition.

1It was customary for the leader of a caravan to fling a stone into a bowl
              to announce that it was time to depart.

2The constellation of Orion.

3In the desert the first place the rising Sun’s rays strike is the tower
              from which the muezzin calls prayer.

4The body is likened to a tavern, wherein liquor is life’s blood and “spiritual juice.”

5Those who stand before the “tavern” are souls waiting to be incarnated into a body.

6“Rubáiyát” refers to the four-line form in which this verse was created.
              No one knows just how many rubáiyát Omar Khayyám wrote
              (versions run from 75 rubáiyát to 516), or in what order they were written.



Home Sitemap Book Tour Astrology Astronomy Mythology Order Sample Readings Testimonials About Carl Contact




Fine Art Book open to pages 2 and 3

Pages 2 and 3 from your Astrology Reading in the Fine Art Book You and the Universe







astrology book deluxe wraparound cover

The personalized Fine Art Book You and the Universe.








© Carl Woebcke: Hakim Omar Khayyam, Author of the Rubaiyat, 1991-2017. All rights reserved.