Abuol-Fath 'Omar Ebn Ebrahim Al-Khayyami (born on May 18, 1048, Nishapur, Iran--died on December 4, 1131, Nishapur).
Persian poet, mathematician, and astronomer, renowned in his own country and time for his scientific achievements but known to English-speaking readers for his roba'iyat ("quatrains") in the version The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, published in 1859 by FitzGerald, Edward.
His name Khayyam ("Tentmaker") may have been derived from his
father's trade. He received a good education in the sciences
and philosophy in his native Neyshabur (Nishapur)
and in Balkh and then went to Samarkand, where he completed
an important treatise on algebra. He made such a name for himself
that he was invited by the Seljuq sultan
Malik-Shah to undertake the astronomical observations
necessary for the reform of the calendar. He was also commissioned
to build an observatory in the city of Esfahan
in collaboration with other astronomers. After the death of
his patron in 1092, Omar went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Returning
to Neyshabur he taught and served the court from
time to time by predicting events to come. Philosophy, jurisprudence,
history, mathematics, medicine, and astronomy are among the
subjects mastered by this brilliant man. Unfortunately, few
of his prose writings survive; these include a few brief tracts
on metaphysics and a treatise on Euclid.
Omar's fame in the West rests upon the collection of roba'iyat, or "quatrains," attributed to him. (A quatrain is a piece of verse complete in four rhymed lines, although in Omar's roba'iyat the third line usually does not rhyme.) Omar's poetry had attracted comparatively little attention until they inspired Edward FitzGerald to write his celebrated The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, containing such now-famous phrases as "A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou," "Take the Cash, and let the Credit go," and "The Flower that once has blown for ever dies." These quatrains have been translated into almost every major language and are largely responsible for colouring European ideas about Persian poetry. Some scholars have doubted that Omar wrote poetry, because his contemporaries took no notice of his verse, and not until two centuries after his death did a few quatrains appear under his name. A.J. Arberry, however, using 13th-century manuscripts, has identified at least 250 authentic roba'iyat by him.
Each of Omar's quatrains was originally composed on a particular occasion and forms a complete poem in itself. It was FitzGerald who conceived the idea of combining a series of these roba'iyat into a continuous elegy that had an intellectual unity and consistency lacking in the disconnected originals. FitzGerald's ingenious and felicitous paraphrasing gave his translations a memorable verve and succinctness.
A close reading of the authentic verses reveals Omar as a man of deep thought, troubled by the questions of the nature of reality and the eternal, the impermanence and uncertainty of life, and man's relationship to God. Omar doubts the existence of divine providence and the afterlife, derides religious certainty, and is disturbed by man's frailty and ignorance. Finding no acceptable answers to his perplexities, he chooses to put his faith instead in a joyful appreciation of the fleeting and sensuous beauties of the material world. The idyllic nature of the modest pleasures he celebrates, however, cannot dispel his honest and straightforward brooding over fundamental metaphysical questions.