Quatrains of Omar Khayyam (tr. Whinfield, 1883)/Introduction

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Ghiás uddín Abul Fath Omar bin Ibrahím Al Khayyám was a native of Nishapúr, one of the principal cities of Khorásan. According to the preface of the Calcutta MS., he died in 517 a.h., during the reign of Sultan Sanjar. The date of his birth is nowhere mentioned, but he was contemporary with Nizám ul Mulk, the celebrated Wazir of the Seljuk kings Alp Arslan and Malik Shah; and Nizám ul Mulk has left the following notice of him in his Wasáyá, or Testament[1]:—

"Imám Muaffik of Nishapur—(may Allah rest his soul!)—was one of the most learned men in Khorásan, and was held in the highest honour and reverence. He lived to over eighty-five years of age, and it was the common opinion that all youths who read the Koran, and learned the Traditions under him, would attain to wealth and fortune. For this cause my father sent me, in charge of the lawyer 'Abd us Samad, from Tús to Nishapúr, in order that I might apply myself to study and discipline in the class of that eminent person. He on his part regarded me with affection, and I for mine showed such attachment and devotion to his service that I continued with him for the space of four years. There had lately joined his class Hakím Omar Khayyám, and that miscreant Hasan ibn Sabah, both of whom were of the same age as I was, and equally remarkable for excellence of intelligence and power of intellect. We became friends, and when we went out from the Imám's class we used to repeat to one another the lesson we had just heard .... One day that miscreant Hasan said to us,—'It is the general opinion that the disciples of Imám Muaffik attain to fortune, and no doubt one of us will do so, even though all may not. What agreement or compact is there now between us?' I said, 'Whatever you please.' He answered, 'Whichever of us may attain to fortune shall share it with the others, and not engross it himself.' We agreed to these terms, and a compact was made accordingly. Time passed on. I went from Khorasán to Máwará un Nahr and Ghazní and Kábul, and on my return I was preferred to the post of Wazir to Sultan Alp Arslan (455 A.H.). At that time Hakím Omar Khayyám came to me, and in regard to him I carried out all the requirements of the compact and the obligations of my engagement. On his arrival I received him with all honour and distinction, and afterwards I said to him, 'A man of your ability ought to be a servant of the Sultan, and since, according to our agreement, while we were with Imam Muaffik, I am bound to share my position with you, I will recount your merits to the Sultan, and will so impress on his mind your abilities and attainments, that you shall be preferred to a post of trust like mine.' But Hakím replied (after compliments), 'The greatest favour you can do me is to let me live in retirement, where, under your protection, I may occupy myself in amassing the riches of learning and in praying for your long life.' And to this language he steadfastly adhered. When I perceived that he spoke in sincerity, and not out of mere etiquette, I assigned him a yearly stipend of 1200 gold miscals, payable from the Nishapur treasury. He then went back to Nishapur, and applied himself to the study of the sciences, especially astronomy, in which he afterwards attained a high degree of accomplishment. Later on, in the reign of Sultan Malikshah (465 to 485 A.H.), he came to Merv, in the height of his philosophical repute; and the Sultan conferred many favours upon him, and raised him to the highest posts attainable by men of science."

Nizám ul Mulk goes on to recount the subsequent history of Hasan Sabah,—how by his aid Hasan obtained a post at court, and repaid his kindness by intriguing against him,—how Hasan then fled from Khorásán, and joined the infamous sect of Ismailians, or Assassins, and afterwards became their chief, under the name of Shaikh ul Jabal, or Old Man of the Mountain.

This narrative reads so circumstantially that one can hardly do otherwise than accept it, but in that case Nizám ul Mulk's birth must be placed at least twenty years later than 408,[2] the date given both by Ibn Khallikán and Abul Faraj; or else the accepted dates of Omar's and Hasan's deaths (517 and 518 A.H.) must be abandoned for others at least twenty years earlier.

Omar's appointment at Merv mentioned by Nizám ul Mulk was, as we learn from Abul Feda, that of Astronomer Royal. Whilst holding this office Omar compiled some astronomical tables called Záj i Maliksháhi, of which mention is made by Haji Khalfa, and in collaboration with seven other astronomers effected a reform of the old Persian Calendar, somewhat similar to the reform of the Julian Calendar, made under the auspices of Pope Gregory XIII. five centuries afterwards. The object of both reforms was to make the civil year coincide more exactly with the cycle of the seasons, and in both instances this object was sought to be accomplished by an improved system of intercalation. M. Reinaud, the editor of Abul Feda's Geography, says that some authorities even prefer Omar's system to that adopted by Pope Gregory[3] The amended reckoning ran from the 10th Ramazán, 471 A.H., and was called Taríkh i Jaláli, after the reigning monarch, Sultan Jaláluddin Maliksháh.

Omar was also highly distinguished as a mathematician. A work of his on Algebra has been edited and translated by M. Woepke of Bonn, and another, "On the Difficulties of Euclid's Definitions," is preserved in the Leyden Library. His work on Algebra enjoyed a high reputation for several centuries. Ibn Khaldun refers to it in his Prolegomena, and Haji Khalfa quotes the commencement. M. Woepke praises him for his power of generalization and his rigorously systematic procedure.

In his preface M. Woepke quotes from a MS. in the Bibliothèque Nationale, an abridgment of a notice of Omar in Shahrastáni's Taríkh ul Hukama. As Shahrastáni was born in 479 A.H., and during some part of his life resided at Nishapur,[4] he is a very good authority for the facts recorded by him, though it is evident he was no friend to Omar. The passage is as follows:—

"Omar Al Khayyám, Imám of Khorásán, and the greatest scholar of his time, was versed in all the learning of the Greeks. He was wont to exhort men to seek the One Author of all by purifying the bodily actions in order to the sanctification of the soul. He also used to recommend the study of Politics as laid down in Greek authors. The later Sufis have caught at the apparent sense of parts of his poems and accommodated them to their own Canon, making them a subject of discussion in their assemblies and conventicles, but the esoteric sense consists in axioms of natural religion and principles of universal obligation. When the men of his time anathematized his doctrines, and drew forth his opinions from the concealment in which he had veiled them, he went in fear of his life, and placed a check on the sallies of his tongue and his pen. He made the pilgrimage, but it was from accident rather than piety, still betraying his unorthodox views. On his arrival at Baghdad the men who prosecuted the same ancient studies as he flocked to meet him, but he shut the door in their faces, as one who had renounced those studies and cultivated them no longer. On his return to his native city he made a practice of attending the morning and evening prayers, and of disguising his private opinions, but for all that they were no secret. In astronomy and in philosophy he was without a rival, and his eminence in those sciences would have passed into a proverb had I he only possessed self-control."

Shahrastáni's view of Omar's character appears to have been the one generally accepted by the literary men of Islam, as Abul Feda, who lived about 200 years later, writes much in the same strain, lamenting his being so much addicted to poetry and pleasure.

In an essay by the celebrated Ghazzáli of Tús, who was, like Shahrastáni, a contemporary of Omar's, there is a passage in which Omar is not improbably referred to as an example of the sceptical habit of mind induced by scientific pursuits.[5]

The following story of Omar in his old age is given in the preface to the Calcutta MS. on the authority of Nizámi of Samarkand, one of his disciples:—

"I chanced to meet Maulana Omar in a garden, and in course of conversation he said, 'My tomb shall be in a certain place where each breath of the north wind shall shower down roses upon it.' I marvelled at that saying, thinking that he spoke idly. Afterwards I came to Nishapur on many occasions and visited his tomb, and it was outside a garden, and the fruit trees reached out their branches over the wall of the garden, and had dropped their blossoms over his tomb, so that it was hidden beneath them."


The great difficulty in the way of arriving at a satisfactory text of Omar's poems arises from the exceeding variety and discrepancy of the materials. We look in vain for anything approaching to a "Textus Receptus." What may be called the Lower Bengal family of MSS., represented by the Asiatic Society's MS., the two India Office MSS., and the Calcutta edition, do indeed offer a tolerably uniform text, but their claim to be the best representatives of the genuine text is overthrown by their want of agreement with the Persian and Oude MSS. The Persian MSS. do not even agree with one another, the Bodleian MS., which was written at Shiráz in 865 A.H., being altogether different from the MS. lithographed at Teheran and afterwards reprinted by M. Nicolas. The Oude, or Upper India MSS., again, to which belong the one lithographed at Lucknow, and probably also the Cambridge MS., include a very large number of quatrains not found elsewhere. The number of quatrains seems to increase in proportion to the modernness of the MS. Thus the old Bodleian MS. contains only 158, and the two Paris MSS. (which are both of the tenth century) only 175 and 213, while the modern Cambridge copy contains no less than 801. A lady who has collated all the MSS. of Omar in Europe tells me she has found in one place and another no less than 1200 quatrains attributed to him. She has, however, in an article in Frazer for May 1879, expressed the opinion that the number of genuine quatrains is not more than 250 or 300, and I am inclined to think this estimate high enough. But when one comes to consider which particular quatrains are to be pronounced genuine, and which imitations, it is not always easy to form a confident decision. The state of the case is this:—Out of all the quatrains passing under Omar's name hardly any stand alone. Almost every one belongs to a family, more or less numerous, to the other members of which it bears a strong family likeness. One can say with some confidence that all these replicas, paraprases and variations of the same ideas can hardly be the work of one and the same hand; but to distinguish with certainty the handiwork of the master from that of his imitators is a task probably beyond the powers of any foreign critic living 800 years after the poems in question were written.

In this difficulty, the rule I follow is to give what seem the best specimens of each class of quatrains, and to exclude the rest. In accordance with this rule, I exclude, in particular, a large number of quatrains in praise of wine, and exhortations to live for the day, which recur in the MSS. with most wearisome frequency. I cannot of course feel sure that the quatrains I retain are in all cases the identical ones written by Omar; all I pretend to do is to give samples of each class of quatrains attributed to him.

Another cognate difficulty is this, that many of the quatrains ascribed to Omar are also attributed to other poets. I have marked a few of tliese in the notes, and doubtless, careful search would bring many more to light. It might be supposed that the character of the language employed would be sufficient to differentiate the work of Omar at any rate from that of poets writing two or three centuries after his time, but, as observed by Chodzko, the literary Persian of 800 years ago differs singularly little from that now in use. Again, if, as has been supposed, there were anything exceptional in Omar's poetry, it might be possible to identify it by internal evidence; but the fact is that all Persian poetry runs very much in grooves, and Omar's is no exception. The poetry of rebellion and revolt from orthodox opinions, which is supposed to be peculiar to him, may be traced in the works of his predecessor Avicenna, as well as in those of Afzul Káshi, and others of his successors. For these reasons I have not excluded any quatrains on account of their being ascribed to other writers as well as Omar. So long as I find fair MS. authority for such quatrains, I include them in the text, not because I am sure Omar wrote them, but because it is just as likely they were written by him as by the other claimants. Of course a text formed on these principles cannot be a very satisfactory one, but, on the other hand, it is useless for an editor to pretend to greater certainty than the case admits of.

The text has been framed from a comparison of the following authorities:—

I. The Bodleian MS., No. 140 of the Ouseley Collection, containing 158 quatrains.
II. The Calcutta Asiatic Society's MS., No. 1548, containing 516 quatrains.
III. The India Office MS., No. 2420, ff. 212 to 267, containing' 512 quatrains.
IV. The India Office MS., No. 2486, ff. 158 to 194, containing 362 quatrains.
V. The Calcutta edition of 1252 A.H., containing 438 quatrains, with an appendix of 54 more, which the editor says he found in a Bayáz, or common-place book, after the others had been printed.
VI. The Paris edition of M. Nicolas, containing 464 quatrains.
VII. The Lucknow lithographed edition, containing 763 quatrains.
VIII. A fragment of an edition begun by the late Mr. Blochmann, containing only 62 quatrains.

I have also consulted the Cambridge MS., for the purpose of settling one or two readings, but have not collated it throughout.

I have not given the various readings, except in cases of special importance. For every reading in the text there is MS. authority of some kind or other: there are only two cases, or three at the most, in which I have been driven to "the desperate resource of a conjecture," and these are indicated in the notes. The authorities for each quatrain are also given in the notes.

In editing the text, I have paid special attention to the prosody, marking all poetical contractions, and noting all peculiarities of metre and scansion.

I have also made a point of marking the izáfat wherever it occurs. "The omission of this" says Lumsden, "is undoubtedly a great defect in Persian writing, insomuch that I am not certain wliether it has not been the cause of more obscurity than would result from the omission of all the prepositions."

There is some diflference of precept and practice as to the proper way of marking the izáfat after the semi-vowels. For instance, some grammarians, speaking loosely, say that after alif, waw and silent he, the izáfat is expressed by hamza or ya. What they mean to say is, by hamza i maksúr, or ya i maksúr,—"kasra bearing" hamza or ya. One has only to scan a verse containing one of these hamzas or yas to see that they are always followed by kasra expressed or understood. For the izáfat, wherever it occurs, invariably adds a syllable to the word preceding it, and no Persian syllable consists of less than one consonant and one vowel. The fact is, the izáfat, when expressed, is always expressed by kasra. If the preceding letter be silent he, hamza is substituted for it, because, as Vullers says, silent he "tennior est quam ut voculem ferre queat." So if the preceding letter be alif or waw, used as letters of prolongation, "littera ya euphonica in fine adjicitur quœ genitivi signum i accipiat." And for this ya, hamza is often substituted.

So far the matter is pretty plain, but as regards the izáfat after words ending in ya there is more room for doubt. Lumsden says the izáfat in this case ought to be written with a kasra, Vullers with kasra, hamza being sometimes superscribed, sometimes not, Mirza Ibrahim with hamza only. Brockhaus, in his Hafiz, writes kasra after ya used as a consonant, as in such words as páy and rúy, but hamza or hamza i maksúr after ya used as a letter of prolongation, as in words like sákí. Blochmann, on the other hand, says the use of hamza in this last case is wrong, because "it reduces the ya to a mere vowel" i.e. prevents it serving as a consonant to support the kasra following. I venture to question this dictum, because it is controverted by Blochmann's own practice (Prosody, p. 95, Example 5), and because there is good MS. authority for the use of hamza in this case. For my part, I believe that it is allowable to mark the izáfat after ya of any kind with kasra or hamza i maksúr indifferently. In the first case, the ya itself serves as a consonant supporting the kasra; in the second, the hamza seems to be substituted for the ya, just as it is substituted for silent he. Availing myself of this option, I always write kasra for the izáfat after ya, whether the ya be a consonant or a letter of prolongation. In the latter case, the long vowel is dissolved in scanning into its component letters ĭ and y, and the y is set free to support the kasra of the izáfat following it.


Omar is a poet who can hardly be translated satisfactorily otherwise than in verse. Prose does well enough for narrative or didactic poetry, where the main things to be reproduced are the matter and substance; but it is plainly contra-indicated in the case of poetry like Omar's, where the matter is little else than "the commonplaces of the lyric ode and the tragic chorus," and where nearly the whole charm consists in the style and the manner, the grace of the expression and the melody of the versification. A literal prose version of such poetry must needs be unsatisfactory, because it studiously ignores the chief points in which the attractiveness of the original consists, and deliberately renounces all attempt to reproduce them.

In deciding on the form to be taken by a new translation of Omar, the fact of the existence of a previous verse translation of universally acknowledged merit ought not, of course, to be left out of account. The successor of a translator like Mr. Fitzgerald, who ventures to write verse, and especially verse of the metre which he has handled with such success, cannot help feeling at almost every step that he is provoking comparisons very much to his own disadvantage. But I do not think this consideration ought to deter him from using the vehicle which everything else indicates as the proper one.

As regards metre, there is no doubt that the quatrain of ten-syllable lines which has been tried by Hammer, Bicknell, and others, and has been raised by Mr. Fitzgerald almost to the rank of a recognised English metre, is the best representative of the Rubá'í. It fairly satisfies Conington's canon, viz. that there ought to be some degree of metrical conformity between the measure of the original and the translation, for though it does not exactly correspond with the Rubá'í, it very clearly suggests it. In particular, it copies what is perhaps the most marked feature of the Rubá'í,—the interlinking of the four lines by the repetition in the fourth line of the rhyme of the first and second. Mr. Swinburne's modification of this metre, in which the rhyme is carried on from one quatrain to the next, is not applicable to poems like Omar's, all of which are isolated in sense from the context. Alexandrines would of course correspond, more nearly than decasyllabics, with Rubá'í lines in number of syllables, and they have been extensively used by Bodenstedt and other German translators of Rubá'ís, but, whatever may be the case in German, they are apt to read very heavily in English, even when constructed by skilful verse-makers, and an inferior workman can hardly hope to manage them with anything like success. The shorter length of the decasyllable line is not altogether a disadvantage to the translator. Owing to the large number of monosyllables in English, it is generally adequate to hold the contents of a Persian line a syllable or two longer; and a line erring, if at all, on the side of brevity, has at any rate the advantage of obliging the translator to eschew modern diffuseness, and of making him try to copy the "classical parsimony," the archaic terseness and condensation of the original.

The poet Cowper has a remark on translation from Latin which is eminently true also of translation from Persian. He says, "That is epigrammatic and witty in Latin which would be perfectly insipid in English. .... If a Latin poem is neat, elegant and musical, it is enough, but English readers are not so easily satisfied." Much of Omar's matter, when literally translated, seems very trite and commonplace, many of the "conceits," of which he is so fond, very frigid, and even his peculiar grotesque humour often loses its savour in an English replica. The translator is often tempted to elevate a too grovelling sentiment, to "sharpen a point" here and there, to trick out a commonplace with some borrowed modern embellishment. But this temptation is one to be resisted as far as possible. According to the Hadís, "the business of a messenger is simply to deliver his message," and he must not shrink from displaying the naked truth. A translator who writes in verse must of course claim the liberty of altering the form of the expression over and over again, but the substituted expressions ought to be in keeping with the author's style, and on the same plane of sentiment as his. It is beyond the province of a translator to attempt the task of "painting the lily." But it is easier to lay down correct principles of translation than to observe them unswervingly in one's practice.


As regards subject matter, Omar's quatrains may be classed under the following six heads:—

I. Shikáyat i rozgár—Complaints of "the wheel of heaven," or fate, of the world's injustice, of the loss of friends, of man's limited faculties and destinies.
II. Hajw—Satires on the hypocrisy of the "unco' guid," the impiety of the pious, the ignorance of the learned, and the untowardness of his own generation.
III. Firákíya and Wisálíya—Love-poems on the sorrows of separation and the joys of reunion with the Beloved, earthly or spiritual.
IV. Báháríya—Poems in praise of spring, gardens and flowers.
V. Kufríya—Irreligious and autinomian utterances, charging the sins of the creature to the account of the Creator, scoffing at the Prophet's Paradise and Hell, singing the praises of wine and pleasure—preaching ad nauseam, "Eat and drink (especially drink), for to-morrow ye die."
VI. Munáját—Addresses to the Deity, now in the ordinary language of devotion, bewailing sins and imploring pardon, now in mystical phraseology, craving deliverance from "self," and union with the "Truth" (Al Hakk), or Deity, as conceived by the Mystics.

The "complaints" may obviously be connected with the known facts of the poet's life, by supposing them to have been prompted by the persecution to which he was subjected on account of his opinions. His remarks on the Houris and other sacred subjects raised such a feeling against him that at one time his life was in danger, and the wonder is that he escaped at all in a city like Nishapur, where the odium theologicum raged so fiercely as to occasion a sanguinary civil war. In the year 489 A.H., as we learn from Ibn Al Athir,[6] the orthodox banded themselves together under the leadership of Abul Kasim and Muhammad, the chiefs of the Hanefites and the Shafeites, in order to exterminate the Kerrámians or Anthropomorphist heretics, and succeeded in putting many of them to death, and in destroying all their establishments. It may be also that after the death of his patron Nizám ul Mulk, Omar lost his stipend, and was reduced to poverty.

The satires probably owed their origin to the same cause. Rien soulage comnie la rhetorique, and if Omar could not relieve his feelings by open abuse of his persecutors, he made up for it by the bitterness of his verses. The bitterness of his strictures on them was no doubt fully equalled by the rancour of their attacks upon him.

The love-poems are samples of a class of compositions much commoner in later poets than in Omar. Most of them probably bear a mystical meaning, for I doubt if Omar was a person very susceptible of the tender passion. He speaks with appreciation of "tulip cheeks" and "cypress forms," but apparently recognises no attractions of a higher order in his fair friends.

The poems in praise of scenery again offer a strong contrast to modern treatment of the same theme. The only aspects of nature noticed by Omar are such as affect the senses agreeably—the bright flowers, the song of the nightingale, the grassy bank of the stream, and the shady garden associated in his mind with his convivial parties. The geographer translated by Sir W. Ouseley says of Nishapur, "The city is watered by a subterranean canal, which is conveyed to the fields and gardens, and there is a considerable stream that waters the city and the villages about it—this stream is named Saka. In all the province of Khorasan there is not any city larger than Nishapur, nor any blessed with a more pure and temperate air." No doubt it was some of these gardens that called forth Omar's encomiums.

But it is in the Kufríya, or antinomian quatrains, and in the Munáját, or pious aspirations, that the most remarkable and characteristic features of Omar's poetry are exhibited. The glaring contrast between these two classes of his poetry has led his readers to take very opposite views of him, according as they looked at one or the other side of the shield. European critics, like his contemporaries, mostly consider him an infidel and a voluptuary "of like mind with Sardanapalus." On the other hand, the Sufis have contrived to affix mystical and devotional meanings even to his most Epicurean quatrains; and this method of interpretation is nowadays as universally accepted in Persia and India as the mystical interpretation of the Canticles is in Europe. But neither of these views can be accepted in its entirety. Even if the Sufi symbolism had been definitely formulated as early as Omar's time, which is very doubtful, common sense would forbid us to force a devotional meaning on the palpably Epicurean quatrains; and, on the other hand, unless we are prepared to throw over the authority of all the MSS., including the most ancient ones, we must reckon with the obviously mystical and devotional quatrains. The essential contradiction in the tone and temper of these two sections of Omar's poetry cannot be glossed over, but imperatively calls for explanation.

His poems were obviously not all written at one period of his life, but from time to time, just as circumstance and mood suggested, and under the influence of the thoughts, passions and desires which happened to be uppermost at the moment. It may be that the irreligious and Epicurean quatrains were written in youth, and the Munáját in his riper years. But this hypothesis seems to be disproved by Sharastani's account of him, which is quite silent as to any such conversion or change of sentiment on his part and also by the fact that he describes himself from first to last as a "Dipsychus" in grain, a halter between two opinions, and an "Acrates," or backslider, in his practice.

If his poems be considered not in the abstract, but in the light of history, taking into account his mental pedigree and his intellectual surroundings, a more plausible explanation of his inconsistencies readily presents itself. In his youth, as we know, he sat at the feet of the Suni theologian Imam Muaffik, and he was then no doubt thoroughly indoctrinated with the great Semitic conception of the One God, or, to use the expressive term of Muhammadan theology, "the Only Real Agent" (Fa'il i Hakíkí). To minds dominated by the overwhelming sense of Almighty Power, everywhere present and working, there seems no room for Nature, or human will, or chance, or any other Ahriman whatsoever, to take the responsibility of all the evils in the world, the storms and the earthquakes, the Borgias and the Catilines. The "Only Real Agent" has to answer for all. In the most ancient document of Semitic religious speculation now extant, the Book of Job, we find expostulations of the boldest character addressed to the Deity for permitting a righteous man to be stricken with unmerited misfortunes, though the writer ultimately concludes in a spirit of pious agnosticism and resignation to the inscrutable dispensations of Providence. In the book of Ecclesiastes, again, the same problems are handled, but in a somewhat different temper. The "weary king Ecclesiast" remarks that there is one event to all, to him that sacrificeth and him that sacrificeth not—that injustice and wrong seem eternally triumphant, that God has made things crooked, and none can make them straight; and concludes now in favour of a sober "carpe diem" philosophy, now in favour of a devout "fear of the Lord." Of course the manner in which the serious Hebrew handles these matters is very different from the levity and flippancy of the volatile Persian, but it can hardly be denied that the Ecclesiast and Omar resemble one another in the double and contradictory nature of their practical conclusions.

No sooner was Islam established than the same problem of the existence of evil in the handiwork of the Almighty Author and Governor of all began to trouble the Moslem theologians, and by their elaboration of the doctrine of Predestination they managed to aggravate its difficulties. One of the chief "roots" of their discussions was how to reconcile the Divine justice and benevolence with the Divine prescience,—the predestination of some vessels to honour, and others to dishonour,—the pre-ordainment of all things by a kind of mechanical necessity (Jabr), leaving no possibility of the occurrence of any events except those which actually do occur. The consideration of one corollary of a similar doctrine moved the pious and gentle Cowper to use language of indignant dissent; and there is high theological authority for the view that it is calculated "to thrust some into desperation," but to stimulate the piety of others. Omar is constantly dwelling on this doctrine, and he seems to be affected by it in the double way here mentioned.

Other influences which acted on Omar must not be left out of account. Born as he was in Khorásan, "the focus of Persian culture," he was no doubt familiar with speculations of the Moslem philosophers, Alkindi, Alfarabi and Avicenna, the last of whom he may possibly have seen.[7] And though he was not himself a Sufi, in the sense of being affiliated to any of the Sufi orders, he can hardly have been unaffected by the mysticism of which his predecessor in Ruba'i. writing, Abu Sa'id bin Abul Khair, his patron Nizám ul Mulk, and his distinguished countryman Imam Ghazáli were all strong adherents. His philosophical studies would naturally stimulate his sceptical and irreligious dispositions, while his Mystic leanings would operate mainly in the contrary direction.

If this explanation of the inconsistencies in his poetry be correct, it is obvious that the parallel often sought to be traced between him and Lucretius has no existence. Whatever he was, he was not an Atheist. To him, as to other Muhammadans of his time, to deny the existence of the Deity would seem to be tantamount to denying the existence of the world and of himself. And the conception of "laws of nature" was also one quite foreign to his habits of thought. As Deutsch says, "To a Shemite, Nature is simply what has been begotten, and is ruled absolutely by One Absolute Power."

Hammer compares him to Voltaire, but in reality he is a Voltaire and something more. He has much of Voltaire's flippancy and irreverence. His treatment of the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body, for instance, which Muhammad took from Christianity, and travestied by the embellishments he added to it, is altogether in Voltaire's manner. And his insistence on the all importance of kindness and charity recalls the better side of Voltaire's character, viz., his kindness to Calas, and the other victims of ecclesiastical persecution. But Omar also possessed, what Voltaire did not, strong religious emotions, which at times overrode his rationalism, and found expression in those devotional and Mystical quatrains, which offer such a strong contrast to the rest of his poetry.

This introduction is already longer than I intended. but I must not omit to acknowledge my obligations to former editors and tranlators—mr. Blockmann, M. Nicholas, Mr. Fitzgerald and Herr Bodenstedt, to all of whom I am indebted for many hints. I have also derived much assistance from articles on Omar in the Calcutta Review, vol xxx., and in Fraser for May 1879. I have also to thank Professor Cowell for kindly lending me some of the materials for the text, and Dr. Ethé and M. Fagnan for information about the MSS. of Omar in London, Oxford and Paris.

  1. This passage is preserved in Mirkhond's History of the Assassins, in Khondemir's Habíb us Siyar, and in the Dabistán. It is given in full in Notices et Extraits des MSS., ix. 143.
  2. See Vuller's Geschichte cler Seldschuken, p. 107, note.
  3. See Reinaud, Geographie d'Abulfeda, Prolegomena, p. ci.
  4. See Haarbrücher's translation of the Kitab al Milal uam Hihal, Preface, p. xi.
  5. See Schmölders, Essai sur les ecoles philosophiques chez les Arabes, p. 115. Ghazzáli was born in 450.
  6. See Defrémery, Recherches sur le regne de Barkiárok, p. 51.
  7. Avicenna died in 428 A.H.