The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is so-named from the Persian word rubáiyát – a Persian word denoting a specific type of four-line stanza. Omar’s Rubaiyat is a beautiful anthology of Islamic wisdom literature: originally penned in medieval Persian during the late 11th century AD.
The best known English translations are those by Edward Fitzgerald: his fifth (and last) translation includes a mere 101 quatrains – a fraction of Omar’s original work. Fitzgerald’s selection loosely groups quatrains by theme; rendering quatrains into English as four-line, rhymed stanzas.
Omar’s writings are pervaded by the consciousness of the transient quality of life. In his Rubáiyát, the author ponders the limits of human knowledge and morality: and confronts his readers point-blank with the difficult questions that challenge every generation:
– what are the ultimate benefits – if any – to be derived from human knowledge?
– given human mortality; is is best to guide our lives by the dictates of reason, or sensuality?
– what happens to my soul when I die?
– why did God – the Creator – give me existence?