Omar Khayyam (209) “those oceans of learning never…”

Those oceans of learning and culture
          who burned with the light 
of science in their day,
                  never found an exit 
                            from this pitch-dark
They delivered themselves of some fables, 
            then fell deep asleep.

Translated by Juan Cole
from Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, [pdf] Whinfield 209

4 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    Is there an interpetation of this profound sentiment?

    Is it an epitaph for the caliphate?

  2. Dear EuroFrank,

    As an Iranian I grew up with Khayyam but this interesting question never accrued to me. However, I really don’t see a connection here. He sure ridiculed Islamic thoughts and ideologies, Especially clergymen, but as far as I know he never had a reasoning with Caliphate of the time. Mainly because Turk dynasties were more powerful at the time.

  3. The line “dar jam’e kamal sham’e ashab shodand” (In the circle of perfection [of wisdom] they shone like candles among apostles” may be an oblique reference to the Prophet Muhammad, because ashab or sahaba are terms that are used to refer to the Prophet’s companions. So, the line is not only a reference to scholars and scientists, but Khayyam means to say that even the prophets did not find a way out of this “dark night” (shab-e tarik), but delivered some myths and fell deep asleep.

    • The first line makes it clear he is talking about learned and cultured persons, not prophets. Fotzgerald was wrong.

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