Omar Khayyam’s Bible for drunkards

Robert Irwin on The Wine of Wisdom: The life, poetry and philosophy of Omar Khayyam by Mehdi Aminrazavi, in the Times Literary Supplement:

KhayyamSince the Rubáiyat was a kind of Bible for freethinkers, materialists and sensualists, FitzGerald’s translation attracted much criticism from Christian quarters. Edward Byles Cowell, the illustrious Sanskritologist and Persianist, who had first got FitzGerald interested in Persian and provided him with a key manuscript of quatrains attributed to Khayyam, strongly disapproved of the creed of the Rubáiyat: “I admire Omar as I admire Lucretius, but I cannot take him as a guide. In these grave matters I prefer to go to Nazareth, not to Naishapur”. Matthew Arnold, who thought that poetry should conduce to virtuous living, was shocked by the poem’s hedonism. Robert Browning also disapproved and wrote “Rabbi Ben Ezra” as a versified retort. Chesterton judged the Rubáiyat to be brilliant, but evil and “a thing unfit for a white man, a thing like opium”. He thought that the poem was a sad thing and he went on to argue that one should only drink when happy. However, American temperance groups campaigned against the Rubáiyat as “a Bible for drunkards”.

Mehdi Aminrazavi’s The Wine of Wisdom, though it is centrally concerned with the Persian quatrains known as the Rubáiyat, also covers Omar’s career as a mathematician, astronomer and philosopher as well as his poetry in Arabic.

More here.