Omar Khayyam was a Persian astronomer, writer, poet and mathematician renowned in Iran for his scientific achievements.
English-speaking readers know of his extraordinary work through the translation of his collection of hundreds of quatrains (or rubais) in Rubaiyat, an 1859 work on the “the Astronomer-Poet of Persia”.
In his honour, Google has changed its logo into a dedicated animation, or doodle, in 17 countries with an image highlighting Khayyam and his most important achievements.
But in his lifetime, the scientist and writer was not always appreciated for his work.
This is his story:
Khayyam’s father was Ebrahim Khayyami, a wealthy physician, his mother’s name remains unknown.
His origins are still unclear but some authors have argued that Omar’s father earned a living by being a merchant and making tents, as his last name means tent-maker.
Khayyam’s received a thorough education in science, philosophy and mathematics.
In 1066, when Khayyam celebrated his 18th birthday, his father Ebrahim died just a few months before his tutor’s death.
It is presumed that due to his relationship with Tahir, ruler Shams al-Mulk distinctively regarded Omar with esteem.
He remained in Iran for the next 18 years, where he was paid an extraordinary high salary and enjoyed a privileged lifestyle.
During this time the scientist measured the length of a year – tropical year length – with remarkable precision.
Recalibrating the calendar fixed the first day of the year at the exact moment of the passing of the Sun’s centre across the equinox.
This calendar was used until the 20th century in Iran, he is also believed to have built models illustrating the theory of the Earth’s revolution on its axis.
His memory was prodigious, according to Omar’s contemporary biographer, al-Bayhaqi.
According to the author he was able to memorise a whole book after reading it several times, when he returned the book, the scientist was able to rewrite it from memory showing remarkable resemblance.
During Sultan Malik Shah’s life both shared a great relationship however his luck changed when his successor, Sultan Sanjar entered to power.
Upon Malik Shah’s death, Khayyam had fallen from favour at court and funding for raising the observatory eventually finished.
Among his other contributions, Khayyam is also best know for his work as a poet.
The Rubaiyat was his collection of hundreds of quatrains, and it was first translated from Farsi to English in 1859 by Edward Fitzgerald.
Some scholars believed that the scientist and author penned around 150 of the quatrains, other writers after him are thought to have contributed to the remainder.
Beyond the earth, beyond the farthest skies I try to find Heaven and Hell. Then I hear a solemn voice that says: 'Heaven and hell are inside.'
He died in Nishapur at the age of 83, on December 4, 1131. From an account of Nizami Arudi, a Persian poet, Omar used to say that his “grave will be in a spot where the trees will shed their blossoms on me twice a year”.
According to the narration the blossoms completely covered the tombstone.
Not enough is known about Khayyam’s life but he is believed to have had a wife and two children; a boy and a girl.