18 May 2019
Khayyam was a Persian astronomer, writer, poet and mathematician renowned in
Iran for his scientific achievements.
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".
honour, Google has changed its logo into a dedicated animation, or doodle, in
17 countries with an image highlighting Khayyam and his most important
But in his
lifetime, the scientist and writer was not always appreciated for his work.
Khayyam was born on May 18 in the trading city of Nishapur in what today is
known as Iran in the year 1048.
father was Ebrahim Khayyami, a wealthy physician, his mother's name remains
are still unclear but some authors have argued that Omar's father earned a
living by being merchant and making tents, as his last name means tent-maker.
family were Muslims, but his father was perceived as non-strict, he soon
employed mathematician Bahmanyar bin Marzban, a devotee of the ancient Persian
religion or Zoroastrianism, to tutor Omar.
received a thorough education in science, philosophy and mathematics.
when Khayyam celebrated his 18th birthday, his father Ebrahim died just a few
months before his tutor's death.
events marked the end of an era in the young pupil's life, and after putting
his family's affairs in order, he moved on.
Of A Scientist
joined one of the regular caravans making a three-month journey from Nishapur
to the city of Samarkand, which is now in Uzbekistan.
Samakarn, he showed a remarkable interest in mathematics, by writing treatises
on arithmetic, algebra, and music theory under the patronage of chief justice
Abu Tahir, who was also his father's friend, and who noticed Khayyam's
extraordinarily talent with numbers.
presumed that due to his relationship with Tahir, ruler Shams al-Mulk
distinctively regarded Omar with esteem.
to reports the ruler used to show him the greatest honour, so much so that he
would make Khayyam sit next to him on his divan.
was still at Shams al-Muk's court around 1073 when peace was concluded with
Sultan Malik Shah, who had earlier invaded the territory.
It was then at the age of 26 that Khayyam
entered Malik Shah's service and when he was invited to go back to Iran to
build an observatory at Isfahan and reform the Persian calendar.
lifestyle in Iran
in Iran for the next 18 years, where he was paid an extraordinary high salary
and enjoyed a privileged lifestyle.
time the scientist measured the length of a year - tropical year length - with
the calendar fixed the first day of the year at the exact moment of the passing
of the Sun's centre across the equinox.
introduced Khayyam's calendar, the Jalali calendar, on March 15, 1079, the
scientist was 31 years old,
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.
biographical extracts refer to him as unequalled in scientific knowledge and
achievement during his time.
was prodigious, according to Omar's contemporary biographer, al-Bayhaqi.
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.
He was also
a well-established mathematician, and his surviving mathematical works include:
A commentary in the difficulties concerning the postulates of Euclid's
Elements, on the division of a quadrant of a circle, and on proofs for problems
Sultan Malik Shah's life both shared a great relationship however his luck
changed when his successor, Sultan Sanjar entered to power.
Sanjar did not favour the scientist, it seems that Omar offended Sanjar while
he was still a child, and he was never forgiven.
Shah's death, Khayyam had fallen from favour at court and funding for raising
the observatory eventually finished.
He went on
a pilgrimage to Mecca and visited Baghdad. In his return he retired to
Nishapur, where he appeared to have lived the life of a recluse.
Among his other contributions, Khayyam is also
best known for his work as a poet.
Rubaiyat was his collection of hundreds of quatrains, and it was first
translated from Farsi to English in 1859 by Edward Fitzgerald.
celebrated the pleasures of life while illuminating the nuanced political and
religious context in which they were created.
scholars believed that the scientist and author penned around 150 of the
quatrains; other writers after him are thought to have contributed to the
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".
visited Nishapur about four years after Omar's death, he searched for Omar's
grave, it was exactly at the spot where Omar had predicted.
to the narration the blossoms completely covered the tombstone.
the Shah of Iran ordered Khayyam's grave exhumed and his remains moved to a
mausoleum in Nishapur where tourists could pay their respects.
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.