Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Omar

Hakim Omar Khayyam was born at sunrise on Wednesday May 18 in the year 1048 C.E. at Nishapur. As befitting a sage who mastered astronomy and reformed the calendar, it took a detailed analysis of the stellar and planetary positions described in the horoscope cast at his birth to arrive at this information. This analysis was only accomplished in the twentieth century. Prior to this time even the exact year of Omar’s birth remained in doubt. Details of the analysis as well as an astrological life sketch based on this horoscope are presented in “The Nectar of Grace: ‘Omar Khayyam’s Life and Works” by Swami Govinda Tirtha published in Kitabistan, Allahabad, India by the Government Central Press, Hyderabad-Dn. in 1941. This beautiful labor of love is by far the most comprehensive treatment of the life and works of Omar Khayyam that I have ever come across. This unique and valuable resource is little known in the United States and is difficult to locate.


Omar is primarily known in the West today for his poetry; usually Edward FitzGerald’s 1859 presentation (rather than translation) which introduced the Rubaiyat to the English speaking world. However, such was the not at all the case during his lifetime. Not until two centuries after Omar’s death did a few quatrains appear under his name. He was known in his own time as a sage, scholar, Hakim (wise man) who had mastered virtually all branches of knowledge of his time – astronomy, astrology, mathematics, medicine, physics, philosophy, religion, jurisprudence - am I leaving anything out? He was a pioneer of free expression, deplored hypocrisy, most certainly was not a drunkard or libertine, and is reported to have had a truly astounding memory!

I sent my soul into the invisible,
Some letter of that after life to spell.
And by and by my soul returned to me
And answered, I myself am heaven and hell.

Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
"Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry."

~ verses from the Rubaiyat

Omar’s revision of the calendar in 1079 C.E. to yield the Jalaali calendar (named after Jalaal-ol-Din Malek -shaah-e Saljuqi, the ruler who commissioned the calendar revision and was Omar’s patron) is accurate to one day in 3770 years, which is superior to the Julian calendar, and was only approached by the Gregorian calendar which we use today. The Gregorian calendar is named after Pope Gregory XIII who introduced the latest changes in 1582 C.E., over 500 years after Omar’s work. The Jalaali calender is a very natural solar calendar based on the spring eqinox as the start of the new year (Norooz). If the exact time of the spring equinox event (Saal-Tahveel) occurs before midday Teheran time that day is 1 Farvardin (new year), otherwise the following day is 1 Farvardin and the preceding month of Esfand is extended by one day.

In mathematics, Omar developed means of solving cubic equations (he identified 13 distinct cases) using an ingenious selection of conic sections. He demonstrated cubic equations that have two solutions, but did not seem to realize that a cubic can have three solutions. He discoursed on the significance of Euclid’s controversial 5thpostulate (the parallel postulate), although he did not grasp that this postulate can be both true and not true – each assumption leading to a valid (i.e. fully consistent) geometry. Omar also seems to have been the first to develop the binomial theorem and determine the binomial coefficients for the case where the exponent is a positive integer.

After a long life filled with accomplishments, honors, and disappointments too, Omar died in Nishapur on Thursday March 23, 1122 C.E. (12 Moharram, 516 AH) at the age of 73. Some references give the year of Omar’s death as 1131 C.E.; however, I’m going to follow Tirtha on this one because I find a depth in his research generally unmatched by others. Omar never married and insofar as we know had no children.

~ Donn A. Allen


Happy walker said...
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