We have received this message from Garry Garrard about a book we hadn’t heard of before, and which sounds of great interest to anyone who wants to get a better background on the world from which the Rubaiyat comes.
Have you come across a book titled Persia through Writers’ Eyes? It’s a fairly bulky paperback (c 400 pages) that includes extracts from just about everyone who has written about Persia/Iran, all the usual suspects and many others that are new to me. It starts with Aeschylus, Herodotus and other classic Greeks, goes through Marco Polo and various travellers between 1500 and 1800, then George Curzon and Gertrude Bell in the 19th century before concluding with Harold Nicholson, Vita Sackville-West, Freya Stark, Robert Byron and John Simpson (including his account of his journey from Paris to Tehran with Ayatollah Khomeini). There are many more names that I haven’t mentioned.
The extracts are all chosen to be interesting, and you can dip in and out as you like. I can thoroughly recommend it as an addition to any shelf with Persian content. Edited by David Blow it was published by Eland in 2007, ISBN 978 0955010 55 2. You can get it currently through Amazon for £10.30
On May 18th 1048, the historical Omar Khayyam was born in Nishapur, in the east of present day Iran. So today would be his 965th birthday. It is an occasion for all of us to celebrate his life and his link, what ever it may be, with the verses of the Rubaiyat which have come down to us, and give us so much stimulus and pleasure.
We hope that you will be able to mark the day in an appropriate and special way. We also send greetings to our friends in Iran on what they have nominated as Omar Khayyam Day.
David Calderisi draws attention to an unusual literary spin-off from FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.*
Of the many, many extant editions of Khayyam verses, some are magnificent, some exquisite, some provide a deeper insight into the material, some are parodies, and some are simply curious. Omar Khayyam Revisited falls, I think, into the last category.
The book was published in 1974 by Lyle Stuart Inc. of New Jersey. It contains twenty-one pen-and-ink sketches by David Stone Martin. The author is given as Hakim Yama Khayyam. The first line of the two-page introduction reads: “In the days of my progenitor, Omar the Tentmaker, people smoked hashish to relax and be sociable.”
Google gives us the following: 1) Hakim Yama Khayyam is a pseudonym for Joachim Yama Hurst, born in 1920 and died in 2008; 2) An article in The Evening Independent of St. Petersburg, Florida on November 23, 1973, includes him in a list of honorable mentions regarding a poetry contest. His residence is given as Tampa. So far I haven’t managed to learn any more about him, but it seems reasonable to conclude that any genealogical connection with our 12th-century Persian mathematician is entirely fanciful.
The term revisited usually suggests that the reader is likely to discover something new, or at least something that went unnoticed in an earlier reading. Reinforcing that idea, the final paragraph of the introduction reads:
“With apologies to Mr. Edward Fitzgerald (sic) who did the original translation of the Rubaiyat in 1859, I am rewriting some of Mr. Khayyam’s verses the way he would write them, were he alive and living in our society today.”
Sixty-one quatrains are presented. All are modeled on FitzGerald. Most of the rewriting consists of altering the order of the verses, of changing most references to wine to make them refer instead to hashish e.g. “Smoke, for you know not whence you came, nor why; Smoke for you know not why you go, nor where”; and frequently (inexplicably) altering Fitz’s word order to utterly mangle the rhythm. At times the sense of the original is completely misunderstood. The result is decidedly odd, mildly amusing, and often silly. And yet the work can’t be called a parody because it seems to take itself quite seriously.
Here are the first two quatrains:I sent my soul through the invisible, Some letter of that afterlife to spell And by and by my soul returned to me, And answered, “I met Omar Khayyam in hell.” Greetings he sends to those who would despair The problem is not style or length of hair Nor hassle with the question of eternity For your reward is neither here nor there.
So in the end, what do we have? As I suggested earlier — a curiosity. The illustrations by David Stone Martin are evocative and skillful. Yet it’s hard to imagine what prompted the publisher to issue the book. At the same time, the work isn’t altogether offensive and, in its own way, it is somehow charming. So I’m not displeased to have it in my modest collection of Omariana.
For more information about David Calderisi, and his performance of The Rubaiyat, have a look at his website, http://www.okdac.net/.
The latest issue (no 7) of Indiran, the newsletter of the Ancient India and Iran Trust in Cambridge, contains an article by the Trust’s administrator Dr Anna Collar entitled The Rose of Yesterday. A Short History of the Rose of Omar Khayyam. In the article, she outlines the links between the Persian poet/astronomer and one or more roses and the way the story of their association has developed and been embellished over the years. A rose with the name Omar Khayyam is now sold in the UK by Peter Beales Roses, and an example of this, given by Bill Martin and Sandra Mason, has been planted in the Trust’s garden to commemorate the Rubaiyat and FitzGerald anniversaries of 2009.
To read the full article see http://indiairantrust.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/downsized-indiran.pdf . Don’t be put off by the download time. This is a big file but the contents of the newsletter are well worth looking at.
When you happen to be in Singapore early May, you might want to attend a dance performance by Raka Maitra, based on FitzGerald’s translation. In this production, the dancers’ bodies converse with the sea of ideas that Khayyam sets adrift in his work. Using techniques of odissi and contemporary vocabularies drawn from Indian movement traditions, they manifest many reflections of his poetry through the body. Music influenced by Sufism and inflected by Hindustani classicism carry forth the journey of the dancer and the experience of the spectator. (from the SISTIC website).
The event takes place 3-4 May, in the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Read more on their website.
Coindicence or not, hundred and ten years ago, a pantomime performance by Genevieve Stebbins was published, featuring Marie G. Macdonald posing to a selection of quatrains from the Rubáiyát. The booklet that was issued in 1903, showed a number of pictures illustrating the poses, including director’s instructions on how to move from one pose to the next one. Almost as if in a dance in slow motion.
The instructions read:
“A book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou
[Picture IV: Sink on left knee, recline on left thigh.]
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
[Picture V: Push up on left arm and raise right arm obliquely forward for jug, head in same direction]
The booklet also contains the score of a “Rubaiyat Nocturne”, unfortunately without the composer’s name.
Back in October 2012, on this blog, Bob Forrest posed a question about the meaning and sources of the note to quatrain 1 of FitzGerald’s first edition, which suggests that “Flinging a Stone into the Cup was the Signal for ‘To Horse!’ in the Desert.”. There were several responses to the post at the time, and, since then, an informal research group of Bob Forrest (using the John Rylands Library in Manchester), Garry Garrard (in the London Library), and ourselves (in the Cambridge University Library), have been following up various leads on the topic. We posted an update on the subject in December 2012. Here is a further report on the quest, which has led us into rather murky waters, and severely tested our combined linguistic skills. Links to the two early posts are shown at the end of this note.
First, there needs to be a correction to the December post, specifically to item 4 which refers to ‘a publication by Iohannes Augustus Vullers in 1833, entitled Chrestomathia Schahnamiana’. This reference was incorrect. That title exists, but the volume we consulted was actually Vullers’ Lexicon Persico-Latinum which was published in two volumes in 1855 and 1864 respectively. The information regarding the meaning of the word mohreh, which is as described in the earlier post, is contained in the second volume dated 1864.
Vullers’ Lexicon refers to ‘throwing a stone into a cup as a signal for action’ as being an ancient Persian custom. Among the sources he references is Borhani qatiu which we have identified in the following printed version: Boorhani Qatiu, A Dictionary of the Persian Language explained in Persian … with an appendix … and Persian Notes, edited by Thomas Roebuck, Calcutta, at the Hindoostanee Press, 1818. The entry for mohreh in this volume contains the Persian phrase ‘throwing a stone into a cup’ but the explanation for it (as far as we have deciphered it so far) describes the custom as being that ‘when the emperor travelled, a stone was thrown in a resonant metal cup on the back of an elephant, and the loud noise gave a signal of departure’.
This explanation ties up with the similar mention of an elephant in E B Cowell’s annotation in his copy of Richardson’s Dictionary (see point 3 in the earlier post). But we have not so far found any mention that clarifies Johnson’s reference to the stone in the cup as ‘a signal for mounting on horseback’ which is probably the source of FitzGerald’s use of the phrase ‘To Horse’ in his note to Quatrain 1 in the first edition.
So where are we now? It is clear that there is some basis in the studies of old customs for the idea of a stone making a noise in a cup as being a sign for action, probably departure. But we are far from having a definitive description of this practice. The sources we have looked at would bear more detailed examination by someone with better skills in reading Persian and Latin text. We hope there may be someone out there who might be willing to do this? Meanwhile we can at least say that FitzGerald has some basis for his note, even if his ‘To Horse’ is, typically, a rather free interpretation of the custom in question
First post October 15 2012 - http://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/a-query-about-quatrain-one-what-does-the-stone-signify/
Second post December 11 2012 – http://omarkhayyamrubaiyat.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/more-on-the-puzzle-about-quatrain-one-what-does-the-stone-signify/