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FitzGerald or Fitz-Omar

July 11, 2012

In a recent article, published in English Language and Literature Studies, Shilan Shafiei examines whether FitzGerald’s translation of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat does justice to the true philosophical/ideological image of Khayyam and his poems. His approach is based on Zauberga’s ideological manipulation theory as theoretical framework. The quatrains in the first version (1859) are compared with the collection established by Furughi and Ghani (1942) and the quatrains published by Yogananda (1994). The analysis was directed to those cases of manipulation that constitute Zauberga’s theory: deletion, addition, substitution and attenuation. A second perspective was to examine the role of FitzGerald’s ‘post-colonial’ attitudes and beliefs towards Khayyam, and the Persians in general.

The question whether FitzGerald “distorted Khayyam’s true image”, as Shafiei concludes, is not new, and neither is the answer. The method and process of the analysis however are rather interesting, as far as I can see. Nevertheless, in my view the conclusion can not be that FitzGerald distorted Khayyam’s ‘true’ image, as we do no know for sure what that image really was.

FitzGerald or Fitz-Omar: Ideological Reconsideration of the English Translation of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat.
Shilan Shafiei
English Language and Literature Studies Vol. 2, No. 1; March 2012, pp. 128-140
DOI: 10.5539/ells.v2n1p128
Online available at:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2012 1:43 pm

    The suggestion that FitzGerald ‘distorted’ the original material will probably never go away. During the Q&A following a recent performance of my Khayyam ‘show’, one member of the audience wanted to discuss the piece in light of Edward Said’s concept of “orientalism”, particularly the idea that Western (colonial)cultures created a fictional entity they called the Orient which is responsible for many harmful stereotypes still held in contemporary times. I was pleased, and a little relieved, when another member of the audience, an elderly Iranian with the grave bearing of a scholar, said that having studied both the original material and FitzGerald’s rendering very closely for years he believed that FitzGerald had captured the spirit of the original with astonishing accuracy.

  2. July 17, 2012 3:42 pm

    Thanks for alerting us to this article, which we have finally had time to read. The analysis is interesting, though we agree with Jos’ comment that the author ignores the question of whether or not there was a historical Khayyam who actually wrote any verses. The emphasis of the article seems to be on trying to prove that Khayyam (if he existed) was a ’true muslim’ poet, and that FitzGerald’s agnostic interpretation was a distortion of the Persian verses. To our knowledge there are many Iranians who take a very different view of the Khayyamic position, like the scholarly gentleman at David’s performance.

    The thing we find irritating about the article is the analytical terminology which seems to imply that the changes made by FitzGerald (and other translators) were impelled by a deliberate desire to push forward a set of cultural values (colonial, orientalist, superior feeling etc). Since all communication (even the non verbal) is influenced by the cultural values of the communicator, it is not possible to avoid these values having an impact. But we are sure the EFG’s prime intention was to convey in the best English poetry that he could, what he saw to be the message of the Persian verses that he had in front of him – no more, and no less. The views about Persia and the Persians that he expressed in his letters are something else, and very typical of the period.

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