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Response to Garry – Is this Omar Khayyam – or not?

June 28, 2013

Bob Forrest has responded below to Garry Garrard’s earlier post –  for the original see

img607In response to Garry Garrard’s interesting quote from The Golden Pomegranate, F.P.Weber, in his book Aspects of Death and Correlated Aspects of Life in Art, Epigram and Poetry (1922), p.658ff, describes a number of Graeco-Roman clay drinking vessels adorned with dancing skeletons bearing festive garlands of flowers, musical instruments, wine-jars etc, which are generally thought to have an Epicurean “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die” significance. [See illustration.] I am not sure that the clay is necessarily symbolically significant here, as Weber describes other vessels of the same type made of glass and silver, so that clay might here simply represent the cheapest available material. But it is an intriguing possibility, given the likes of the following epigram, dating from about 90 BC, from The Greek Anthology. The translation is that of W.R.Paton (Loeb, 1919):

“Give me the sweet beaker wrought of earth, earth from which I was born, and under which I shall lie when dead.” (11.43)

For those readers experiencing déjà vu at this point, this, with other Omarian “wine, women and song” parallels from Classical times, featured in my response to Jos Couman’s interesting piece “The Caliph behind Khayyam”, in the November 2012 section of this blog. But there are many others: FitzOmar’s “leaves of life keep falling one by one” has an antecedent in Homer’s Iliad (6.146ff), for example, most neatly captured in Pope’s translation; and “millions of bubbles like us” has an antecedent in Lucian’s Dialogues (Charon, or the Inspectors, section 19.) These and others will feature on my forthcoming website.

It would be interesting to compile an archive of Omarian parallels. I am sure that everybody reading this will have their own favourites, ancient and modern, not necessarily known to the rest of us, so it would be interesting to pool resources. (I recently found some ‘modern’ gems in “The Pall Mall Magazine” of the later 1890s and early 1900s, for example; and the ancient Egyptian god Khnum, who fashioned mankind on a potter’s wheel, may well yield some ancient antecedents for the Kuza Nama in Egyptian literature.)

Finally, where is Green Len’s contribution from, or is it an original composition ?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Green Len permalink
    June 30, 2013 8:22 am

    Green Len or Len Green as I prefer to be called pleads mea culpa; these quatrains were penned off-the-cuff as it were as a paraphrase of the lines submitted to enquiry. The following four quatrains also by me appear in my recent publication ” Rose Bay Rubaiyat”

    Fingers Keep Moving

    FitzGerald and Nicolas, having breached the barrier of Persian language ignorance by Europeans, opened the flood-gates allowing the rest of the world – for better or for worse – to catch up. Omar might have suggested:

    When moving fingers grasp their nimble quills
    Steadfastly, with diverse degrees of skills
    They move on to translate and paraphrase
    Thus adding grist and gusto to their mills.

    These dab hand, dactyl die hards having writ,
    Show no desire to tarry, much less quit,
    But carry on with ready rhyming rounds
    Regardless of their piety or wit.

    Sometimes one wishes they would realign,
    Then pause to cancel maybe half a line
    Of their vast store or Omarish quatrains.
    If only for the sake of auld lang syne.*

    * from the old Scottish song, translatIng as: “times gone by.”

    • Bob Forrest permalink
      July 5, 2013 9:17 am

      Thanks, Len – I guessed that Green Len was not so much an environmentalist as a name reversal after seeing a note on your book in Omariana just after posting my response to Garry! At that point, too, I figured that your verses were probably from the book, but when I went to try and buy a copy, I couldn’t find it on sale in any of the usual outlets that I use. Is it only available direct from you or what ?

  2. Bob Forrest permalink
    July 8, 2013 12:09 pm

    In my earlier response to Garry I raised the issue of ancient antecedents for FitzOmar. Here is one that may be of interest to readers of this blog. It comes from the ancient Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates from around 2000 BC.

    In the Epic, the hero Gilgamesh has led a life untouched by Death until his brother-like friend and companion Enkidu dies, At this point Gilgamesh becomes obsessed by death, and sets out on a quest for immortality. After various adventures, Gilgamesh reaches the Garden of the Gods, which is located by an Ocean, “the Waters of Death”, beyond which lives Utnapishtim, the only mortal ever granted eternal life by the gods. Now comes the bit of the story which is of the greatest interest for Omarians: in the Garden of the Gods, Gilgamesh.meets Siduri, “the woman of the vine, the maker of wine”, who addresses him thus (I here quote the old Penguin Classics translation by N.K.Sandars, page numbers referring to the 1966 edition.):

    “Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to ? You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.” (p.99)

    Now of course it is difficult for us today to know the precise significance, to the Babylonians, of the presence in this part of the story of Siduri, “the woman of the vine, the maker of wine”, for she is also a goddess of wisdom, but clearly there are some very tempting possibilities for Omarians! Incidentally, in “Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament”, edited by J.B.Pritchard (1969), p.89-90 she is Siduri “the ale-wife”, as she is in Silvestro Fiore’s “Voices from the Clay” (1956), p.177-8. In the more recent (2003) Penguin Classics edition of the Epic, translated by Andrew George, she is Shiduri “a tavern keeper” (p.76). But it is clear that whatever translation one uses, drink is associated with a carpe diem approach to mortality: “Drink! – for once dead you never shall return.”

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