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Who first used the word “rubaiyat”?

November 1, 2016

David Calderisi has sent us the following basic question.

Who first used the word “rubaiyat”? Was it FitzGerald? If so, where did he get it? Did he invent it? Is the word used in the title of the Ouseley manuscript? Or in any other compilation.

Our immediate reaction is that we have to distinguish between the general use of  the term rubaiyat in Persian poetry and its application to a collection of verses attributed to Omar Khayyam, either in Persian or in some other language.  On the first issue, we know that the word rubai (one quatrain) dates back to the 10th century CE and is attributed to the Persian poet Rudaki.  We need to do more research to establish the first use of the plural word rubaiyat for a collection of verses or in connection with Khayyam, and we hope there are some readers who already know the answers?

Please add your comments below.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2016 12:55 am

    Because Khayyâm left no collection of poems, no divân, there would be no manuscript or edition to group robâ`i attributed to him under a section-heading robâ`iyât. In modern texts, we do often see editors grouping, say, Hafez’ ghazals under the title ghazaliyât, and his masnavi as masnaviyât, and even quatrains or robâ`is attributed to Khayyâm as robâ`iyât. This –iyyât (or simply –iyât) feminine plural morpheme, as J.T.P. de Bruijn refers to it, apparently existed in older manuscripts: de Bruijn, ‘In early manuscripts, the term ghazaliyyât occurs as the heading of a section with “poems of love,” which are not necessarily restricted to the form of the classical Persian ghazal.’* But I have no idea just how early the designation robâ`iyât. It would be exciting if FitzGerald was the first “modern” to use the Persian plural robâ`iyât and transform it into Rubáiyát! Did Cowell give him the idea? I’d like to look further. Surely someone must have the answer.
    *See de Bruijn’s article in the first volume of A History of Persian Literature (a volume which he edited), p. 374)

  2. November 11, 2016 4:46 pm

    We have had support for Barney’s comment and our own earlier reactions that the term rubai has been in use for many centuries and rubaiyat is simply the usual plural form, which was probably also widely used. This is further confirmed by a look at the Ouseley MS of 1460 (in Heron-Allen’s reproduction and transcription of 1898) which, on the final page has the phrase ‘tamat al-rubaiyat’ or ‘end of the quatrains’. Although Heron-Allen shows a decorative version in Farsi script of ‘Rubaiyat Hakim Omar Khayyam’ at the start of his transcription, we cannot find this in the images from the MS.
    However, the copy of the Ouseley MS made by E B Cowell and given to FitzGerald in 1856 is clearly headed (in Farsi) Rubaiyat Hakim Omar Khayyam. Cowell presumably added this title, but beneath this (in English) he put ‘The Tetrastichs of Omar Khayyam of Nishapur ….’ It may therefore be Edward FitzGerald who was the first person to use the English title of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam on his first edition in 1859. But this is a very tentative conclusion, and we should very much like to see the views of other experts on this subject.

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