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Some things to go on the Rubaiyat themed trays

May 31, 2017

In response to the recent exchanges on Rubaiyat themed trays (see, Fred Diba has sent us an image of something that might be placed on such a tray, plus of course at least a couple of glasses.  Since the label on the bottle is difficult to photograph properly, he has transcribed the content as follows.

Barranco Oscuro presents
de Omar Khayyam

“En una taberna, pedi​ a un viejo sabio
que me informara sobre la suerte de aquellos que ya han partido
Me respondió:
Ya no volverán. Es todo lo que sé. ¡Bebe vino!

It is a bottle from the winery Barranco Oscuro (2008), produced in Navarra, Spain.  A look at their website suggests that for each year’s label their choose a different quatrain to put on the label – see .

Fred also draws readers attention to an alternative source of Rubaiyat vintage – the Rubaiyat Vineyard in Sonoma, CA: .

We can add to this collection two bottles, one each from Egypt and India, which we have received, and drunk, in recent years.  The relevant labels are shown below.

The Rubaiyats of John Buckland Wright (1897–1954) and Anthony Reid (1916–2003)

May 24, 2017

Bob Forrest has been investigating John Buckland Wright and his illustrations of the Rubaiyat which were published by the famous Golden Cockerel Press in 1938.  In the process he has discovered fascinating comments by the artist on his approach to this work,  and various other details of additional illustrations for the poem that Buckland Wright created.  This work has led Bob on to look at the life and works of Anthony Reid, who knew Buckland Wright and created an important Check List of his book illustrations.  Reid also produced an unusual Rubaiyat version of his own (see below), possibly based on A J Arberry’s translation of a forged manuscript, published in 1952.

The results of Bob’s extensive research are published on his own website – see word of warning to readers is in order.  As Bob puts it : “If this essay were a film, I would have to warn viewers that it contains ‘Adult Material’.”  Buckland Wright’s main illustrations are just very mildly erotic – we show one example here.  But his additional work is much more explicit in presenting heterosexual love, while Reid’s version is strongly homo-erotic.  What Bob has documented are examples of what may have been a fairly extensive sub-culture in Rubaiyat interpretation and illustrations.  As usual he has put together a very thorough and well researched study.

Omar in the Media: some recent examples from North America

May 22, 2017

When people seek to prove that the Rubaiyat is still alive in popular idiom and culture, the examples of quotes by Martin Luther King and Bill Clinton are often used.  Danton O’Day has sent us two splendid examples of more up to date references to the poem.  He writes as follows.

 Recently Rubáiyát enthusiasts have been working on ways to bring more attention to Edward FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam. It seems that a famous US author might be lending a hand. Over the past several years I’ve noticed with pleasure that James Lee Burke has alluded to content and lines from the poems. In 2014, in his book Wayfaring Stranger, he was more direct with the quote, “Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!” (quatrain 12, 2nd Version). His next book, House of the Rising Sun reflects on the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam as one of the items owned by a lead character who was a soldier in WWI. While this might seem like minor support for the Rubáiyát cause, it is important to recognise just who this author is. James Lee Burke is considered by a multitude of major newspapers, critics and other authors to be America’s best living author. Words like “master”, “genius” and “American treasure” are often used to describe his ability as a writer of fiction about the Detective Dave Robicheaux and a, more or less, historical series on the Holland family. To have someone of his stature mention the Rubáiyát will hopefully encourage some Google enthusiasts to learn more about Fitz and Omar’s poetry.

A second example comes from the world of television.  Of all the nightshirts one might expect the American Secretary of State to wear, it would not be one bearing the image of a skeleton. To be fair, we are talking about the most interesting Secretary of State or, more simply, “Madame Secretary” Elizabeth McCord, wonderfully played by Téa Leone in the eponymous TV drama. On a recent 2017 episode titled “Convergence” she is preparing for bed while talking with her husband. What stands out in this interaction is not her words but the fact she is wearing a nightshirt bearing the image of a skeleton. But not any old skeleton—it is one from the cover of a Grateful Dead album cover. You’d have to be from the same generation as this writer to remember the famous double album from 1971. Known formally as the Skulls and Roses album, it became the band’s first gold album. The cover image of a skeleton with a wreath of roses on its head became an instant classic. While the Grateful Dead gets the credit for the picture, the artist who did the work was Edmund J. Sullivan. He did the picture to illustrate verse 26 from Edward FitzGerald’s first edition.  (Our image is of the Sullivan original.) 

So, the Rubaiyat still lives in the world of 21st century popular culture.  Does anyone else have other examples or quotes to share on this?

New edition of Omariana available

May 22, 2017


A new edition of Omariana, the newsletter produced by Jos Coumans, Secretary of the Netherlands Omar Khayyam Society, is now available.  This is an invaluable compendium of what is new in Khayyam and Rubaiyat studies, and it gives information on forthcoming events and new translations, books, articles and more.  You can subscribe to received successive editions by e-mail.  Just go to , and fill in the form with your details.

Issue number 3 of Spring 2017 contains more information about the programme for the forthcoming Omar Khayyam Research Day being held in Leiden on Saturday 27th May, as well as details of a variety of interesting recently published material.

An item that caught our eyes is an article by Professor Juan Cole entitled The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and Muslim secularism (Studies in People’s History, 3 (2016), Nr. 2, pp. 138-150).*  We are grateful to another Rubaiyat colleague who simultaneously sent us a copy of this paper.  The author discusses possible reasons for the production of collections of verses under the name of Omar Khayyam from the mediaeval period onwards, linking them with elements of Muslim scepticism developing over the period and subsequently.  The new Omariana also contains details of a novel based on the life of Omar Khayyam (currently in German) and a catalogue of audio material which contains various recordings of the Rubaiyat in different translations.

*See for more information.

Omar Khayyam’s birthday has come round again

May 18, 2017



It’s Omar Khayyam Day – today 18th May 2017 is the 969th anniversary of Khayyam’s birth in the city of Nishapur in eastern Iran.  We send greetings to all the people world-wide who value the contributions of Khayyam, still of relevance in the 21st century.  Take a minute to remember a polymath whose work, and that attributed to him, inspired so many others.

Our picture shows an image of ‘Old Khayyam’ created by Maurice Greiffenhagen in 1909.

Why is it a ‘Lizard’ in quatrain 17 of FitzGerald’s first edition?

May 17, 2017

Namdar Fereidooni has just posted the following query as a comment on the Background Page of this blog.  We think his query is an interesting and provoking one.  He writes as follows.

Hello, i wanted to know your opinion on why Mr. Fitzjerald used the word Lizard , in the quatraint about Jamshid’s court?

The quatrain referred to is number 17 in FitzGerald’s first edition.

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshýd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahrám, that great Hunter—the Wild Ass
Stamps o’er his Head, and he lies fast asleep.

According to Heron-Allen (1899), the literal translation of the Persian original, from the Calcutta MS Q99, is the following.

In that palace where Bahrám grasped the wine-cup;
The foxes whelp, and the lions take their rest;
Bahrám who was always catching wild asses,-
To-day behold that the grave has caught Bahrám.

Comparing this literal version with FitzGerald’s verse shows that he turned the original fox(es) (rube in Persian) into a Lizard.  Like Namdar, we wonder why he did this?  The alliteration of ‘Lion and Lizard’ might have been a reason.   It is just possible that the issue arises in one of the many letters in which FitzGerald consults Edward Cowell about the details of translation, but we haven’t had time to look yet.  Incidentally a quick look at Jos Coumans’ invaluable Concordances website, shows that other translators have also used different animals in their versions of the same Calcutta quatrain – see  But the Persian text also varies slightly between manuscripts – Whinfield’s original has the Persian Ahu (= gazelle) in place of the fox(es) elsewhere.

Does any reader have better ideas on this?  Please comment below.

Yet more on trays with a Khayyam theme

May 11, 2017

In a couple of earlier posts, we have given information on trays and other items with a Khayyam theme that are in the possession of some of our readers.  These mentions can be found via the following link.

We have now been sent details of a couple of other similar items.  Reader Alan Birch writes as follows.  

I have just seen the butler’s tray [with a Khayyam theme] on your blog.  I recently bought a similar tray (without legs) from an auction in Tring (Herts).
As the photo below shows, it has an image in what looks like ivory in the centre and a misquote from quatrain XX in marquetry at top and bottom:
My beloved fill the cup that cheers
Today of past regrets and future fears.

omar tray (002)
A week later I bought a wooden plaque from a car boot sale in Tetsworth (Oxon.) for the princely sum of £2.  This also has an image in what looks like ivory. (see second photo)
I also believe that all these items are early 20th C. They all have an Arts and Crafts feel.

omar plaque (002)

Do any of our readers have similar items and/or know anything about their history?  Please comment if you do.