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Omar constructed a map of the stars that was famous across the Islamic world. He and a few fellow scientists, at the invitation of the sultan Malik Shah, built a celestial observatory and introduced several reforms to the Persian calendar. Their revised calendar remained in effect in Iran into the 20th century.
It is as a poet, however, that Omar Khayyam is most remembered. In his own time, his poetry was condemned by religious officials. They must have found Omar’s relentless skepticism and live-for-today epicureanism difficult to reconcile with the message of Islam, the predominant religion in Persia in those times and ever since.
Omar may have produced as many as a thousand original four-line verses his quatrains or rubaiyaas. The exact number is hard to know since many duplications and alterations crept into his work as it passed from scribe to scribe. Fitzgerald used just 101 of the quatrains in the fifth edition of his translation (1879), and of those I have retained just eighty. Brief notes on the text are indicated by asterisks in the right margin.
For those readers who are not familiar with them, or who have not looked at them for some time, I hope this presentation will help draw attention again to both Omar Khayyam and Edward FitzGerald.