(MUSLIMS, SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY – continued)
The tomb of Omar Khayyám in Neishapur, Iran
Omar Khayyam was a Persian born 150 years later than Avicenna and is known today mainly for his poem the Rubaiyat. He was, moreover, like other exceptionally bright Persian intellectuals of the Middle Ages, including Avicenna, a student of a broad range of subjects. He was a mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, physician, and he wrote treatises on mechanics, geography and music.
A few lines of his poetry read:
Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of spring
Your winter-garment of repentance fling:
The bird of time has but a little way
To flutter-and the bird is on the wing.
The above is a translation by Edward FitzGerald (1809–83). Fitzgerald took liberties in his translations, as artists do. Persian exists for comparison, and the question remains as to whether FitzGerald distorted Khayyam's core sentiments.
Khayyam as translated by FitzGerald was a dissident. Dissidents were often the exceptional people – as Avicenna and others were who investigated the broad range of realities as did Khayyam. Here is part of a poem that expresses the sentiment required to be a revolutionary:
Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits, and then
Remold it nearer to the heart's desire!
In writing, Khayyam described himself as an atheist, but atheists often protected themselves by speaking of God, and Khayyam used "God" for purposes, as in
Enjoy wine and women and don't be afraid, God has compassion.
Khayyam has been described as performing pilgrimages from fear rather than piety. He has been described as having to explain his views to his simpler brothers, the local Islamic thought police. If Khayyam did believe in God, his view of God's nature has been described as uncommon.
Khayyam's dissent has been described in his heliocentric view of the universe – a couple of centuries before the Italian monk Copernicus – a dissent Khayyam is reported to have demonstrated to the respected scholar Imam Ghazali.
Focusing on mathematics, Khayyan wrote a theory of parallels. He wrote on geometric algebra, math's binomial theory and extraction of roots. He is described as having asked about the nature of mathematical order. But mathematics is about abstract relationships. Four is an abstraction for four whatevers. And whatever was done to one side of an equation had to be done to the other side. Philosophically there was nothing add. There was only the negative: a dismissal of mysticism's inventions of number relationships.
Khayyam went deeper than whatever = whatever in disparaging his own participation in what passed for learnedness in his time, which he expressed as follows:
Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
Of the Two Worlds so learnedly, are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter'd, and their mouths are stopt with Dust.
Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has bloomed for ever dies.
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out of the same Door as in I went.
With the the Seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand labour'd it to grow:
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd
"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."
Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop't we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help – for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.
Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.