Book Report: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám translated by Edward FitzGerald (1970)

Book coverGentle reader, I picked up this book to consider it for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge in the Author of a Different Race/Religion Than Your Own category. I mean, hey, a Persian poet is most likely Moslem, to use a spelling that was commoner when I was younger. However, as I got into the introductory material, I learned that the translator, Edward FitzGerald, re-organized the collection of rubāʿiyāt, the quattrain poems, into a more coherent whole. And given that the quattrains all have end rhymes in English, one has to think that the translations are as much of the work of FitzGerald as Khayyám. So I didn’t count it for the reading challenge, but I did keep it off of the bookshelves to read in patches between other books.

This is a Classics Club edition–as you might remember, gentle reader, I’ve picked these up when I’ve found them over the decades and have a shelf full of them, but I’ve only now read two of them (although I did read three of five Plato dialogues in another at some point). It says it’s the Five Authorized Versions–it had five editions in the 19th century–but it’s really only three. The first two and then a comparative edition which is the third through fifth editions with footnotes identifying the variation. The versions run between 100 and 110 selections from a larger body of Khayyám’s work.

Themeatically, the poems are hedonistic or Epicurean in nature. Drink, eat, love, for we soon die. We’re but specks of dust in history. And so on. The English versions are good, as I mentioned with end rhymes and tight units that FitzGerald has put in an order to sort of tell a story, although the telling is repetitive and the collection is best read over time. I’d recommend not reading all “five” versions at once–or three as I did–as they’re very, very close to one another. Although I was able to spot the one in the third-through-fifth version that was not in the first or second version as I did not follow my own advice.

So a quick enough read. I think it was more popular in the past than it is today, but I think that about most things that were popular in the past, especially if they were literature of some sort.

So now I have to find the other one Classics Club book that I already read (Meditations by Marcus Aurelius) and put the two together to show that I am making progress on this set (two in fifteen years–not bad!). I did run my hands along the spines of the exposed books (those not in the second rank of books on the shelf) when looking for another book to read after this one and thought Not today. Which I think a lot, apparently.

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