How much of the Rubaiyat is Khayyam and how much Fitzgerald?

Most of us when we think of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam think of the Edward Fitzgerald translation. Lines like

A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.


The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on:

But I was reading it again recently for the first time in many years and I began to wonder how accurate a translation it was. The lines seem very reminiscent of Lord Tennyson, his Locksley Hall in particular and it made me suspect that much of what I was reading wasn’t so much Khayyam but a Khayyam filtered through the imagination of a second-rate Victorian poet imitating Tennyson. (Locksley Hall was first published 20 or so years before Fitzgerald’s translation.)

So just how accurate is Fitzgerald’s version? Anyone familiar with Farsi on the board?

Here are some quotes from an article:

“Part translation, part creation, part nihilistic vision, and part joyful celebration of nature and wine, English scholar and translator Edward Fitzgerald’s The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam is a widely influential work from the Victorian period. The work is typically described as a translation of poems attributed to twelfth-century Persian mathematician and scholar Omar Khayyam, but whether The Rubaiyat as we read it in English is a translation, a retelling, or something in-between, has often been debated. Whatever its definition, The Rubaiyat is a stunning work of poetic revision, popular since the Victorian era, and still influential today.
To define The Rubaiyat as a translation is not altogether accurate; in fact, the original work may not even be entirely authored by Omar Khayyam.”

And another article gives a detailed comparison of Farsi metaphors and Fitzgerald’s rendering. A telling line: “It should be noted that some of the Fitzgerald‘s translation cannot be matched with their
original texts because they are completely different.”

This reminds me of the many translations of Asterix and Obelix into umpteen other languages. The original is full of puns, some of which just don’t translate into various languages. It’s … uh… interesting to put the French and English side-by-side and note how they’ve had to re-write stuff with all-different puns and developments.

Fitzgerald really didn’t know Farsi very well, so it wouldn’t be surprising if his renditions weren’t all that accurate. You can certainly get other translations. I’ve read both the Fitzgerald translation and the Penguin translation (Peter Avery and John Heath-Stubbs), and Fitzgerald doesn’t seem far off.

I even went to the trouble of talking with a Farsi translator about the accuracy of one translated line*, which I’d checked in various translations. Fitzgerald definitely did his homework.

As I understand it, the biggest criticism is the “invisible” part of the translation – Fitzgerald didn’t translate all of the stanzas (which, to be fair, are almost certainly not all by Omar Khayyam), but a selection of them. He then re-arranged them out of their traditional order. The result is to imply that they tell a story of a Day In The Life of the poet, which in the original they don’t.

*He has a line that speaks of reality as a “magic lantern show”., with God as the one showing the show. The line was intended to be used by Mark Twain as the epigraph for his autobiography (it was one of his favorites). It was also used by Robert E. Howard as the epigraph for one chapter of his story Skull Face. The stanza fit in with the sensibilities of the era, suggesting Eastern fatalism and mysticism. Today we would call God the producer/director of a motion picture. Or, even better, creator of the Virtual Reality we live in.

Magic Lantern shows were popular in Fitzgerald’s day, but the Magic Lantern was possibly invented by Athanasius Kircher (17th century), although some sources say it can be traced to the 16th century. Khayyam died in 1131. So what was he writing about?

I argue that he was talking about Shadow Plays, as in Plato’s Parable of the Cave (which, I think, was based on existing Greek shadow-plays – Plato made the metaphor; he didn’t invent the idea of such shows), and the Farsi translator confirmed that Khayyam’s term echoes those used in Platonic philosophy. Fitzgerald’s use of “Magic Lantern Show” was an arguably unjustified “modern” imposition on the text, akin to someone today using the term “VR” in his translation.

I think of this:

The Ruby Yacht - YouTube :smiley:

That was terrible.

One of the fond memories of my childhood.

It forced me to find out what the Rubaiyat was, so I could get the joke.

Love it! I learned most of my history by watching those 'toons.