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OMAR KHAYYÁM’S RUBÁIYÁT (April 2018 - March 2019)

Rare Book Room Display : Mainfloor, Central Library



Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát is a translation that once compared with the Bible for its popularity and familiarity. It was the most popular poem in the English language. Edward FitzGerald’s first edition translation of the Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám was published anonymously in 1859. Although published the same year as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the small print run of the Persian poem did not sell for two years. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, other Pre-Raphaelites and, eventually, John Ruskin, all read Edward FitzGerald’s translation of Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát and it fit their artistic aesthetic philosophy perfectly. A cult-like following for Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát blossomed and lasted through World War I and beyond. Fueled by reader demand several hundred editions and reprints of this Persian poem were produced. There were collectible fine press editions, beautifully illustrated editions and many lesser editions—some mass-produced and some for soldiers to take with them into World War I battle. Omar Khayyám clubs and societies sprang up and consumer products were named for the poet and his work. There were Omar brand cigarettes, cigars, a tooth powder and perfumes that marketed the romantic themes of Khayyám’s Rubáiyát—it was so familiar and deeply rooted in the Western culture that “Omar” and a line from his poem could sell the product.