Book Section: CHAPTER II—Omar Khayyam’s Literary Work “Nowrooznameh”: A Clause-by-Clause Textual Analysis — by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi


This essay titled “Omar Khayyam’s Literary Work “Nowrooznameh”: A Clause-by-Clause Textual Analysis” is the second chapter of the book Khayyami Art: The Art of Poetic Secrecy for a Lasting Existence: Tracing the Robaiyat in Nowrooznameh, Isfahan’s North Dome, and Other Poems of Omar Khayyam, and Solving the Riddle of His Robaiyat Attributability, which is the seventh volume of the twelve-book series Omar Khayyam’s Secret: Hermeneutics of the Robaiyat in Quantum Sociological Imagination, authored by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi.

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This essay titled “Omar Khayyam’s Literary Treatise ‘Nowrooznameh’: A Clause-by-Clause Textual Analysis” is the second chapter of the book Khayyami Art: The Art of Poetic Secrecy for a Lasting Existence: Tracing the Robaiyat in Nowrooznameh, Isfahan’s North Dome, and Other Poems of Omar Khayyam, and Solving the Riddle of His Robaiyat Attributability, which is the seventh volume of the twelve-book series Omar Khayyam’s Secret: Hermeneutics of the Robaiyat in Quantum Sociological Imagination, authored by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi.

In this chapter, Tamdgidi conducts an in-depth, clause-by-clause, textual analysis of Omar Khayyam’s Nowrooznameh. For the purpose, and for the convenience of the reader, he offers both the original Persian text and his English translation of each clause (shared in Chapter I) in smaller type as a way of framing the textual analysis. He includes both Persian and English versions so that we can always closely watch the original Persian for our analytical purposes, and the English translation serves to make it possible for the primarily intended English-speaking readers of this series to easily cross-reference both to the original Persian text for the purpose of this textual analysis.

He then lets the analysis itself determine the nature and order of what follows. His goal is to maintain a balance between understanding the substance of each clause as an integral part of the book as a whole, while also using the opportunity to relate this book by Khayyam to his other astronomical, philosophical, theological, and scientific works as studied in the earlier books of this series. Of course, a central question he addresses is that of how Khayyam’s book Nowrooznameh can help us understand the origins, nature, and purpose of any poetry, especially the Robaiyat, he may have written in his life. Following the method adopted for the series, the author assumes that any such poetry Khayyam may have written could not have been completely separate from the deep structure of his thought as expressed in all his writings. So, as he has done with Khayyam’s other writings in the previous books of the series, in this chapter also, he reads Nowrooznameh also as a product of the same mind that composed his poetry, the latter existing also at once, in a spread-out form, in his Nowrooznameh.

We have already become familiar with the ontological, epistemological, and methodological structures of Khayyam’s worldview as studied earlier in this series. However, instead of introducing them again here as an introduction, he adopts an inductive method of inquiry when analyzing Khayyam’s Nowrooznameh, trying to see if we encounter any similarities to or differences from what we have already learned about his views in his literary work. In the meantime, recognizing the questions raised by others about the attributability of Nowrooznameh’s authorship to Omar Khayyam, he tries to pay close attention to any clues the book’s material offer, or doubts they raise, about that question.

Having studied Khayyam’s Nowrooznameh, Tamdgidi draws the following conclusions:

Nowrooznameh is comprised of three parts that are clearly integral with one another as parts of a single treatise or book. There is simply no reason to doubt that the work is written on a single topic, having sections that are logically organized and inter-related, with its author continually reminding the reader about the book being about Nowrooz, in terms of the origins of the tradition necessitating its ceremony, how the ceremony was conducted in terms of its acclamation and associated ten Nowroozi gifts, followed by elaborations on each of the gifts.

The book was clearly not intended to be either an exact and technical scientific treatise on astronomical matters, nor an account of entirely actual historical events, even though by way of some stories it draws on some historical material to illustrate its intentions. The book is a literary treatise, intended to be a creatively written text to serve its purpose.

The purpose of Nowrooznameh is two-fold. First, from a practical historical point of view it is intended to serve as an inspirational tract to influence the events following the death of Nezam ol-Molk and Soltan Malekshah in AD 1092 (485 LH), by way of encouraging the late king’s rivalrous young sons vying for power to adopt local Persian traditions and values as conceived by its author. Khayyam is doing in the book what he must have done generally as a nadim or companion of Soltan Malekshah following when the latter himself came to power as a young prince in AD 1072. Second, from a broader point of view, Khayyam is using the topic of Nowrooz as a framework to advance, in an accessible way and as a keepsake, his own worldview and teachings to a Persian speaking audience. 

It is most likely that Nowrooznameh was written around the same time Khayyam wrote his keepsake Persian treatise on the universals of existence, and the person who requested the writing of Nowrooznameh may as well have been the person who requested from him to write his treatise on the universals of existence, that is, Moayyed ol-Molk, an independently-minded and ambitious son of Nezam ol-Molk who had become at the time the minister of Muhammad Tapar, a son of Soltan Malekshah. For this reason, the time of writing of Nowrooznameh can be regarded as having been around AD 1095-96 (488 LH).

It turns out that in time, Muhammad Tapar survived Barkiaroq (another son of Soltan Malekshah, from another mother) as a successor, being in most friendly terms with Omar Khayyam. When writing Nowrooznameh, given the age of the surviving sons of Soltan Malekshah, Khayyam must have had Muhammad Tapar (and less likely Barkiaroq), in mind, Sanjar (a younger brother of Muhammad Tapar) being still too young and in least friendly terms with Khayyam, who had treated a small-pox stricken Sanjar while offering a negative prognosis of his character (which actually turned out to be true given Sanjar’s subsequent record). Moayyed ol-Molk had been betrayed by his inept brother Fakhr ol-Molk when originally trying to remain Barkiaroq’s minister, later joining Muhammad Tapar, and eventually being killed by Barkiaroq.

Of all the ten Nowroozi gifts Khayyam uses to educate his readers about his values about the Persian culture, the one regarded as being most noble is the pen. The rest of the gifts (gold and silver, the ring, the budding barley seed, the sword, the bow and arrow, the horse, the falcon, the wine, and the beautiful face/appearance), are all important of course, each serving to highlight and cultivate a particular character trait and virtue. However, Khayyam begins the treatise by emphasizing that it is intellect, the word, the speech, and its associated pen, that is the most noble of all God’s creations, since, had any other existent been more noble, God would have used that to communicate with his prophet(s). In the section on pen, Khayyam characterizes it as the beautician of the world and the ambassador of the heart, regarding it as capable of giving body to word to make it immortal (within the bounds of created existence). We can then safely conclude that it is for the same purposes and toward similar ends that Khayyam employed his pen to write Nowrooznameh.

Khayyam’s discussion in Nowrooznameh of wine as a Nowroozi gift is demonstrably double-edged. The literal wine, while regarded as having nutritional benefits, is also characterized as being potentially harmful, to alleviate which he offers recommendations across a variety of wine types and human natural tempers. The literal wine is in no way, shape, or form, regarded as a universally beneficial substance to be embraced without qualifications. So, it cannot be what the Robaiyat’s poet could be primarily referring to in his quatrains. Besides, quoting from the Quran, Khayyam makes a very clear distinction between a “Wine” that God regards highly as a “purifying drink” servable in paradise, symbolically speaking, and a literal Wine God regards, as Khayyam himself acknowledges in the text, as having more harms than benefits. 

Furthermore, the “Wine” served in a golden cup attributed to Jamsheed, included as part of the Nowrooz acclamation ceremony by the priest of priest serving Nowroozi gifts to the Persian kings, is clearly associated with one offering immortality, and associated with Soroush, the name of a Zoroastrian angel that is the equivalent of the Active Intellect (or, in Christian worldview as the Holy Ghost), that finds its expression poetically as the Saqi in Persian poetry. Khayyam quotes from the Quran in a passage that uses the word related to Saqi, to suggest that what is meant by this other universally beneficial wine is what God would serve in paradise. The above, plus the notion that it is the pen, and not wine, that is in the pinnacle of nobility among Khayyam’s listed Nowroozi gifts, should lead us to conclude that Khayyam distinguished between a spiritual Wine and a literal wine in his poetry.

In Nowrooznameh, Khayyam intentionally and repeatedly conveys second, deeper, meanings beneath the surface accounts of his narrative. He often uses the expression “artfulness” (that is زيركى which can also be expressed as “craftiness,” “slyness,” or “cleverness”) to add such esoteric meanings hidden amid outer discussions related to the topic of Nowrooz. Both surface and deeper currents of the meanings of his narrative are well-constructed and meaningful on their own, such that a non-suspecting reader may read the surface meanings not even realizing that Khayyam has also expressed, in plain sight but in a textually veiled way, other meanings.

Therefore, Khayyam’s Nowrooznameh can be regarded as an artfully coded text, where he masterfully employs an innovative art of hiding ideas in plain sight in textual form. He even uses the surface narrated distinction between three types of scripts (today called “fonts”) of handwriting—namely, the silvery, the golden, and the pearly, resulting respectively from different trims of pen tips, “twisted,” “straight,” and “both straight and twisted”—to convey three ways of going about writing secrets. 

In the silvery script, a secret is hidden in a seemingly undecipherable, twisted text. In the golden script, the secret is straightforwardly written, but veiled physically in a sealed letter and doubly wrapped in another sealed veil. In the pearly script, however, the highest form of secretive writing, the secret is written in plain sight, twisted in between the lines, so to speak, of a straightforward narrative. 

Nowrooznameh is itself masterfully written as an example of the pearly style throughout. The pearl metaphor implies a jewel that is a result and a display of a hidden effort, such as a water drop becoming pearl in the hidden privacy of the shell’s life in the sea. That is in fact why we find the metaphor of the pearl and the shell used many times in the attributed Robaiyat. As such, Nowrooznameh provides also a deliberated example of the same style Khayyam used to compose his Robaiyat, in some of which the metaphor of pearl and its piercing (implying the interpretation of their hidden meanings amid a succession order of pearls to be organized for display as a bead or necklace) are used to convey hidden meanings.

Khayyam not only engages in a two-fold, pearly, secretive writing in plain sight in Nowrooznameh, he in fact offers explicit, synoptically expressed, reasoning behind why such an engagement would be necessary, not just for him personally, but the latter as an expression of a broader order implicit in God’s act of creation. In the section on the Nowroozi gift, pen—the noblest of all Nowroozi gifts—Khayyam notes how in order to prevent meanings from reaching those undeserving and the enemies, it would be necessary to hide meanings in a double-wrapping of a sealed envelope and a sealed veil as well. But he himself draws on his view of God’s creation that the style of doing so does not have to be deliberate withholding of secrets from others. They can be hidden in plain sight, the deciphering being really dependent on the extent of efforts made by the seeker to reach the truth. 

For this same reason, the literary treatise or book Nowrooznameh reveals to the reader as much as his or her efforts in understanding it will allow, without Khayyam having made any meanings in the text inaccessible to the reader in any way, shape, or form. We can therefore expect that this same literary, artful style, may have been used by Khayyam to compose his Robaiyat. Even in his other writings, we have cases where Khayyam shares sufficient hints for his reader to follow to reach the lesson he wishes to teach, without actually doing so, appealing to the effort and the extent of careful and insightful attention his reader will devote to benefiting from his text.

All the ten Nowroozi gifts discussed in Nowrooznameh are at once literal straightforward topics about the items, and a set of representing deeper character traits he wishes his Persian speaking readers in general, and his immediate reader(s) such as the son(s) of Soltan Malekshah, to cultivate in life. Khayyam is masterfully using the topic and framework of the Nowrooz tradition, an enduring tradition in Persian and broader human culture, to inculcate his own worldview about what human life is and should be about, and that is to achieve joy and happiness on Earth. All the gifts are aimed at the cultivation of such character traits that in his view can read that end. 

He is not dismissive of the “evil” the Persian kings and by implication Iranians and humanity should fight and subdue, without and within, in their lives to achieve happiness, and is quite practical and pragmatic about it, using the mythological history of Persian kings and their reigns to teach lessons about how they went wrong or right at one or another time. But, from a bird’s eye point of view, he is engaging in what he says is the purpose of the pen, to beautify the world, and in the meantime to immortalize one’s intellect and one’s heart’s ambassadorship in a written body of speech.

Khayyam’s Nowrooznameh is an expression of what we have learned from all his writings to be a conceptualist view of reality. The truths of reality are not just reflected upon, as if they exist separately out there, but are actively “realized” and transformed in the process of learning them. Khayyam is not just trying to tell a story of how Persian kings supposedly brought (or not, when failing) happiness to people and to themselves. He is actually trying to influence the historical conjuncture of the post-Malekshah period to bring more favorable, happier, and independently-run social conditions in reality. He is not just talking about truths but is creating them, as he writes to beautify the world. 

The most vivid and masterful example of such an artful effort on his part in Nowrooznameh is how he creatively redefines the names of the months of the Persian calendar, while acknowledging that they are (also) rooted in Zoroastrian angelic names. Khayyam innovatively redefines the names in secular everyday terms, and does it so masterfully that even those who know he is just making up the meanings still wonder whether such meanings are the original “truths” of the meanings of month names, since the names actually make more immediate sense in people’s experiential everyday imaginations than being associated with a by-then old Zoroastrian faith cosmology. In doing so, however, Khayyam also must have succeeded in offering a rationale for saving the old Persian calendar month names amid the calendar reforms being undertaken at the time as initiated in the court of Soltan Malekshah. 

The major calendar reform project to observe leap corrections in the solar calendar could have easily resulted in dismantling of Persian calendar month names, given the Islamic views prevalent at the time and the associations of the old names with the Zoroastrian faith. Given the leading position Khayyam had in the calendar reform, by invitation, it is most likely that his artful redefinition of the month names even in earlier years before their being expressed in Nowrooznameh later on, were responsible for the preservation of Persian calendar month names, and for that reason the present calendar used in Iran has for its calendar month names benefited from Khayyam’s Nowroozi gift of Nowrooznameh.

Khayyam begins Nowrooznameh with an explanation of the reasons for continual correction of the solar calendar to maintain calendrical time’s correspondence with the natural time of the Sun (in his time’s Earth-centric view of the world). The fact that he offers approximate figures in his narrative is itself expressive of the fact that his intention is not to write a purely technical and scientific treatise in astronomy about calendrical matters, but to explain, at a level of understanding accessible to the young sons of the late Soltan Malekshah engaged in succession battles at the time, why it is absolutely necessary to have a continuing and officially observed tradition of celebrating Nowrooz, so that the rulers can continually adjust in broad public light the calendar so that calendrical time would not fall behind natural time. For this reason, we find deliberately and intentionally repeated reminders by Khayyam, at every occasion when recalling the (both mythological and actual) history of Persian and later kings and caliphs, of the need to maintain the celebratory tradition of Nowrooz for calendrical reasons. 

To maintain such a tradition, it would makes sense to build a place to accommodate both the astronomical observations and also the leap-year calendrical Nowrooz celebrations on a continual basis. For the same reason, we find Khayyam continually remind his reader(s), sons of the late Soltan Malekshah, or any ruler to follow the chaotic events of AD 1092 (485 LH), to complete the “unfinished” building projects of their father. Although the North Dome of the Masjed Jameʿ of Isfahan had just finished being built by the year 481 LH, the chaotic and rivalrous years of the last years of Soltan Malekshah’s reign resulted in delays and eventual incompletion of the leap-year efforts for which 18 years of his reign had been devoted.

In Tamdgidi’s view Nowrooznameh provides a sound and solid basis for the consideration that the mysterious North Dome of Isfahan, whose function and purpose has puzzled many for decades, was indeed considered to serve as the Nowrooz celebration and related court receptions site of the calendar reform project led by Khayyam and his team, and for this reason, Khayyam must have played a direct role in its design and construction as part of the broader astronomical observatory complex being built during Soltan Malekshah’s reign. That is also why the building is so precisely designed in measurements as an expression of the precision of the solar calendar designed by Khayyam and his team. Given the unreasonable way Nowrooznameh has been unjustly marginalized in Khayyami studies in Iran and abroad (remaining untranslated in English until this Book 7 of the series met that need), we have also been deprived of recognizing the obvious link between the calendar reform, Nowrooznameh and the North Dome’s purpose in recent decades. In Chapter III of this volume, Tamdgidi will explore such a link.

Nowrooznameh plays a key role as a mediating text between Khayyam’s philosophical, theological, and scientific writings, on one hand, and his poetry compositions and the Robaiyat, on the other. It lifts a veil about not only how Khayyam must have gone about adopting a pearly style of secretive writing in his life, but its neglect and marginalization in Khayyami studies in the past have also prevented the consideration of what Khayyam offers in the book, in particular in the section on the Nowroozi gift “wine” in his literary treatise. The distinction Khayyam artfully makes between the literal wine and the spiritual wine, drawing on the Quran, also, can offer a reliable and insightful window for understanding how he masterfully used the metaphor of wine to compose his Robaiyat. In particular the story he weaves about the origin of wine, its discovery by way of a Phoenix-evoking bird, homā, its gift of “hard seeds” to become grape clusters symbolizing pearls of his quatrains, and the three-stepped structure of test-drinking imposed on the convict as narrated in the amusing story, can be considered as artful ways of Khayyam instructing his readers about his Robaiyat, and its three-fold structure. 

Nowrooznameh offers, therefore, a key to understanding the secret of the Robaiyat, its origins, nature, and its purpose. The unreasonable way it has been side-stepped and marginalized in Khayyami studies, therefore, has also deprived Khayyami scholars from unriddling the enigma of the Robaiyat. For this reason, in a later chapter in this volume exploring the attributability riddle of the Robaiyat Tamdgidi will draw on the findings of his study of Nowrooznameh to explore the question further, and the rest of this series will show what Khayyam writes with his artful pen about wine in Nowrooznameh has direct relevance to the study and the presentation of his Robaiyat.

Although the topic of Nowrooznameh is about a perennial Persian custom, and it is framed in terms of the tradition of Persian kings, their Nowrooz ceremony, and the ten Nowroozi gifts offered to them by a Zoroastrian priest of priests, Khayyam is consistently framing its substance in a language that would make it acceptable to the new dominant Islamic culture of Iran. Aside from the example already discussed of his creatively giving new meanings to the Zoroastrian rooted Persian month names in order to imply they have universal significance to everyday lives of people of any religion or ethnic belonging (especially in light of the multi-ethnic fabric of the population living in the Iranian plateau), Khayyam on every opportunity displays an open-mindedness in drawing on Persian, Turkish, and Rumi (Greco-Roman) traditions, explicitly relating them as people from a common seed or heritage; and his reverence for the Arab rooted Islamic culture further adds to his transcultural approach to understanding human history. 

However, one of the most significant and hermeneutically meaningful passages in Nowrooznameh, in Tamdgidi’s view, has to do with Khayyam’s twice made references in reverence to Imam ʿAli, the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet of Islam, who according to the Shia views was specifically elected by the prophet to serve as his successor, but end up serving as the fourth. The lack of similar references by him to any of the other three Sunni-favored caliphs (Abu Bakr, ʿUmar, and ʿUthman) who served as the first set of caliphs following the prophet’s passing is therefore interpretively significant. In Tamdgidi’s view, such a favorable reference explicated in Nowrooznameh tells of Khayyam’s open-mindedness and perhaps even leanings toward the Shia Islam, and also supports other indications we have already found in his other writings in having friendly conversations with Shia intellectuals of his time and even including the Batenis as one of the four paths seeking to know God as introduced at the end of his Persian keepsake treatise on the universals of existence (studied in Book 4 of this series). For the above reasons, we should not be surprised to find among the attributed quatrains one or more referring to Imam ʿAli aside from others referring to the prophet of Islam, in the same way that we have not been surprised to find him making references to other prophets, such as Jesus and Moses.

There have been several textual instances in Nowrooznameh that have been drawn on by scholars to support (or debate) Khayyam’s authorship of the book. In particular, his repeated encouragement of the Persian sons of kings to finish the incomplete building projects of their late fathers have been interpreted as his encouraging them to finish the incomplete project of building an astronomical observatory in Isfahan, started but having remained incomplete by Soltan Malekshah. Another indication has been regarding that of Khayyam’s encouraging the new king(s) to honor the payment and endowment promises made by their fathers to the learned, the artists, and others serving their courts. Another instance is where the author refers to Neyshabour as a place were people “came to” (rather than “went to”), suggesting that the author must have been residing in Neyshabour to phrase the sentence as such. 

However, Tamdgidi has additionally found possible indications that he may have used the example of his interrupted “endowment” as an example of how one could hide meanings in secretive writings. One aspect of the text that has puzzled some scholars is why Khayyam does not name himself as one of those Soltan Malekshah invited to Isfahan to carry out solar calendar reform. But this, in Tamdgidi’s view, is not a valid reason to doubt the authorship of Nowrooznameh by Khayyam. 

First of all, he does not name anyone else in his own time other than Soltan Malekshah, and that only once, in the book—leaving out Nezam ol-Molk, any of Soltan Malekshah sons’ names, or anyone else contemporary (such as rival ministers or wives of the late king), and does so for good reason, if we take into account that he is writing the book to influence the events following Soltan Malekshah’s death, when different sons and relatives were fighting for power, and where a son such as Sanjar did not have a favorable view of him for reasons explained earlier in this chapter. 

Second, Khayyam’s not mentioning himself would be out of place and appear vain and self-serving, and in the best of Persian humble cultural practices, it would make sense to express the events in general terms. The very fact that he was writing the book by the invitation of someone also unnamed (likely Moayyed ol-Molk, a son of Nezam ol-Molk, in Tamdgidi’s view, who ended up being executed by Barkiaroq amid his rivalry with Muhammad Tapar, another son of Soltan Malekshah), placed him in a sufficiently prominent position to write this “advisory” literary treatise, without his having to name himself among the team of astronomers tasked with reforming Iran’s Persian calendar. As far his immediate audience was concerned, he must have simply assumed they knew he was a leading member of the invited team, and he did not even have to name it, given his fame, since it was obvious he was among those invited to Isfahan to fulfill the calendar reform, in fact leading it.

Nowrooznameh was not only a literary treatise written by Omar Khayyam, but also one of his most important treatises, especially in terms of its transitioning from his other technical writings to the composition of his creative Robaiyat. Khayyam here demonstrates that not only he is capable of writing material accessible to a wide audience, but also doing so with such skills in use of metaphors and imagery that the prose is for all practical purposes as poetic as any quatrains he may have written. One can find traces of many ideas found in the Robaiyat in Nowrooznameh, and for this reason it offers an artfully written window to his poetry. 

Khayyam demonstrates that he is capable of weaving complex philosophical ideas and poetic metaphors into simple synoptic passages in accessible language. He displays sensitivity to the popular culture of his time, and does not refrain from drawing on them and referring to them, even though as a scientist and philosopher he would not necessarily believe in them wholeheartedly. His contemporary scholar of Arabic, Zamakhshari, reports having had conversations with him about the pronunciation of a term related to swords, and it may very well be the case that such an interest on the part of Khayyam was an example of how he went about inquiring from others about the Nowroozi gifts he discusses in Nowrooznameh, in the same way he reports asking falconry merchant experts about falcons and their behavior.

Omar Khayyam’s Nowrooznameh is in Tamdgidi’s view one of the earliest and most beautifully written among the prince-advising genre in modern literature. It precedes the likes of Machiavelli’s The Prince by centuries, yet it is written to persuade the intended princes not to seek to gain and maintain power by any means necessary, but to persuade them to seek justice and happiness for their subjects and themselves in a transcultural spirit, one that anticipates Saʿdi’s poem about the interconnectedness of all humanity (and not just the Persians) as members of the same body. 

Khayyam uses poetic language and a multilayered pedagogical style to reach not just the mind, but the heart, and the sensibilities of his audience among whom he specially includes the sons of the late Soltan Malekshah, through words, visualizations, tales, and the most accessible and beautiful metaphorical landscape, encouraging his readers to cultivate a soul that is mindful of wealth beyond gold and silver; wear rings with seals to keep promises made; to pay attention to the body and its foods for spiritual growth; to be ready to use sword against enemies of justice but always be mindful of controlling anger and the superiority of the pen over the sword; to regard using bow and arrow as also an exercise in meditation and cultivation of a soundly balanced mind, heart, and body; to enjoy hunting with falcon but respect the bird, animals and nature as part of one’s own family; to learn to use pen as a beautician of the world and an ambassador of the heart, realizing that a turn of the pen can maintain order and win wars, without and within, more effectively than swords can; to be cautious of the harms of wine as much as its benefits, not drinking in excess, while noting that the purifying Wine God promises in paradise cannot be the same wine He advises to be more harmful than beneficial; and to note that life and kingdom are not just about wars but also about beauties and love as expressions of a universe created by God for humans to seek Him through that impulse. 

Khayyam uses mythological and actual historical accounts of Persian kings to teach his princely audiences that even the reigns of thousand years will collapse if not used in pursuit of justice and happiness for people, showing that Persian culture’s strength lies not in regarding itself as being exceptional, but in recognizing itself as being a member of the family of all humankind. Nowrooznameh displays how Khayyam may have in fact influenced the maturing of Soltan Malekshah himself as a young prince when Khayyam joined his court in Isfahan in AD 1074, serving de facto also as a nadim and advisor for the king, elevating his status as a just and reform oriented king among Seljuk rulers.

Those seeking to understand the process by which Iran has succeeded, through its long history, in converting its invaders into its own culture, rather than being converted by them, they need to study Omar Khayyam’s Nowrooznameh very carefully. He employs such a language and power of writing that allows seemingly separate cultures, identities, religions, and traditions, be merged into a unitary story of all humankind. The Persian prehistory and history are merged into the Islamic culture, offering a glimpse of his view that the Iranian embrace of the prophet’s cousin, Imam ʿAli, itself represents a way Iran has succeeded in holding the spiritual principles of Islam alive by engaging, not rejecting, what has been useful in the new religion. He does not close his eyes on the excesses of Persian kings when embracing Iran’s long enduring Nowrooz tradition, using the acclamation of the Zoroastrian priest of priests to the king on Nowrooz as a succinct and most effective way of conveying to the king his responsibility to uphold the freedom of science and of faiths, not in separation from, but as an inspiration and revelation from Soroush, the Saqi or the Active Intellect, the angel of God bringing wisdom to humankind. 

Khayyam’s Nowrooznameh is in essence an artful way he tries to use the opportunities arisen as a result of Soltan Malekshah’s death to influence the events in favor of a more just society in pursuit of human happiness. Nowrooznameh proves that Khayyam was indeed not a reclusive, not caring about the politics of his time, but an active participant, doing what he could, in his own creative literary way, to influence the times. The reported expression of desire on the part of Khayyam to do scientific research and not be involved in politics must have been a result of his own independent-minded attention to and involvement in social change. Khayyam’s politics seems to have been less antisystemic, and more othersystemic, seeking to help bring about a more just society through positive construction of the desired world in the here and now of his literary and poetic writings, preferring to use his pen as a beautician of the world and an ambassador of the heart.

There is clearly a continuing element of humour running throughout Nowrooznameh and Khayyam employes that device too both masterfully and artfully (cleverly) in two ways. Explicitly, one cannot read some passages and not notice and laugh at their deeply humorous nature: The barber asking for the king’s daughter being found to be standing on a huge treasure; an army of fifty thousand swordsmen defeated by the turn of a pen; the Persian name of a cold month being named “the same as the one before” cold month (“Be-hamān”); an imprisoned general being freed by the beauty of the face of his servant; a convict feeling there is no difference between him and the king after testing the second cup of wine, and being freed; a royal falconer being hit on the head by sandals for having spit while holding a falcon. 

But implicitly, Khayyam at times must have had a lot of fun writing something while knowing that perhaps readers would not even “get” what he did: Using examples of alphabet letters to complain about his interrupted endowment; listing many signs of buried gold and treasure when he does not actually mean gold, but the treasure of, say, a rose growing on a barren land; using ring and its seal as a way of telling the princes to keep their father’s promises of completing his building projects and paying on time, without asking, his promised endowments; saying a lot about the literal wine, while meaning another type of spiritual Wine. In Nowrooznameh we find its author quite playful with his literary art, leaving no doubt that it is the same Khayyam who wrote many of the deeply philosophical quatrains at times in exceedingly humorous ways, such that after about a thousand years, readers still wonder if the wine discussed therein is the literal or the spiritual kind.

In Nowrooznameh, Omar Khayyam not only engages in secretive literary writing, but offers his technique of how to do secretive writing in its various golden, silvery, and the most effective and advanced, pearly way. Moreover, and incredibly, he explains the technique itself and the various material he wished to pass on secretively by applying that pearly secretive method in the book itself. The silvery secretive method is one in which some text is in a rather obvious way written in a coded way; it is often written in such a twisted way that it may not be even decipherable for generations, if ever, but it is clear to its readers that someone is trying to pass on a message in twisted form. The golden secretive method, however, is the opposite; it is the secret written straightforwardly and plainly, but the text is sealed and even double-sealed again inside a veiling material, and sent along, the carrier knowing a secret is being transmitted, and the receiver will expect and/or realize the same upon its reception. However, it can be opened by the carrier or others, and once opened by the receiver, it will likely be prone to having been exposed terminally. The pearly way, however, is a mix of straightforward and twisted way of writing. It is the technique of writing the secret straightforwardly in plain sight, but twisted amid a narrative that is on its own logical and interesting, leading the reader to not even suspect a secret is being transmitted, but sufficient clues are given by the writer to make it possible to notice and to decipher the secret, provided that the necessary curiosity, perceptiveness is employed and efforts made. 

By employing the distinction between the learned and the artful (the crafty, the sly, or زيرك) Khayyam offers hints at the passages that are written in a twisted way amid plain narratives. Khayyam not only illustrates his technique, but suggests that even the created existence is “written” in a similar way by an author, God, who created the letter of humankind amid nature, whose angelic sensations, once used at will and with the necessary effort, can unravel His secrets. The secrets are not hidden from anyone, they are present in plain sight, but only reveal themselves to those who make the necessary conscious and intentional efforts to unravel them. Khayyam actually had ended his keepsake treatise on the universals of existence with noting how God’s secrets are not kept from anyone, but once the inner purification (tazkiyeh-ye nafs) is achieved, the secrets will naturally reveal themselves to the seeker. 

Aside from such spiritual contexts for explaining the matter of secrecy and its techniques, Khayyam’s elaborations on the Nowroozi gift, the pen, obviously serve the purpose of letting the readers know how even this-worldly royal court matters require knowledge of secretive communications, and his discussion of secrecy is justifiable even as part of the plain narrative of Nowrooznameh. Khayyam’s pearly way of secretive writing shows how one can leave “bread crumbs” amid plain narratives in text or other works of art, even buildings, and to that extent shows how the Robaiyat itself was written.

Omar Khayyam’s Nowrooznameh can, therefore, be read as a textbook, a manual, so to speak, for introducing his Robaiyat. It not only introduces much of the metaphorical material and trope depository of the Robaiyat, but it also illustrates how the secretive way of writing the Robaiyat was accomplished, such that even when made available for reading, the text would reveal its meanings only by way of spending the necessary effort consciously and intentionally by the reader to understand the truths it was meant to convey. And Khayyam explains why he or others may engage in such secretive writing, when discussing the highest nobility of the pen as a beautification of the world and as an ambassador of the heart, to give body to word and to make the spirit of its author angelic, that is, long-lasting and immortal.

Recommended Citation

Tamdgidi, Mohammad H. 2024. “CHAPTER II—Omar Khayyam’s Literary Work “Nowrooznameh”: A Clause-by-Clause Textual Analysis.” Pp. 147-366 in in Omar Khayyam’s Secret: Hermeneutics of the Robaiyat in Quantum Sociological Imagination: Book 7: Khayyami Art: The Art of Poetic Secrecy for a Lasting Existence: Tracing the Robaiyat in Nowrooznameh, Isfahan’s North Dome, and Other Poems of Omar Khayyam, and Solving the Riddle of His Robaiyat Attributability. (Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Vol. XX, 2024. Tayyebeh Series in East-West Research and Translation.) Belmont, MA: Okcir Press.

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