Ömer Hayyam has become a character that Orientalists rediscovered and brought to the whole world, especially in the 19th century. The vast irony and critical tone in his poems are like treasures from ancient times. The fact that he wrote his poems, which praised drunkenness and irreligion, in an easy-to-read Rubai form, led him to become a very popular poet for the Western reader. Although he is a scientist who has studies on algebra, geometry, astronomy, physics and medicine, he is known for his rubai. His style of mocking the sacred and his praise of wine also cause Ömer Khayyam to be perceived as a protest figure. In superficial readings, there is even the illusion that he encourages people to drink alcohol.
But was Khayyam actually an alcoholic? What exactly does wine correspond to in all his profound poems?
Khayyam, who has a philosophical attitude close to the hedonism of the Epicurean philosophers, handled the transience of life, the contradictions and conflicts between the divine dimension and human existence, the unstoppable and overwhelming time and death, the absurdities of the social order and the irrational attitudes of state systems in his poems. In addition to this, the practices of religions that keep people’s daily lives under pressure are also frequently included in his rubai.
The available sources show that Ömer Hayyam had a fulfilled life, and even if he drank wine, he did not live a life so disorderly that he would become a drunkard and endanger his health. He even mentions that he is over 70 in some of his poems. Considering the turmoil of the period in which he lived, it will be seen that drunkenness and vagrancy are not an acceptable way of life at all. For this reason, there are many studies on the mystical and inner meanings of the wine embellishments in Khayyam. It is even claimed that some extreme poems about religion and God may not be for him, and that they were produced by hiding behind his name.
Identifying Khayyam, who made important discoveries in the field of mathematics and astronomy and one of the greatest scholars of his age, with alcohol and drunkenness is the result of not noticing the depth in his poems. Because in most of his poems, wine is seen as a metaphor. Critical mind is the words of a sage who refuses to be confined to a narrow point of view by surrendering to taboos, being shy about the limited aspects of established values, objecting and choosing to reach the truth without submitting to the holy ones. Wine is perhaps a metaphor for reaching beyond, the transcendent, rather than clinging to identities and order.
Charles Baudelaire in 19th-century Paris said similar things with a different resonance:
“Wine you are my sunshine
So full that I drink you
When you see a familiar face me
What is that wine, where should you say that.”
Be Drunk – Charles Baudelaire – (1821-1867)
You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”