Khayyam's Songs

Inset from Ṣādiq Hidāyat's Tarānah-hā-yi Khayyām, drawn by Darvīsh Naqqāsh ([Tihrān?]: Insishārāt-i Māh, [1982?]).

Hidāyat was the founder of Iranian literary modernity in prose, the novel-writing parallel to Nīmā Yūshīj the poet. However, unlike Nīmā, Hidāyat's view of modernity aligned more closely with that of the Pahlavi regime--anti-Islamic and anti-Arab, Hidāyat's modernity sought to recapitulate the Iranian past as singular and teleological, ending with a reconstituted ancient Iranian grandeur repurposed for the modern age. Hidāyat's project therefore included bringing pre-modern historical-mythical figures to life again. ʿUmar al-Khayyām (whose popularity had taken off in Europe following FitzGerald's translations in the 19th century) was a key personage for Hidāyat, who molded a version of a skeptical, rationalistic Khayyām to match his own anti-clericalism and Persian chauvinism. That our received version of Khayyām is most probably an historical fable cobbled together over time and ascribed with a whole corpus of Rubāʿiyyāt (four-line poems usually rhyming AABA) did figure into Hidāyat's reception, and he should be commended for at least considering the possibility of a mythical, a-historical idea of Khayyām the poet. (Khayyām the scientist might be another story.) We must also consider Hidāyat's troubled psychological disposition and racism when reading his version of Khayyām, whose verses he collected in this edition, reissued in 1982 in Tehran.