Omar Khayyam and Max Stirner

Translated by Ulrike Hirschhäuser
Omar and two of his critcs: Chesterton and Pessoa

“One of his critics, whose book I´ve read, is fool enough to label Omar an atheist and materialist. To be either this or that is almost impossible for an Oriental; the eastern world possesses too much expertise in metaphysics, so to maintain anything like will be absurd.”[1]

Thus Gilbert Keith Chesterton defends Omar´s orthodoxy. An Oriental like Omar will calmly take note of this statement, and laughingly he will pass the cup on to his adversary and will tell him:

Intoxicated by the magician´s wine, it´s me!

Heathen, disbeliever or idolater, it´s me!

Each sect bears its own hatred towards me,

I am my own master, I am what I am.[2]

These words do not tell anything about the painful bliss of Christian doctrines. Laughing and weeping as human features are attributed to the heart by Christendom, the heart being God´s and Morality´s home. Therefore Christians believe that “there is nothing else but religion that can make man happy.”[3] In their opinion drinking wine is a “sacrament” and the ultimate happiness bestowed upon a Puritan soldier in his battle against men. Chesterton belittles Omar´s consumption of wine calling it a remedy for  mental and psychical disorders; “Jesus did not make wine a medicament but a sacrament. Whereas Omar does not make it a sacrament but a medicament.”[4]

Omar renounces God´s grace and renounces wine as a drug. Be it the Bible or cocaine, - that does not make a difference for Omar; he thinks both to be narcotics, which he renounces passionately. The purpose of Omar´s consumption of wine is neither to evoke happiness nor to kill time; he does not drink to forget about his grief or his doubts about the meaning of life. He does not drink for the sake of love, let alone for the sake of hatred.

Fernando Pessoa seems to have a better understanding of Omar´s philosophy of life than Chesterton, the Christian. Pessoa´s criticism makes us get closer to Omar´s views of everyday life; “He is content with looking at roses and drinking wine. A slight breeze, a random conversation, a cup of wine along with some flowers, it is those things that the Persian sage ultimately longs for.” [5] In these lines Omar´s spirit comes alive indeed; we might only add: a home of one´s own after the fashion, neither master nor servant.

However, it is the following in which Pessoa really grasps the true nature of Omar´s mind, “Khayyam´s dissatisfaction with life is not the dissatisfaction of someone who does not know what to do since he cannot really do anything or does not know how to do it. Such is the nature of the discontent of those who were born into this world more dead than alive, of those who legitimately depend on morphine or cocaine.”[6]

Pessoa finishes, saying, “It is the dissatisfaction of somebody who has thought things over very clearsightedly and has drawn the conclusion that he is surrounded by darkness; who has reflected on all religions and philosophies and then has spoken in Salomon´s fashion: ‘I have realized that everything on earth can be summed up as vanity and a temptation of the human mind...’ ”[7] There is no doubt about it, Omar is the one who faces life without being blinkered, and he states: everything is transcient, do not try to find the truth, that´s an impossible endeavour, it is futile, you will never know why we go from here and why we come here. For Dschemschid´s glass[8] will be smashed to pieces in the end. That is why Omar hands us the cup and stresses the relish of drinking wine. Drink it! Drink it! he shouts, for:


These reflections of the world, they´re apparitions,

No sage here will consider them to be true visions

Of life. Enjoy, do drink this grape juice here and then:

all your illusions will become mere objects of derision.[9]

[1] G.K. Chesterton: Ketzer (Heretics) Frankfurt a.M. 1998, p. 101

[2] Wie Wasser strömen wir. (We are like water, flowing) Die Rubaijat des Omar Chajjam, Erememiten-Presse 1984, Rubai No. 71

[3] Chesterton, p. 105

[4] Chesterton, p. 105

[5] F. Pessoa Das Buch der Unruhe (The Book of Restlessness) Frankfurt 2000, p. 262

[6] Pessoa, p. 261

[7] Pessoa, p. 261

[8] The legendary King Dschemschid owned a crystal chalice, in which  the whole world was mirrored, and    therefore it was the source of his wisdom.

[9] Die Sinnsprüche Omars des Zeltmachers (Omar the Tentmaker´s Aphorisms) Publishers: Insel-Verlag, 14th edition 1998, p. 30


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