The familiar version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam to the English reading public was translated in 1856 by Edward Fitz-Gerald from a 400-year old manuscript housed in Bodleian Library at Oxford. Three years ago, Professor Arthur J. Arberry, a Cambridge University professor of Arabic and an authority on Persian, published a limited edition based on a copy 200 years older than that of Bodleian Library. Recently the Professor received from a Persian book dealer a manuscript that was far older than either of the above, one that was copied just 75 years after Omar's death. From this he has now made a translation.
For years scholars of Persian and Arabic have been aware that Fitz-Gerald took more than poetic liberties in his 1856 translation, but the world at large has not realized the extent of this until this latest translation of Professor Arberry's, whose work, as nearly literal as possible, has revealed some interesting sidelights.
The new Rubaiyat may prove a disappointment to some, for apparently the familiar lines "The Moving Finger Writes; and having writ, Moves on" do not appear in this very early copy. And other equally loved lines are much changed from those we have grown accustomed to through the years. The question is: are we admirers of Omar Khayyam, or of Edward Fitz-Gerald! According to Professor Arberry, Omar was by far the greater.
(From Sunrise magazine, November 1951; copyright © 1951 Theosophical University Press)