Omar Khaiyyam's full name was Ghiyath al-Din Abu'l-Fath Umar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khaiyyami. A literal translation of the name al-Khayyami (or al-Khayyam) means 'tent maker' and this may have been the trade of Ibrahim his father. Khayyam played on the meaning of his own name when he wrote:-
Omar Khaiyyam was born at Naishapur in Khorassan in 1038 and died 1241. He lived under the patronage of the Vizier of that time, Nizam-ul-Mulk 'busied,' said the Vizier, 'in winning knowledge of every kind, and especially in astronomy, wherein he attained to a very high pre-eminence.' Omar was a mathematician as well as an astronomer and contributed to the reform of the Muslim calendar. According to some accounts he left his academic studies to take up Sufic training under a Sheik or teacher. It may have been at this time that he wrote the verses that Edward Fitzgerald found and translated some seven centuries later.
Fitzgerald's Rubaiyyat of Omar Khaiyyam was very well received as an English poem, but Persian writers have expressed concern about the distortions he introduced by his very free translation. Fitzgerald spoke of his work as a 'transmogrification' and mentioned that he 'mashed' together verses. His poem stressed living for the day, because of the impossibility of understanding the universe. It emphasized the immensity of space and time and the insignificance of man, and advocated shared friendship and conviviality, particularly the vinous delights of the tavern. Persian Sufis, however, might argue that Omar Khaiyyam's verses were written in the context of Sufi thought. This would mean that wine would be symbolic of the ecstasy of divine love, much as wine is part of the Christian sacrament or an important part of the marriage rites in the Hebrew Song of Songs. Missing this interpretation, and rejecting it when it was pointed out to him (although admitting its possible validity), Fitzgerald produced a poem that in some places might be regarded as a misrepresentation of Omar's thought.
Sufi or not, Omar wrote verses that stressed the insignificance of man, living for the day, and sharing friendship and conviviality through wine. Independent of whether the words have a secret meaning known only to initiates, they undoubtedly have an explicit meaning that can be enjoyed by the non-initiate.
Al-Khayyam made major contributions in Mathematics, particularly in Algebra. His book 'Maqalat fi al-Jabr wa al-Muqabila' on Algebra provided great advancement in the field. He classified many algebraic equations based on their complexity and recognized thirteen different forms of cubic equation. Omar Khayyam developed a geometrical approach to solving equations, which involved an ingenious selection of proper conics. He solved cubic equations by intersecting a parabola with a circle. Omar Khayyam was the first to develop the binomial theorem and determine binomial coefficients. He developed the binomial expansion for the case when the exponent is a positive integer. Omar Khayyam refers in his Algebra book to another work on what we now know as Pascal's triangle. This work is now lost. He extended Euclid's work giving a new definition of ratios and included the multiplication of ratios. He contributed to the theory of parallel lines.
' Arab World Books