KHAYYAM, OMAR ix. Translations into Italian



ix. Translations into Italian

No other Persian poet has enjoyed such enduring fame in Italy as Omar Khayyam (ʿOmar Ḵayyām) has.  Italian libraries hold only four manuscripts (15th-17th centuries) that together contain eighteen quatrains ascribed to Khayyam, one of which is thought to be unattested elsewhere (Piemontese, 1989, pp. 134-35, 292, 303-4, 339-40; Bertucci).  The first English and German versions of some of Khayyam’s quatrains had already appeared at the beginning of the 19th century, but the encounter with and reception of, Khayyam’s poetic work in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, was the result of the translation and rewriting of the English poet Edward FitzGerald (d. 1883) in the years 1859-79.  Thus, in Italy the more scholarly approach to Khayyam’s work by a few dedicated Iranists at a fitful pace over many decades has had to contend with the overbearing heritage of the so-called FitzOmar, which has been ardently loved, discussed, translated, and recast into Italian many times.  This dual process of reception has taken place in two intense phases: the two decades leading up to World War I, and the two decades immediately following World War II.

In the first key period, around the year 1890, a few samples of Khayyam’s quatrains were translated directly from Persian in the context of academic or occasional publications by scholars: Italo Pizzi, professor of Persian at Turin University (5 quatrains in 1887, and 60 quatrains in his Storia della poesia persiana, 1894, from Nicolas’s edition; these were inserted, together with some historical notes by Pizzi from the same book; in Dole’s revised edition of his comparative work, II, pp. 536-56), and Pizzi’s disciple and brother-in-law Vittorio Rugarli, a close friend of the Italian poet Giosuè Carducci, who also drew on Nicolas’s edition to produce two small wedding booklets in 1895, containing 12 and 10 quatrains respectively.  However, the call to Khayyam’s writings was only heeded decisively within the intellectual networks of the Italian bourgeoisie upon the discovery and popularization of FitzGerald’s work.  This process took place mainly in the literary milieu of Italian Decadentism tied to the figure of the writer and poet, and, later, politician, Gabriele d’Annunzio, and eventually came on the trail of the aestheticist-oriented reading promoted in Victorian England by Charles Swinburne and the Pre-Raphaelites.  Indeed, it was D’Annunzio’s close friend and collaborator, Adolfo De Bosis, who published the first essay on FitzGerald’s third edition of Khayyam with illustrations by Elihu Vedder in the journal Il Convito (June 1895); it included the Italian translation of fifteen quatrains from FitzGerald’s English version.

The first complete translations of FitzGerald’s work were produced later. One was by Diego Angeli, a collaborator on Il Convito, in two editions around 1910 (Figure 1), including the 101 quatrains of FitzGerald’s 3rd edition; these were severely criticized for the translator’s alleged poor knowledge of English. Another was by Fulvia Faruffini in 1914, containing the 75 quatrains of FitzGerald’s first edition.  Within the context of general fascination and appreciation shown by most intellectuals towards the newly discovered universal “poet philosopher,” only a few critical voices emerged, including the eminent literary critic Emilio Cecchi, who considered the Khayyam-FitzGerald enterprise as an exotic mis-en-scène submerged in aestheticism and mysticism, and thus the fruit of dangerous cultural decay.  The third notable translation from FitzGerald was the valuable work of Mario Chini, first published in the journal Nuova rassegna di litteraturea moderne in 1907, then in a successful volume in 1916; it still drew on FitzGerald’s third edition, but it was the first version to provide an accurate literary and historical profile of both the original Persian poet and the English translator.

In between these two channels of reception (the first one little developed by then), one can discern a few other attempts at translating and presenting Khayyam’s work to an Italian audience, using sources other than the original Persian texts and FitzGerald’s editions.  Edward Heron-Allen’s English revision of the Bodleian manuscript that had been the basis of FitzGerald’s work was the source of an indirect translation by Vittorio Gottardi (1903: 155 quatrains through Grolleau’s French version; this happens to be the first collection of Khayyam’s poems in a volume); it also provided the text for Tommaso Cannizzaro’s 1916 translation (158 quatrains).  It is not clear which language provided the basis for the widely disseminated version by Massimo Spiritini (two editions, one in 1907 under the pen name Massimo da Zevio, the other in 1924, enlarged from 77 to 84 quatrains, in a larger collection of Persian lyrics; in 1939 he republished a selection of slightly revised quatrains in an anthology of world poetry).  A poet himself and a translator from various European languages, Spiritini claimed that his translation was the result of the collaboration with “a friend from Hamadan” (Spiritini, 1924, p. 52); we nevertheless can rule out the possibility that he himself knew some Persian.

At this early stage of Italian acquaintance with Khayyam, the Persian poet generally was presented and welcomed as a hero of human free thought, a sceptical enemy of hypocrisy and of religious and social ties, a sort of genius of atheism and a martyr of philosophy.  In the context of Italy’s deeply classical culture, frequent comparisons were made with Latin poets such as Lucretius, on account of certain Epicurean traits attributed to Khayyam’s philosophy, and Horace, by way of his Anacreontic and apparently hedonistic lyric poetry.  Some commentators pushed the matter even further, in creating audacious bonds with modern authors like François Rabelais, Voltaire, Giacomo Leopardi, and many others. (e.g., Spiritini, 1907; Chini, p. XVII; De Lorenzo, pp. 116-31)

This phase also witnessed the production of a few notable poetic tributes to the figure of Khayyam—a testament to his emerging, cross-culture literary status.  The first one (1890) was the fruit of Turin’s scholarly environment, composed by the poet and professor of Italian literature, Arturo Graf, who was a colleague of Italo Pizzi (although, actually, this is a paraphrase of FitzGerald’s quatrain XXIX, inserted in a wider poem).  The other tributes are rooted in the milieus of Decadentism and its literary offshoots: they are the four-section poem “L’immortalità” (Immortality) by Giovanni Pascoli (1896), who learned about the Persian poet at the time of his collaboration with the journal Il Convito, and the poem “A Omar Kayyȃm” (To Omar Khayyam), by Vincenzo Cardarelli, composed in 1914, but published in 1942.  References to Khayyam henceforth have been quite frequent in texts by Italian writers across many genres.  Moreover, following the example of such English composers as Liza Lehmann and others, some compositions for piano and voice based on Khayyam’s verses also appeared in Italy, like the ones by Elsa Olivieri Sangiacomo (1919), wife of the famous composer Ottorino Respighi; Francesco Santoliquido (1920); Giacomo Benvenuti (1929); and Guido Guerrini (1948).  A later one by Azio Corghi (1966), based on four quatrains, was written for a male chorus.

With the exception of a couple of little-circulated collections of quatrains taken from FitzGerald in the early 1930s, the inter-war period represents a break in the circulation of Khayyam’s thought and poetry on the Italian peninsula, possibly because it was felt that it would contrast with the dominant pragmatic ideologies of the Fascist Era.  Then, at the end of World War II, with the establishment of the modern school of Iranian studies in Italy, further progress was made with the first large collection of quatrains translated directly from Persian.  In 1944, Francesco Gabrieli, who was mainly an Arabist but also worked on Persian sources, published a volume with historical introduction and annotations.  This work, subsequently re-published in 1973 with various reprints, was based on Bertalan Csillik’s editions of the Parisian manuscripts, through a comparison with the one at Bodleian Library, and included 307 quatrains.  The careful prose rendering of the poems by Gabrieli was praised by his friend and colleague, Alessandro Bausani, who nevertheless did not refrain from adding a second scholarly edition of Khayyam’s quatrains in Italian, published in 1956, with numerous reprints.  Bausani’s selection of 282 poems is based on Moḥammad-ʿAli Foruḡi’s and Arthor Arberry’s editions, and constitutes an excellent example of faithful translation and poetic expression in an elegant and rhythmic Italian language.  Among the meaningful contributions of Bausani’s critical “Introduction” is the attempt to reallocate Khayyam’s poetry in its proper historical world and ideological context, overtaking the simplistic interpretive dichotomy between the mystical Khayyam and the atheistic hedonist.  According to Bausani (p. xxi), “In the Islamic concept of the world dominated by casualism and occasionalism, the three ways of faith, despair, and irony, are not too far one from another, and in Khayyam the emphasis on each one of these three could well depend on the moment’s mood.”

After the war, a second wave of collections of Khayyam’s quatrains appeared, again by way of a number of intermediary languages.  These collections often were mainly based on FitzGerald, but sometimes they were taken from other versions as well, such as the very popular French one by Franz Toussaint, issued in 1924 (apparently used for his translation by the classical philologist and poet Alessandro Zazzaretta, in 1948, republished in 1966).  A well-known publication was promoted by Pierre Pascal, at that time Chancellor of the Iranian Embassy at the Holy See, who translated from Persian 453 quatrains, mainly from the controversial Cambridge University Library and Chester Beatty Library manuscripts, into both French (Rome, 1958) and Italian (Turin, 1960, with the collaboration of G. Degli Alberti).

Without counting the selections of quatrains appearing in various anthologies of Persian or world literature, whose sources are generally hardly traceable, a number of other collections of Khayyam’s poems have been published, with evidence of a renewed vogue during the 1990s and 2000s.  These include an interesting attempt at a comparative translation and rewriting from French, English, and Italian (by C. Gasparini, 1991), as well as two versions of Paramahansa Yogananda’s spiritual commentary to the Quatrains (1995), a quite successful recasting from various sources (by H. Haidar, 1997), and an Italian version (1999) of the much-debated translation produced in 1967 by Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah.  An approximate estimate identifies up to 28 different volumes in Italian (to 2013) devoted to Khayyam’s poetry that include at least seventy-five quatrains (that is, the number in FitzGerald’s first edition), of which about half depend directly on one of FitzGerald’s English versions.  This estimation remains approximate because of the difficulty in ascertaining the existence of collections of a commercial nature and scope, often with misleading titles.  In recent years some multilingual editions have been published in Iran, which include Italian translations by anonymous authors (Coumans, pp. 196-204).  However, despite the lack of continuity in dedicated Khayyamian studies within Italian scholarship to date, Gabrieli’s and Bausani’s versions of the 1940s and 1950s remain the most solid and reliable reference works for reading Khayyam in the Italian language.


Editions, relevant non-Italian translations, and secondary literature.

Mehdi Aminrazavi, The Wine of Wisdom: The Life, Poetry and Philosophy of Omar Khayyam, Oxford, 2005. 

Arthur J. Arberry, ed., The Rubāʿīyāt of Omar Khayyām, ed. from a newly discovered manuscript dated 658 (1259-60) in the possession of A. Chester Beatty ..., with comparative English Versions by Edward FitzGerald, E. H. Whinfield and the editor, London, 1949. 

Idem, Omar Khayyám: A New Version Based Upon Recent Discoveries, New Haven, 1952. 

Idem, The Romance of the Rubáiyát, Fitzgerald’s first edition reprinted with introduction and notes, London, 1959. 

Luca Badini Confalonieri, “Le Khayyām d’un poète italien: ‘À Omar Khayyām’ de Cardarelli,” Luqmān: Annales des Presses Universitaires d’Iran 18/1, no. 35, 2001-2002, pp. 47-55. 

Dora Bertucci, “Le quartine di ʿOmar Khayyām nei manoscritti persiani conservati in Italia,” Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Rendiconti della Classe di Scienze Morali, Storiche e Filologiche, Ser. 9, II, 1991, pp. 13-29. 

John A. Boyle, “Omar Khayyam: Astronomer, Mathematician and Poet,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 52/1, 1969, pp. 30-45.

Arthur Christensen, Recherches sur les Rubāʿiyāt de ʿOmar Ḫayyām, Heidelberg, 1905.

Idem, Critical Studies in the Rubāʿiyāt of ʿUmar-i-Khayyām: A Revised Text with English Translation, Copenhagen, 1927; tr. Faridun Badraʾi, as Barrasi-e enteqādi-e robāʿiyāt-e Ḵayyām, Tehran, 1995. 

Jos Coumans, The Rubáiyát of Khayyám: An Updated Bibliography, Leiden, 2010.  Bertalan Csillik, Les Manuscrits mineurs des Rubâʿiyat de ʿOmar Khayyâm dans la Bibliothèque Nationale, Szeged, 1933. 

Idem, The Principal Manuscripts of the Rubáʿiyyát of ʿUmar-i Khayyám in the Bibliothèue Nationale, Paris, London, 1934.  

ʿAli Dašti, Dam-i bā Ḵayyām, Tehran, 1965; 2nd expanded ed., Tehran, 1969; tr. L. P. Elwell-Sutton, as In Search of Omar Khayyam, London, 1971. 

François de Blois, Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey V: Poetry of the Pre-Mongol Period, 2nd ed., London and New York, 2004, pp. 299-318.  Nathan Haskell Dole, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: English, French, German, Italian, and Danish Translations Comparatively Arranged in Accordance with the Text of Edward FitzGerald’s Version, 2 vols., Boston, 1912.

Edward FitzGerald, tr., Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám: The Astronomer-Poet of Persia, Translated into English Verse, London, 1859; 2nd ed., London, 1868; 3rd ed., London, 1972. 

Idem, tr., Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám; and The Salámán and Absál of Jámí, Rendered into English Verse, London, 1879. 

Moḥammad-ʿAli Foruḡī and Qāsem Ḡni, Robāʿiyāt-e Ḥakīm Ḵayyām Nišāburi, Tehran, 1942; 2nd ed., Tehran, 1961. 

Moḥammad-Mahdi Fulādvand, Ḵayyām-šenāsi, Tehran, 1999. 

Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A New Translation with Critical Commentaries, London, 1967. 

Charles Grolleau, tr., Les Quatrains d’Omar Kháyyám, traduits du persan sur le manuscrit conservé à la “Bodleian Library” d’Oxford, publiés avec une Introduction et des Notes par ..., Paris, 1902. 

Jawād Ḥadidi, Az Saʿdi tā Āāgun: Taʾṯir-e adabiyāt-e fārsi dar adabiyāt-e Farānsa, Tehran, 1994, pp. 358-419. 

Edward Heron-Allen, ed. and tr., The Rubaʿiyat of Omar Khayyām: A Facsimile of the ms. in the Bodleian Library Translated and Edited by ..., London, 1898. 

Vladimir Minorsky, “The Earliest Collections of O. Khayyam,” in Yádnáme-yi Jan Rypka: Collection of Articles on Persian and Tajik Literature, Prague, 1967, pp. 107-18.

Yahya M. Nawabi, Ketāb-šenāsi-e Irān /A Bibliography of Iran: A List of Books and Articles on Iranian Subjects, Mainly in European Languages, 6 vols., Tehran, 1969-84, II, pp. 285 ff. 

Louis Jean Baptiste Nicolas, tr., Les Quatrains de Khèyam traduits du persan par ..., Paris, 1867. 

Pierre Pascal, Les Robâʾiyyât d’Omar Khayyâm de Neyshaboor, pour la première fois, traduits en vers français par Pierre Pascal; d’après les plus anciens manuscrits, récemment découverts ..., Rome, 1958. 

Angelo Michele Piemontese, “ʿOmar Khayyām in Italia,” Oriente Moderno 54/4, 1974, pp. 133-55.

Idem, Bibliografia italiana dell’Iran (1462-1982), 2 vols., Naples, 1982, II, pp. 614-21.

Idem, Catalogo dei manoscritti persiani conservati nelle biblioteche d’Italia, Rome 1989. 

Idem, “Poèmes lyriques italien consacrés à Omar Khayyam,” in Mélanges in memoriam Javād Ḥadīdī, Luqmān: Annales des Presses Universitaires d’Iran 19, 1, no. 37, 2002-2003, pp. 127-39. 

Ambrose George Potter, A Bibliography of the Rubāiyāt of Omar Khayyām, Together with Kindred Matter in Prose and Verse Pertaining Thereto, London, 1929; repr., Zurich and New York, 1994. 

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, ed., The Great ʿUmar Khayyām: A Global Reception of the Rubáiyát, Leiden, 2012. 

Franz Toussaint, Rubaiyat de Omar Khayyam, traduits du persan par..., Paris, 1924.

John D. Yohannan, Persian Poetry in England and America: A 200-Year History, Delmar, N.Y., 1977.

Some Italian versions of the Quatrains, significant non-scholarly Italian articles, and works related to Khayyam.

Diego Angeli, tr., Omar Khayyám, Le Quartine: Riduzione ritmica di Diego Angeli dalla traduzione in inglese di Edward Fitzgerald, Bergamo, 1910. 

Idem, tr., Edward Fitzgerald: Quartine di Omar Khayyám, Versione di Diego Angeli, Bergamo, n.d. 

Alessandro Bausani, ed. and tr., Omar Khayyȃm, Quartine (Robȃʾiyyȃt), Turin, 1956. 

Giacomo Benvenuti, Tre quartine di Omar Kajjam tradotte da Vittorio Gottardi [per] canto e pianoforte [music score], Milan, 1929. 

Tommaso Cannizzaro, tr., Le Quartine (Rubaiyat) di Umar Chayyȃm poeta persiano del secolo XI secondo la lezione di Edward Heron-Allen ... recate in italiano dal traduttore dei Sonetti di Camòes e di A. De Quintal ... , Catania, 1916. 

Vincenzo Cardarelli, “A Omar Khayyām,” in idem, Poesie: Prefazione di Giansiro Ferrata, Verona, 1942, pp. 53-54. 

Emilio Cecchi, “Cronache di letteratura: Omar Khayyam,” La Tribuna, Rome, 9 May 1914, p. 3.  Mario Chini, tr., Rubȃiyȃt di Omar Khayyam secondo la lezione di Edoardo Fitzgerald, Lanciano, 1916. 

Azio Corghi, “Robȃʿiyyȃt”: 4 quartine di Omar Khayyȃm per coro maschile [music score], Milan, 1966. 

Giorgio Costantini, tr., Omar Khayyàm: Rubàiyàt, Rome, 1956; 2nd ed., Rome, 1990.

Massimo da Zevio, tr., Rubáiyàt di Omar Khayyám, Verona, 1907. 

Adolfo de Bosis, “Note su Omar Khayyam e su Elihu Vedder,” Il Convito 6, June 1895, pp. 397-415. 

Giuseppe De Lorenzo, Oriente ed Occidente, Bari, 1931. 

Fulvia Faruffini, tr., E. FitzGerald, I Rubaiyat di Omar Khayyam, Versione in prosa ritmica di Fulvia Faruffini, Naples, 1914.  

Francesco Gabrieli, ed. and tr., ʿOmar Khayyàm: Le Rubaiyyàt, Florence, 1944; 2nd ed., Rome, 1973. 

Claudia Gasparini, tr., Omar Khayyȃm: Quartine, Rome, 1991. 

Vittorio Gottardi, tr., Le quartine di Omar Khayyam, con prefazione di Angelo Crespi, Milan, 1903. 

Arturo Graf, “Libro III (1885-89): Dall’Oriente,” in idem, Medusa, Turin, 1890, p. 249. 

Guido Guerrini, “Aurora. Testo di Omar Khayyam,” in idem, Canti della mia prigionia, per voce e pianoforte  [music score], Bologna, 1948. 

Hafez Haidar, tr., ʿOmar Khayyȃm: Quartine, Milan, 1997. 

Gabrielle Hodson-Hirst, tr., Omar Khayyám, Rubáiyát: Testo inglese di Fitzgerald, Traduzione italiana di ..., Vimercate, 1993.

Amelita Jorio Stacy, tr., Khayyām, Rubaiyyat: A cura del Sayyed Omar Ali-Shah, Turin, 1999.

Pierre Pascal, ed. and tr., Omar Khayyām: Robāʿiyyāt, Traduzione di Pierre Pascal con la collaborazione di G. Degli Alberti, Turin, 1960. 

Giovanni Pascoli, “Meditazioni, II: L’immortalità,” in Poemetti. Seconda Edizione Raddoppiata, Milan and Palermo, 1900, pp. 43-45. 

Italo Pizzi, Storia della poesia persiana, 2 vols., Turin, 1894, I, pp. 239-44, 280-86.

Gianluca Ricci, Exergo: navigando intorno e oltre le quartine di Omar Khayyam, Perugia, 2007. 

Francesco Ruchin, Vino d’oriente: elogio del vino nelle quartine di Omar Khayyam poeta persiano dell’11. secolo, Prato, 2012. 

Vittorio Rugarli, tr., Dodici Quartine di Omar Khayyam tradotte dal persiano da ..., Bologna, 1895. 

Idem, tr., Dieci Quartine di Omar Khayyam tradotte dal persiano da ..., Bologna, 1895. 

Giulio Russo, tr., ʿOmar Khayyám: Rubáiyát da Edward Fitzgerald, Genoa, 1966.  

Elisa Olivieri Sangiacomo, Alla Signora Ida Tilche Saxe, Dai “Rubaiyat” di Omar Kayam: Quattro liriche per canto e pianoforte [music score], Milan and Paris, 1920. 

Francesco Santoliquido, Tre poesie persiane musicate per canto e pianoforte: Parole di Negi De Kamare, Omar Khayam e Abu-Said [music score], Florence, 1920.

Massimo Spiritini, “Omar Khayyám,” L’Italia moderna 5, I, no. 8, April 1907, pp. 867-72. 

Idem, Lira Persiana, Padova, 1924.  Idem, Poeti nel mondo, Milan, 1939. 

Vincenzo Ussani, “Per una nuova versione di Omar Khajjam,” La Voce 6, no. 21, 13 November 1914, pp. 46-52. 

Antonio Veneziani, tr., Omar Khayyȃm: Il deserto del nulla, Rome, 1991. 

Nicolò Vivona, Angoscia ed ebbrezza di Omàr Khayyàm: Lettura poetica di duecento “Rubayyàt,” Trapani, 1955. 

Paramahansa Yogananda, Il Vino del Mistico: Le Rubaiyyàt di Omar Khayyàm: Un’interpretazione spirituale, Rome, 1995. 

Alessandro Zazzaretta, tr., Rubaiyàt di Omar Khayyàm, Rome, 1948; 2nd expanded ed., Rome, 1960. 

Lorenzo Zichichi and Norberto G. Kuri, tr., Omar al-Khayyȃm, Robaiʿyyāt, Rome, 2002.

(Mario Casari)

Originally Published: September 10, 2014

Last Updated: September 10, 2014

Cite this entry:

Mario Casari, "KHAYYAM, OMAR ix. Translations into Italian," Encyclopædia Iranica Online, available at (accessed on 10 September 2014).