Translation after the Persianate? Omar Khayyam and Late Perso-Ottoman Poetic Connectivity

In: Philological Encounters
Mehtap Ozdemir Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University of Bologna Bologna Italy

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This article focuses on late Ottoman/Turkish translations of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat (“quatrains”) as part of Perso-Ottoman poetic connectivity in the early twentieth century. Situating the reception of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat at the nexus of world literature, literary historiography, and translatability, the article explores the methodological affordances of translation to redress the overdominance of discursive and historical points of rupture in studies of late Persianate literatures. To that end, the article offers a comparative reading of Hüseyin Daniş’s Rubaiyat-ı Ömer Hayyam (1927), Rıza Tevfik’s Ömer Hayyam ve Rubaileri (1945), both of which are based on their co-authored translation in 1922, and Mevlevi Mustafa Rüşdi b. Mehmet Tevfik’s translation of Khayyam’s quatrains (1931–32). By way of specific attention to translation as hermeneutics, this article suggests that translating after the Persianate did not involve a straight shift from regional translation practices to translation proper nor was it exclusively a modus operandi of literary and linguistic nationalism. In drawing attention to how translation can accommodate both synchronic and diachronic mobility, the article therefore calls for alternative comparative methodologies which attend to persistent textual practices as well as conjunctural discourses in literary history.


This article focuses on late Ottoman/Turkish translations of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat (“quatrains”) as part of Perso-Ottoman poetic connectivity in the early twentieth century. Situating the reception of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat at the nexus of world literature, literary historiography, and translatability, the article explores the methodological affordances of translation to redress the overdominance of discursive and historical points of rupture in studies of late Persianate literatures. To that end, the article offers a comparative reading of Hüseyin Daniş’s Rubaiyat-ı Ömer Hayyam (1927), Rıza Tevfik’s Ömer Hayyam ve Rubaileri (1945), both of which are based on their co-authored translation in 1922, and Mevlevi Mustafa Rüşdi b. Mehmet Tevfik’s translation of Khayyam’s quatrains (1931–32). By way of specific attention to translation as hermeneutics, this article suggests that translating after the Persianate did not involve a straight shift from regional translation practices to translation proper nor was it exclusively a modus operandi of literary and linguistic nationalism. In drawing attention to how translation can accommodate both synchronic and diachronic mobility, the article therefore calls for alternative comparative methodologies which attend to persistent textual practices as well as conjunctural discourses in literary history.

In his biographical translation of Rubaiyat-ı Ömer Hayyam (1927), Hüseyin Daniş (1870–1943) recounts an interesting anecdote about how a handful of rose seeds made their way from Omar Khayyam’s tomb in Nishapur to London. According to Daniş’s account, the reporter Mr. William Simpson, who was assigned by the Illustrated London News to accompany the Afghan Boundary Commission from Tehran to eastern Iran, took an opportunity to visit Khayyam’s tomb in 1884 while passing nearby. Disappointed to find Khayyam’s tomb overshadowed by the grand shrine of an imam, Mr. Simpson noticed red rose bushes across the tomb. Thinking that “these are most probably of the same species of rose whose sight Khayyam enjoyed while composing poetry,”1 Simpson sent some seeds back home with a letter that recounted his travel impressions. To his mind, they would be considered “a most beautiful gift” by Khayyam lovers. Indeed, later in 1893, the Omar Khayyam Club planted two of the rose sprouts cultivated from these seeds next to the grave of Edward FitzGerald, the famous translator of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat into English, as a way of paying homage to both the Persian poet and his English translator.2

For Daniş, this symbolic gesture evidences the extent of European interest in and admiration for Khayyam, in contrast to the lack of attention and care that Khayyam received back home. Motivated to fill this lacuna, Daniş’s translation is arguably premised on the idea of translation as reseeding, which is indeed a fitting metaphor to capture the international reception of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. As an act of border-crossing, translation as reseeding illustrates a dual process of recognition at international and national levels. To follow the metaphor, in translation, Khayyam not only gains international visibility as a great poet, becoming part of a loosely defined world canon, but also as a Persian poet, thus inscribed into a nationalized literary history. However, this recognition also means the erasure of his national or ethnic difference. With reference to Edward FitzGerald’s translation (1859), for instance, Daniş argues that it takes inspiration from “the spirit and style of Rubaiyat” but in fact is a product of “English genius” that “reflects its English environment and English patterns of thinking and expression.”3 The Persian seed blossoms into an English rose, so to say. Convenient in more than one way, translation as reseeding then elides the implications of uprooting, a more violent act of transference, thus shying away from the questions of hegemony and ideology in literary interactions. In fact, almost evoking the age-old ritual of the religious translatio whereby a saint’s relics are moved from one location to another, the ceremonial and deferential way in which the rose sprouts were planted along with poetry recitations by club members memorializes this double process of (non-)recognition.

Translation as reseeding touches upon a recurrent debate in comparative literary studies: translatability. In the past few decades, in response to how translatability has been established as a linguistic and literary value especially within the emerging discourse on world literature, some comparatists like Emily Apter have expressed concern that approaching translation as a mode of mobility and transferability puts minor languages or languages that resist translation at further risk of invisibility. When translatability becomes a supreme value in the international circulation of meaning, Apter argues, it not only suggests cultural “substitutability” in the language of equivalence but also solidifies “nationally and ethnically branded ‘differences’” as “commercialized identities.”4 Instead, Apter “invoke[s] untranslatability as a deflationary gesture toward the expansionism and gargantuan scale of world-literary endeavors.”5 While sharing Apter’s suspicion of the commodification of difference and hierarchical language dynamics, Lawrence Venuti, however, finds Apter’s “untranslatable” to be an instrumental and essentializing take on the nature of meaning in translation. In Apter, untranslatability does not signify an inability to translate; but rather a kernel of meaning that is so intransigent that it demands relentless and continuous translation. According to Venuti, in this formulation, untranslatable basically refers to “an invariant,” some kind of “semantic essentialism” that “preserves the source text under a romantic concept of original integrity.”6 As such, Venuti argues, untranslatability misses the plurality and variability of meaning in a source text that is animated in translation.

By drawing on translation theories, particularly translation as hermeneutics, this article offers a new understanding of late Perso-Ottoman literary relations, which goes beyond an exclusive focus on modernity and/or nation as the only available analytical categories. Through a comparative reading of three Ottoman Turkish translations of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat in the early twentieth century, I show the methodological affordances of the Persianate for better contextualizing Ottoman literary modernity. For the purposes of my argument, the Persianate refers to translingual “webs of significance,” to use Clifford Geertz’s terminology, which are constitutive of historically formed and transmitted interpretive patterns and codes, which perhaps once originated in Persian, but became part of other languages over time.7 That’s why, while taking into account how Persian or Persianism became a placeholder for retrograde tradition in nineteenth-century reform discourse, this article does not claim to define Ottoman literary history as wholly Persianate nor uses it with connotations of imitation and derivation. As Lawrence Venuti puts it, when translated, a source text becomes “the site of multiple and conflicting interpretations,” because “translating operates by building an interpretive context in a language and culture different than one’s own.”8 In such cases, favoring one interpretation over another makes an interpretive claim that discloses immediate cultural, institutional, and personal conditions that sustain that interpretation. However, in the case of languages that share a long history of literary and cultural contact, translation or the limits of (un)translatability are informed as much by the past as the present. Approaching translation as a hermeneutic framework attuned to both diachronic and synchronic mobility allows us to move away from seeing the present/modernity and the past/tradition as temporal opposites, and instead to view them as co-constitutive elements.

Before moving on to my analysis, let me expand on the importance of translatability for the Persianate literary-hermeneutic. It is widely acknowledged that translatability has been both a conceptual and practical conundrum for Islamic literatures across time. As translation scholars suggest, even though Qurʾanic inimitability, that is, the theological doctrine of the untranslatability of the Qurʾān as the unique and divine expression of language and eloquence, has decisively impacted aesthetic expression and poetics in Islamic literatures, languages like Turkish and Persian have developed rich and multidirectional cultures of translation.9 Not only does the concept of translation (tercüme/terceme/tarjamah) hold a multiplicity of meanings, but also its practice reflects a variety of textual interactions across these languages. In her discussion of Qurʾanic inimitability, Rebecca Gould, for instance, offers a reversed dynamic between untranslatability and translatability.

At the basis of Qurʾanic inimitability lies, as Gould explicates, the way in which meaning and language is condensed into form. In this context, translatability is not about verbal closeness or semantic clarity, but the specificity of poetic/linguistic discourse. This, however, does not mean its untranslatability. With reference to Walter Benjamin’s writing on translation, now canonized and much used in translation theory, Gould further suggests that “the texts that signify in the most ways [poetry in particular] are those that are most translatable.”10 Thus going beyond the translatability vs. untranslatability dualism, Rebecca Gould’s reading reframes translation in relation to “the incommensurability of literary form.”11

Needless to say, Qurʾanic inimitability has implications beyond theology, jurisdiction, or Arabic. Considering the tight threads between form, language, and faith, Qurʾanic inimitability forms the theoretical basis for language philosophy and literary criticism in other Islamic languages. It not only led to the development of the discipline of Islamic rhetoric, but the supreme status of the Qurʾān as “the original” also impacted the nature of meaning in literary production. With reference to the formation of “an Ottoman interculture” at the intersection of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, Saliha Paker, for instance, argues that “resemblance” had a “constructive function” in the Islamic literary epistemology, since its underlying logic was to “reproduce textual similitude.”12 To put it differently, when the Qurʾān is configured as the untranslatable Original, literary production and circulation was carried out in seemingly repetitive and emulative writing practices. This does not, however, mean the absence of the idea of originality, but rather that originality was associated with a wide range of appropriative and creative practices, like parallel writing (nazire), imitation (taklid), and creative mediation (telif), that fell under translation.

Given this context, Qurʾanic inimitability has resonances for early modern Perso-Ottoman relations as well. While a full account of Perso-Ottoman translational interactions is beyond the scope of this article, the integrality of Persian to early modern Ottoman learnedness and social distinction is worth noting.13 Not only did a knowledge of Persian show one’s level of literacy and social status; Persian literary and mystical texts also appealed to a wide range of readerships throughout the early modern period.14 In fact, in her reading of early Ottoman thought, Aslıhan Gürbüzel argues that Persian was considered sacred alongside Arabic. As Gürbüzel explains, there were “two distinct configurations of the divine—legal and mystical-philosophical” in “the imagery of the bilingual heaven” that marked the Islamic tradition.15 Putting an emphasis on the cultural and intellectual meanings of Persian for an early-modern Ottoman readership, Gürbüzel traces two conflicting approaches toward Persian literature. As she puts it, one group “consumed Persian poetry as literature,” the other “theorized it as sacred text.”16 The sacred value of a limited Persian canon also bears on the modalities of translation that govern Perso-Ottoman interlingual relations in the early modern period. As Murat Umut İnan further explains, Ottoman engagement with Persian texts produced “a variety of philological works” such as “commentaries, translations, and vocabularies” in the early modern period.17

In the long nineteenth century, as this special issue shows, the Persianate literary-hermeneutic network underwent drastic changes in terms of language dynamics and literary criticism. Relevant to my discussion is the shift in the notion of translation which moved away from a representational paradigm of similitude and emulation to one of originality and authenticity.18 Within the framework of national literary-cultural renaissances, like the Ottoman Tanzimat, one way to historicize how translation was reduced to a modern sense of semantic transfer or a channel of information is to think this change through the sociological impacts of the growing print culture. As information channels, print media not only impacted linguistic norms and policies, but also changed the meaning of text as stable and finished entities, attaching originality and authenticity as values to textual interaction. As such, print media fixed not only national languages, but also texts.

Kamran Rastegar calls this emerging notion of translation “the colonial credo of translatability,” which he argues emerged in the wake of colonial modernity and changed how a select Persian corpus was translated into other Persianate languages over the long nineteenth century.19 While such texts as the thirteenth-century Gulistan (Rose Garden) of Saʿdī were rarely translated or, to better put it, mostly mediated through older forms of interlinguistic interaction like commentaries in the early modern period, Rastegar maintains, with the colonial credo of translatability, they entered into a new translation zone in which translation meant “a positive, apolitical and effective form of intercultural mediation.”20 For Rastegar, this switch is linked with a parallel shift in the material and symbolic capital of Persian, to refer back to Gürbüzel, as a literary and mystical-sacred language. That is, since the “implicit prohibition of translation” around such texts was partly due to their reception as “exemplary or sublime,”21 their (quasi-)sacred status was dismissed in the colonial credo of translatability. Furthermore, their literary value started to be measured by new norms of textual originality and fidelity. Eventually, such Persian texts moved from a sacred position to one of secular sublimity.

Slightly modifying a question recently raised by Mana Kia and Afshin Marashi,22 this article then asks how translation changed after the Persianate and as such contributes to the larger debate on including non-European poetics into current discussions on world literature and modernity. Early twentieth-century Ottoman Turkish translations of Khayyam provide a rich ground to explore the issues of translatability and historical poetics. Unlike the Gulistan or the Mesnevi, Khayyam’s Rubaiyat does not enjoy a centuries-old canonical status that might be considered sacred. Even though Khayyam’s status as a poet was certainly known and enjoyed as evidenced in references to him in biographical anthologies and poems,23 Khayyam’s recognition as a global poet is arguably a modern one at the nexus of world literature and secular criticism. When Khayyam’s “gül-deste” (meaning both a rose bouquet and anthology) is transferred into Ottoman/Turkish translations,24 we see that Khayyam is simultaneously recovered as a kernel of Persian poetic imagination and dissolved into a set of worldly ideas and values. For many Turkish translators, he is “as much a nationalist [milliyetçi] as a humanist [insancı].”25

In addition, the translational canonization of Khayyam exemplifies how the colonial credo of translatability gets institutionalized in literary historiography. The absence of an identified collection of poetry by Khayyam provided a perfect opportunity for modernizing intellectuals to build their authority on the growing scholarship around Khayyam, turning literary historiography into an important arena for nationalist modernizing agendas. As Alexander Jabbari suggests, the inclusion of such “extraliterary figures” as Khayyam into nationalized literary histories is a good example of how premodern forms were repurposed for the formation of modern literature.26 In that vein, Samuel Hodgkin demonstrates, for instance, how Khayyam provides “a third term, the progressive tradition of the Persianate ‘East’” to writers across the Turco-Persian modernist network to “mediate between (Western) universality and national specificity.”27 As such, while Khayyam becomes an important part of the transregional discussions whereby Persianate histories are parceled out among national languages, his re-inscription as a world poet also contributes to the formation of new transregional literary affiliations across Asia.

The question that remains is to what extent Khayyam’s Turkish translations textually reflect the discursive entanglement of world literature, literary historiography, and translatability. Taking this question to the center, this article looks at three Ottoman/Turkish translations of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat as a way of exploring the translational dynamics that govern Ottoman-Persian literary relations in the early twentieth century. The texts in question are Hüseyin Daniş’s Rubaiyat-ı Ömer Hayyam (1927) and Rıza Tevfik’s (1869–1949) Ömer Hayyam ve Rubaileri (1945), both of which are based on their co-authored translation of 1922. With reference to Daniş’s translation, I first show how translation mediates not only between conflicting claims to nationalized literary histories, but also between premodern forms, tezkires in this case, and modern literary history. Building on this discussion about the role of translation in the emergence of literary history as a modern discipline, I then read the hermeneutic frameworks that subtend the translations by Daniş and Tevfik in light of their translation models, a combination of verse-to-prose translation with commentary, with specific emphasis on the points of creative confrontation. In the interest of furthering my reflection on translation as hermeneutics, this article finally focuses on Mevlevi Mustafa Rüşdi b. Mehmet Tevfik’s translation of Khayyam’s quatrains, which is part of Rüşdi’s manuscript compendium (1931–32) of various translated texts. I conclude with Rüşdi’s translation to suggest the wide range of textual relations between Ottoman/Turkish and Persian as well as the continuing value of Persian as “shorthand for a mystical-philosophical canon and its hermeneutics”28 for different reading communities in the early twentieth century.

Historicizing Khayyam in Translation

Distinguished from other Ottoman translators of Khayyam’s Rubaiyat by ethnic and religious pedigree, Hüseyin Daniş was an established scholar and translator of Persian in his time. He wrote in important journals like Servet-i Fünun on various subjects and actively participated in significant debates such as the fin-de-siècle discussions on classics and language reforms.29 As an Ottoman intellectual with close ties to the Iranian diaspora within the empire and deep investment in Persian language and history, Daniş therefore occupied a central place in the late Ottoman literary landscape in which rising nationalist sentiments created clashing cultural claims among Ottoman and Iranian intellectuals.30 As an example showcasing the fault lines of the post-constitutional discourse on national literatures one can for instance cite Hüseyin Daniş’s well-known polemic with the Turcologist, historian, and statesman Fuad Köprülü (1890–1966) on Persian literary history in 1918–19. In this debate, we can trace how a shared literary past was subject to a language of ownership that divides and allocates literary history along ethno-linguistic lines. More importantly, certain claims of this polemic were later revived within the context of Khayyam translations.

Before preparing a single-authored translation of Rubaiyat, Daniş published a co-authored translation with Rıza Tevfik, a well-known poet and philosopher, in 1922. It seems in the earlier version that Daniş and Tevfik divided the workload with Daniş writing the first section on Khayyam’s biography and translating the quatrains and Tevfik penning the section on Khayyam’s aesthetic philosophy.31 Since Köprülü reviewed only the historical-biographical part written by Daniş in 1922, their exchanges about this co-authored translation can then be considered an extension of their earlier polemic, which as a whole reflected on Daniş’s later rewriting of the same translation. In the single-authored version, Daniş restructures the previous one by lengthening and changing the peritextual part that details Khayyam’s biography and literary-philosophical significance. In doing so, he also puts extra emphasis on the historical importance of his translation for Khayyam’s scholars in terms of accuracy, objectivity, and comprehensiveness. While leaving Daniş’s interpretive departures from Tevfik’s philosophical framing to the next section, I will therefore briefly dwell on the Köprülü-Daniş debates as way of exploring the instrumentalization of objective and faithful translation in reforming national literary histories.

Known for his influential thinking on Turkish literary historiography, which finds its clearest and most condensed expression in his article on “methodology in Turkish literary history” (1913), Fuad Köprülü criticizes Daniş’s textbook on Persian literary history and his translation of Khayyam through similar parameters. On each occasion, Köprülü finds Daniş’s work lacking in historical methodology, which meant for Köprülü, if we refer to his well-known article, analyzing distinct pieces/stages of national literature over time to arrive at a synthesis that gives an expression of national genius. In Köprülü’s thinking, such a goal can be achieved by objective and exact scholarship.32 In the case of the earlier dispute about Daniş’s textbook on Persian literary history, which transpired over several articles from February to July 1918 with Daniş’s final response appearing as a book, Münazaratım, in 1919, Daniş methodologically fails twice in Köprülü’s eyes. In addition to lacking a proper system of categorization and focusing more on the pre-Islamic period at the expense of Islamic Persian history, Köprülü argues, Daniş’s historical textbook “imitates old şuara tezkires [biographical dictionaries of poets]” in introducing certain poets through their biography (tercüme-i hal) without treating them “as part of a comprehensive political and civilizational framework.”33 Apart from the lack of contextual information that Köprülü finds indispensable for literary history, Köprülü also objects to Daniş’s “subjective and arbitrary” method of selection which he considers “an extension of old Eastern disorganization.”34 As such, Daniş’s historiography fails not only to rise above the level of tercüme-i hal found in the tezkire tradition, but also to properly use tezkires as archival material.

In his responses, Daniş does not think too differently from Köprülü about tezkires. “Making literature by gathering several şuara tezkires,” Daniş argues, “is just like trying to understand literary texts through şerhs and tefsirs.” While biographical dictionaries of poets do not offer any insight into sociopolitical contexts, which is for Daniş a result of “the absence of any link between the individual and the society in the East,”35 “commentaries and exegetical works do nothing more than imitating and intermingling texts.”36 Therefore, the tradition of biographical dictionaries and commentaries fails to fulfill the “criterium” established among men of letters about modern Persian literature. As he puts it, “today no one in Iran evaluates literature by the measures of power and success in prosody and rhyme and pompous and esoteric language, and hyperboles. Most of those who write kaside and gazel are for some time in oblivion. Iranian critics no longer give any consideration to tezkires.”37 As he abstains from using these tezkires even as source materials and does not attribute any scholarly or historical value to them, Daniş finds Köprülü’s criticism unfair.38

Their main disagreement, then, concerns the boundaries of Turkish and Persian literatures as nationalized spaces. Overall, Köprülü urges Daniş to highlight intercultural influences that inflected the formation of Persian literature, asking him to dwell on Central Asian and Indian streams of Persian literature. Couched in a discourse of proper scholarship, Köprülü’s criticism is mainly directed at the nationalization of Persian literature, which implies for him denying “the debt of Muslim Iran to Turkish rulers.” “Considering that this short history is written to be used as a textbook in Turkish schools,” Köprülü opines, “it would be better if there was a discussion about the great and felicitous impact of Turks on Persian literature and culture and how Persian literature developed in Turkish palaces and which great geniuses the Turkish race gifted to this literature.”39

In contrast, Daniş embraces in his responses a transhistorical one that is nevertheless motivated by nationalist impulses very similar to Köprülü’s. According to Daniş, there are three periods that characterize Persian literature: the pre-Islamic, the Islamic, and the Constitutional periods.40 Taking the second as the subject matter of literary history, Daniş attributes the development of Persian literature not to any external influence, but to the work of individual geniuses “each of whom opened and closed an age on his own.”41 In other words, “while Persian people remained loyal and devoted as long as their historical traditions and national foundations were kept intact,” in Daniş’s words, ruling nations “remained separate from Iranian civilization like olive oil on water.” As for the interaction between Turks and Persians, Daniş argues that “each ruling Turkish family changed their identity by the absorbing power of the Iranian nation.”42 In this framework, the literary feats of now-canonized Persian poets are interpreted because of their individual genius that resists their sociopolitical surroundings.43

By this gesture of dehistoricization, Daniş achieves two things. On the one hand, he turns Persian texts into repositories of Iranian proto-nationalism that has remained uncontaminated and found its true expression in the constitutional age. On the other hand, he gives a European pedigree to the Persian canon. A case in point is Firdawsi’s Shahnama which holds a central place in Daniş’s nationalist historiography. For him, the Shahnama expresses “national and heroic” “thoughts, images, and feelings” that are “always in harmony with the fate and spirit of Iran in all ages.”44 Connecting the pre-Islamic period with the Iranian constitutional era, the Shahnama recovers Persian mythology and restores national memory, thus turning Firdawsi into “the national poet.” What is important is that Daniş considers mythology as an aspect of “Indo-European peoples.” The importance that Daniş attributes to the Shahnama is thus not a reflection of a methodological fallacy, but of the intrinsic nature of Persian literature. Daniş thinks that “the index of literature has finally found its right direction” in “the movement of nationalism” initiated in the Shahnama’s epic-heroic poetry.45 As such, the dispute between Köprülü and Daniş reveals much about how the shared Persianate past becomes as much a source of anxiety as of literary renewal for nationalist modernizers.

Given that Köprülü relies on similar arguments in his review of Daniş and Tevfik’s translation of Khayyam only to suggest that Daniş’s biography of Khayyam lacks “fidelity and truth,” it is not too farfetched to assume that these past disputes over literary historiography had an influence on Daniş’s single-authored translation. This is most visible in Daniş’s restructuring of the two broad sections that he wrote in the previous version, “Khayyam’s life and personality” and “Khayyam the Poet”, into seven sections in the later edition. Even a cursory look at the section titles suggests that Daniş makes an effort to display his expertise in bringing all available information, referencing his sources, correcting misconceptions, and distinguishing Khayyam’s real quatrains from inspired versions, to present his version as the authoritative text on Khayyam and the Rubaiyat. Most importantly, for Daniş, translation emerges central to literary historiography and is in turn imbued with values of transparency, authenticity, and objectiveness. This however does not exactly apply to his translation of the quatrains where Daniş prefers a verse-to-prose method, foregoing fidelity at least to the form, as will be discussed soon.

Discursively and practically, Daniş therefore combines the roles of historian and critic in his translator persona. And Khayyam’s appeal partly lies in offering a relatively uncharted territory—since there is no identified manuscript of the quatrains by Khayyam himself—for scholars who are like Daniş, keen to display their “expertise”46 by providing a “solid and comprehensive version”47 of both his biography and quatrains. It is no coincidence that Daniş opens the preface, also available in the co-authored edition, by tying Khayyam’s translational discovery to the emergence of humanist disciplines in the intertwined context of colonial enterprises and knowledge production in the nineteenth century. In his thinking, the past century presents a turning point in civilizational history for its unprecedented progress in knowledge production. What facilitated the circulation of knowledge was “European imperialist politics” whereby “conquered colonies became a vast and rich zone of survey and study for European scholars.” As part of the civilizational ethos of the century, just as obscure writings were deciphered and many valuable remains were unearthed from desolate ruins, Daniş suggests, so “were a couple of Khayyam’s quatrains translated and transferred to the European world of knowledge.”48

Framing his own biographical translation as a contribution to this international literary archeology, Daniş takes pains to emphasize the weight of the responsibility involved in this work. The matter is not simply providing an interlingual translation of Khayyam’s quatrains. For Daniş, a translator, like a goldsmith, should be able to distinguish genuine Khayyam poetry from pseudo-epigraphical imitations:49 “Since the Rubaiyat has been misused and subjected to wrong interpretations,” Daniş argues, “the job of the interpreter and translator is difficult and serious.”50 In addition to having a good grasp of Persian poetry, one must know “Khayyam’s own temperament, philosophical leaning, personal principles, independent style, and expressive audacity.”51 This, then, requires not only synthesizing available information on Khayyam, surveying Eastern and Western sources as Daniş does, but also establishing an interpretative framework that distinguishes Khayyam’s own poetry from pseudo-epigraphical poetry in terms of form and content. It is on these grounds that Daniş then distinguishes his biographical translation both from previous contemporary translations, including those by Muallim Feyzi Efendi (1886) and Abdullah Cevdet (1921), and from previous forms of literary history. In this reading, translation, on the one hand, turns into the modus operandi of international knowledge production. In particular, with reference to establishing literature as a modern discipline, translation facilitates this process by enabling a transition from premodern literary histories to modern literary historiography. On the other hand, it mediates contesting personal and national claims to shared literary histories. This complex intersection of disciplinary concerns and literary canonization throws a different light on the appeal of the modern credo of translation with its principles of objectivity and truth.

The Conflict of Interpretations: Libertine, Liberal, or Sufi Khayyam?

In its move away from the tezkire tradition towards modern literary historiography, Daniş’s translation makes hermeneutic claims as well as historical ones. When Daniş dissociates his work from similar collections “published in Iran and India”52 and from certain European translations, his reason is not only that such works relied on fabricated “tales” about Khayyam’s life.53 For Daniş, historical inaccuracies also lead to equally mistaken interpretations of Khayyam’s poetry. As Daniş sees it, readings of Khayyam’s poetry can be placed on a spectrum marked by two interpretive poles: literal/libertine and metaphorical/mystical readings. Accordingly, Khayyam’s poetry with its dominant tropes of rose and wine has generated evaluations that considered Khayyam either “a vile and vulgar libertine, and a materialist drunk,” or “a Sufi, perhaps a hypocritical rind who is in fact an atheist.”54 Rejecting both readings, Daniş characterizes Khayyam as a “libéral” aesthete, which Daniş considers an emancipatory posture that shapes Khayyam’s poetry in terms of meaning and language.

In Daniş’s understanding, as explained in a footnote, “libéralisme” refers to a system that guards “individual civil freedom.”55 Once again, positioning a Persian poet against the constraints of his time, one in which “both dogmatism and Sufism flourished,”56 Daniş calls Khayyam “independent, free, and unbound.”57 As such, Khayyam joins a select number of Persian poets whose expression of a pessimistic life of philosophy brings them closer to their European counterparts, thereby exemplifying, as Daniş argues in the aforementioned dispute, how the Persian canon becomes part of the Indo-European family in terms of pedigree and mentality.58 His worldly and rebellious philosophy frees Khayyam’s poetry both of any mystical meaning and of its poetical elements. For Daniş, the “distinctive sign” of Khayyam’s poetry is his use of “an ironic and tactful style” that relies on “symbols.”59 In this narrative, “characteristically refined and self-indulgent,” Khayyam himself becomes the symbol of liberal aestheticism “which looks at the world from its most pleasant and best sides.”60

For Rıza Tevfik, this philosophy can be best described as hedonism.61 At the center of Khayyam’s aesthetics lies pleasure (zevk) through which Tevfik connects Khayyam to a philosophical pedigree that goes back as far as ancient Egypt and Greece. This universalization works to foreground in a counterintuitive manner Khayyam’s relevance for the present. As Tevfik puts it, “the dominant philosophy and way of conduct embraced by today’s civilization is completely Khayyamian.”62 Traced through the history of epigrammatic poetry, this aesthetic philosophy recognizes death as the only truth in life and celebrates life on that ground. By these gestures of comparability and universalization, Tevfik joins Daniş to argue that Khayyam cannot be considered a Sufi poet. Yet, this claim comes with a loophole in Tevfik’s thinking. In his discussion of tasavvuf or Islamic mysticism, insofar as “today’s scientific philosophy recognizes the manifestation of a creative force in all things created,” Tevfik also maintains, “the highest meaning of science and all scientific discoveries is not that different from the meaning of tasavvuf.”63 While this might be explained away by Tevfik’s own mystical leanings, the relevance of tasavvuf for the modern world makes it also relevant for Khayyam, since Khayyam’s poetry is already considered a symbolic capsule of contemporary lifestyle and philosophy.

What we see here is not simply a conflict of opinions, but a literary tradition in the making. Just as we can think of Daniş’s dissociation of Khayyam from the tezkire tradition and Sufi poetics as breaks from the tradition, we can also explain the multiplicity of meanings attached to Khayyam as an extension of the Islamic culture of ambiguity into the modern period. Such binary thinking would, however, suggest tradition as a precondition that is already there or not present at all. What happens in translation is more than a simple encounter between tradition/past meaning and translator/present interpretation. As Gadamer puts it, translation as understanding is a “fusion” of past and present “horizons” in which it can bring in what is external to the text as well as bringing out what is in it.64 The interpretative claim that a translator makes through certain formal or linguistic choices actively reshapes the horizon of tradition. As such, minor differences between Daniş and Tevfik as they unpack Khayyam’s symbolism speak to how the Persianate legacy was reconfigured in the modern period.

Let me open this discussion with an example which helps me to broach the problem of the shared past through an interesting dynamic between linguistic incommensurability and literary form:

آن قصر كه بر چرخ همي ذد پهلو
بر دركه او شهان نهادندي رو
ديديم كه بر كنكره اش فاختهٔ
بنشسته همي كفت كه كوكوكوكو؟65

In Daniş’s prose translation, Khayyam’s quatrain reads in the following way:

Such a qaṣr it was, reaching to the skies
A palace where sultans found themselves in prostration
We saw a dove perched on its balcony, singing:
Gone those days! Gone those days! The good old days!

For Daniş, the last line requires further attention. By establishing a phonetic connection between a dove’s coo and the shortened version of كجا, meaning “where?” Daniş argues, “Khayyam achieves a poetic miracle [mucize-i bedi’iyye], a parallel of which has not been seen so far in any Eastern and Western literatures.”66 When we look at his overall comments, Daniş distinguishes such literary miracles from “absurd and tasteless” language plays that are mostly associated with ghazal.67 As Daniş adds elsewhere, since it is difficult to transfer such linguistic arts in translation, “the verse text is always superior to its translation.”68 In that sense, Daniş’s choice of verse-to-prose translation suggests that meaning is translatable, but poeticism is not. As such, the untranslatability of the last line registers not only Khayyam’s uniqueness, which adds to Daniş’s reading of Khayyam as an independent and free soul, but also Persian difference and superiority, since it comes in a hierarchy within the original-translation dynamic.

In contrast, Rıza Tevfik’s translation of the same quatrain differs from Daniş’s version in terms of language and meaning. Tevfik cites this rubai as a way of explaining symbolism in an article published a decade before his co-authored translation and reiterates the ideas in this article years later in his single-authored translation.69 In the article, Tevfik discusses symbolism within a phenomenological framework. Rather than considering symbolism as a modern movement mostly associated with decadent aesthetics, Tevfik maintains that insofar as “all of our knowledge and information is ‘subjectif,’” then “every entity, everything is for us representational, that is, symbolique.”70 It is within this context that Tevfik then distinguishes Khayyam as a symbolist poet—an idea shared by Daniş but to differing ends. “One of Khayyam’s most philosophical and beautiful quatrains,” Tevfik continues, “this short poetic piece tells a very sad truth by drawing a symbolic tableau in an allegorical manner.”71 Even though the truth is simply about the ephemerality of the world, Khayyam displays his imaginative originality by allegorizing this truth through the image of palace in ruins and the voice of a dove, which Tevfik defines as a case of cinas-ı lafzi (paronomasia)—one of the language plays that Daniş finds outdated. While Tevfik and Daniş then agree on Khayyam’s symbolic style, their hermeneutic ground that explains this symbolism is different. In contrast to Daniş’s secular reading of Khayyam’s symbolism, Tevfik, for instance, ties this quatrain to the Qurʾān: “this rubai presents and communicates (in a descriptive manner) the idea of a Qurʾanic verse in a pittoresque way or like a picture.”72 By this connection, Tevfik’s reading does more than showing the relevance of Qurʾanic hermeneutics for Khayyam scholarship. To the extent that he considers metaphoricity and symbolism to be intrinsic features of artistic creation, Persianate poetics—note that Khayyam’s prime symbol is “palace,” an important and much-used poetic element in Perso-Ottoman poetry73—are also rendered relevant to the study of global comparative poetics.

This is not the only point of divergence between these two translations. In addition to translating his selection of the quatrains, much shorter than Daniş’s, into prose, Tevfik also provides commentary, some comments short and some long, on each one of them. In this case, in contrast to Daniş’s semantic transference of the paronomasia, Tevfik leaves the final part of the last line as it is: “ku … ku … ku … ku!”74 and adds in the comment that he understands the line to mean “where is now that civilization? That glory? Where is that felicitous and splendid royal era?”75 In choosing to keep “the original” side by side with its interpretation, Tevfik’s version translates both meaning and form. Even if they follow a similar mode of translation, juxtaposing the original with prose explication, Daniş’s version effaces Khayyam’s literariness, which is constituted by form and language, and compensates it in commentary by explicating its untranslatability. In Tevfik’s case, the relationship of form to meaning is retained and commentary functions as a hermeneutic space to forge that relationship.

As such, the link between meaning, language, and form as illustrated by this quatrain—and its translations—has resonances for the larger debate on untranslatability. For Daniş, the untranslatability of the last line is explained by linguistic incommensurability. It is because the homonymy of the Persian words is untranslatable that the original is explicated in prose translation. Tevfik, on the other hand, acknowledges that the interpretive frame of the quatrain is premised on Persian itself. Yet, by doing a literal translation of this linguistic particularity, which is in fact taken as a sign of Khayyam’s literariness, his translation mediates poetic discourse. In contrast to the implication of an intransigent difference, Tevfik’s translation as commentary situates difference within a discussion of multiplicity and ambiguity. With its reference to the Qurʾān, it also situates linguistic difference within a shared hermeneutic framework. Even if linguistically marked as different, Persian and Ottoman Turkish are intertextually connected.

Given this context, translation as reseeding then suggests the coexistence of the conflicting modes of translation in late Perso-Ottoman poetic relations. Insofar as it means interlingual semantic transference, on the one hand, it highlights the entanglement of translation with emergent discourses on literary history and canonization, thus straddling the boundaries between world and national literatures. On the other hand, it envelops persistent translation practices that complicate, if not undermine, the assumed dichotomy between translatability and untranslatability. In doing so, it draws attention to the vital or living connection between an original and its translation. To reconsider the implications of translation as reseeding for translatability and fidelity, we can refer to Walter Benjamin, who theorizes translation around the same time (1923) in similar terms. In Benjamin’s messianic framework, translatability is “an essential [and desirable] quality of certain works”—works that do more than imparting information.76 As a marker of literariness and poeticism, translatability does not mean that literary works should be translated, but it rather denotes a potentiality: even if it is “a claim not fulfilled by men,” Benjamin argues, it implies that there is “a realm in which it is fulfilled.”77 It is within this sense that Benjamin considers translation an occasion when “[t]he life of the originals attains in them to its ever-renewed latest and most abundant flowering.”78 And this transplant is never total, according to Benjamin, for there is always a “nucleus” “that does not lend itself to translation.”79 For Benjamin, these elements can be either “something that symbolizes or something symbolized.”80 Most importantly, Benjamin considers these elements, what cannot be conveyed or what remains even after meaning is conveyed, “concealed and fragmentary” manifestations of “pure language”—“a higher and purer linguistic air” which can only be reached by individual languages supplementing each other in translation.81 The task of the translator is then “to ripen the seed of pure language in a translation” by combining literalness and freedom.82

While Benjamin suggests interlinear translation “as the prototype or ideal of all translation,”83 in the case of Daniş and Tevfik, translation as commentary enables differing degrees of faithfulness (to meaning in Daniş and to word in Tevfik) in their translations. The importance of such translation models, as Rebecca Gould explains, stems from the fact that they visibly display the process of translation in the translation product. Mostly used in genres like commentaries, these translation models—translation-as-exegesis, interlinear translation, or what Gould calls hard translation—register moments of confrontation between the source and target texts/cultures. They remind the reader not only of the difference between the languages involved, but also of the creative labor that mediates this difference. In doing so, they reconfigure (un)translatability not in relation to the connection between the source and the target text, but as “the ability of translation to generate literary form.”84 As an arch metaphor, reseeding, then, captures translation as a practice that enables and resists cultural homogenization at once. As such, it is a timely call for translation analyses that attend to persistent textual practices as well as conjunctural discourses in literary history.

Conclusion: Translation as Hermeneutics

Translating after the Persianate then does not involve moving straightly from transregional translational practices to translation proper; nor does it understand translatability necessarily as a modus operandi of linguistic ethnocentrism. Translation in that sense speaks as much to the changing definition of literature as the textual repository of a national language as to the meaning of Persian for late Ottoman literate communities. While Persian was increasingly imbued with national or civilizational values in the early twentieth century, other communities maintained a more intimate, even mystical connection with Persian. Muallim Feyzi, the first Ottoman to translate a selection of the quatrains, for instance, considers his translation “a sacred obligation” to Khayyam. Feyzi laments the precedence of European translations as a case where “an obligation expected from friends was instead fulfilled by foreigners” and suggests that Khayyam would be “offended.” His translation was intended to “end Khayyam’s [likely] resentment” against Ottomans.85 Rather than a concern with linguistic erasure or reification, translatability refers to gestures of fraternity and rebonding in this case. To address translation as an affective channel, I conclude my exploration of late Persian-Ottoman translations with a discussion of the mystical value of Persian and of the link between translation and mystical hermeneutics.

Among the translators of Khayyam we find, for instance, Mustafa Rüşdi about whom we know little except that he was a practicing member of the Mevlevi Sufi order, and he translated Khayyam’s quatrains along with a couple of other Persian texts all included in a personal compendium.86 Probably never circulated, the only extant copy of Rüşdi’s manuscript consists of six parts: Ravzat el-Uşşak Nuzhet el-Müştak, (The Garden of Lovers and the Excursion of the Longing One), a translation of Aşkname (The Book of Love) that Rüşdi attributes to Rūmī; the translation of Khayyam’s selected quatrains; a separate section on stories that are appended to Ravzat; a translation of an undated manuscript that contains some couplets and quatrains by Persian poets to illustrate the richness of Persian in poetic tropes and images; a translation of Şems-i Tebrizi’s ghazal on divine unity; and a final section of translations of Persian proverbs.87 Considering the fact that Rüşdi gave the years 1931 and 1932 as the dates for the first and last sections, the compendium must have been composed after the abolition of Sufi lodges in 1925.88 Since Persian had ontological significance for Rüşdi and translation was premised on a dialectics of love and devotion, Rüşdi’s manuscript merits study to form an informed opinion of the complexity of translational relations that govern Ottoman-Persian connectivity even beyond the imperial demise.

So far, we have seen the entanglement of translation with literary knowledge production and circulation, since translating Khayyam was mostly about fixing his “text” and its interpretation, whether in national or international terms. As an unpublished manuscript, Rüşdi’s translation allows us to see how print culture was inextricable from the circulation of this fixed notion of literature, since Rüşdi shows much creative license in his renderings of Persian poetry without attention to objectivity, systematization, or methodology. Still, by his invocation of a vague readership (kari) in different sections, it is clear that Rüşdi imagines himself contributing to an ongoing conversation “on our literature” which includes previous translations of Khayyam. As such, he places his translation within a familiar literary context, thus drawing attention to the points of convergence between print and manuscript cultures. We have also seen that there was a concerted effort to disaffiliate Khayyam from Sufi poetics in Daniş and Tefvik. In Rüşdi, we clearly see that Khayyam was being established as a philosopher, not a Sufi. In his discussion about the qualifications of translators, Rüşdi argues that in order to “clothe a work in the garb of meaning that it deserves,” a translator “should be well-versed in literature, philosophy, and Sufism” so that s/he can determine the type of text to be translated. Just as “one does not look for literary or philosophical meaning in the Aşkname,” Rüşdi argues, “one does not seek Sufi meaning in [Khayyam].”89 It is worth noting that this ties back to Gürbüzel’s discussion of reading the Persian canon as religion or literature, since Rüşdi observes such a distinction between Rūmī and Khayyam. Still, the way in which translation was imbued with mystical meaning in Rüşdi’s engagement with Rūmī has resonances for how he read Khayyam.

In his translation of the Aşkname, Rüşdi presents a hermeneutic framework all too familiar to scholars of Persianate poetry. To translate the text, Rüşdi first surveys “Sufi terminology” and “the writings of Sufi saints (evliya)” about love which he then synthesizes and translates into a discussion of “what is love?” for readers. Drawing on a wide range of sources that include references to poets like Rūmī, Jāmī, Hafez, ʿAttar, and Yunus Emre as well as to the Qurʾān and the hadith, which are then enriched by stories and proverbs, Rüşdi promotes a Sufi understanding of love in which love figures as the raison d’être of the created world. Simply put, for Rüşdi, there are three kinds of love and companions of love: “hakiki, mecazi, mertebe-i aşkbaz.”90 While hakiki implies real love for the divine being, mecazi takes a human as its object only to transcend this worldly love. In complete contrast, mertebe-i aşkbaz refers to one’s base and animalistic drives. It is within this framework that Rüşdi then configures the relation between the lover and the beloved in reciprocal terms. In this world, love cancels mastery or servitude,91 making the lover and the beloved of “one mind and body.”92

More importantly, Rüşdi places his translation within this hermeneutic matrix. As he explains, he undertakes this translation to please his mürşid (guide) Hüseyin Fahreddin Efendi who “would like to see the result of his spiritual guidance bestowed on this poor soul just like a gardener who likes to smell of the rose he has grown in its right time.”93 Positing this translation as an act of deferential submission, Rüşdi then adds another spiritual layer to the bonds he establishes with the Mevlevi way through translation. In a ghazal that closes his discussion of love, Rüşdi eventually presents the translation to Rūmī as a supplication: “Pirim, Efendim [my guide, my master], don’t exclude me from those you favor/don’t let me drown in separation.” Asking him to accept this translation “despite its faults,” Rüşdi’s poetic persona beseeches Rūmī “to not let him be deprived of his good graces,” for “you are the spring of benevolence and the sultan of the domain of Rum.”94 While Rüşdi imagines himself as the humble supplicating subject, he also places Rūmī in a semi-sacred position, thus configuring his love in terms of the divine love that he has explained at length. This is not a sacrilegious gesture on his part, since he thinks that the “Mesnevi-i Şerif elucidates and reveals [müfesser] Qurʾanic judgments in its entirety.”95 Thereby moving beyond a metaphorical expression of love and devotion, translation becomes part of Rüşdi’s spiritual experience. While Rüşdi’s compendium contradicts the idea of fidelity associated with the conventional understanding of translation, it pursues a different kind of loyalty to the source text, one derived from Rüşdi’s own bonds of love for and submission to the Mevlevi way.

Even though Rüşdi contrasts Rūmī’s Sufism with Khayyam’s philosophy, this dialectic of love emerges again with a significant political dimension in his translation of Khayyam’s quatrains. While Rüşdi follows previous Khayyam translators by giving the original poems with prose explication, he enriches these translations by giving “literary, philosophical, and moral stories and examples.”96 Tellingly, the stories Rüşdi offers in Khayyam’s section mostly revolve around the relationship between poets and their sovereign patrons. In his portrayal of Ottoman sultans, including Sultan Selim I, Sultan Mahmud II, Sultan Beyazıd II, and Sultan Mehmed V, as fond of word play, witticism, and humor, Rüşdi gives examples of relationships between the sovereign and the subject in which they exchange their assigned roles. One such well-known case where the subject becomes the ruling beloved concerns Sultan Selim I and his courtier [nedim] Hasan Can of Esfahan who “captivated Sultan Selim’s heart with his loveliness and eloquence despite being a beau [mahbub].”97 With the roles reversed, the beloved subject leaves the sovereign “weak” with his countenance and conversation. At first glance, what captures our attention are the homoerotic tones of the intimacy between the poet and the patron. Yet, in his succeeding examples, as sovereigns try to trap their subjects in conversation, whereby proper and skillful use of language emerges as the way to overpower the sovereign, Rüşdi places more emphasis on the symbolic power of language. As we move from homoerotic intimacy to homosocial companionship, we also move from subjection to empowerment.

This is directly tied to Rüşdi’s translator persona. Considering that he seeks literary and philosophical meaning in Khayyam, translating the quatrains enables him to display his own literary and cultural caliber in making intertextual and historical connections around Khayyam’s poetry. In doing so, he shows his fluency in the language of the polite society in which Persian is still “the language of poetry and literature.”98 This, of course, adds to his spiritual relationship with his mürşid Hüseyin Fahreddin Efendi whom Rüşdi praises as one of “the rarest savants of his age.”99 In that sense, the power dynamics that play out in language between the sovereign and the subject translate to Rüşdi’s relationship with his guide. If Hüseyin Fahreddin Efendi stands for a mystic-poetic culture that Rüşdi variously calls “the people of the heart” or “the people of virtue,”100 then his compendium does not only pay respects, but more importantly memorializes the passing of this culture in translation.

In addition to being a record of the Mevlevi culture, Rüşdi’s manuscript has further value for emphasizing the ontological dimensions of Persian, since it was an intrinsic component of his faith and lifestyle. Translating from Persian was not necessarily about linguistic difference or incommensurability; it was about practicing and expressing devotion. For instance, Rüşdi explicates the aforementioned paronomasia in the following way: “where is the city of Khusraw? The majesty of Süleyman? That royal glory?”101 For Rüşdi, each coo of the dove invokes the reigns of two iconic kings, one Persian and one Ottoman, to suggest the passing of imperial life. Given the time of his writing, with Sufi lodges closed and the alphabet reform, this quatrain ceases to be a philosophical rumination on the impermanence of the world. It directly bears on Rüşdi’s personal condition. In that sense, the palace that is in ruins pictures the dissolution of once-connected Persian and Ottoman times.

By way of a conclusion, I would like to suggest that Rüşdi’s translation calls attention to some questions that can be further lines of inquiry about the Persianate as a translingual hermeneutic framework. The nineteenth century has long been theorized as a rupture narrative in which political divisions necessarily meant cultural separations. In the late Ottoman context, since the mid-nineteenth century, Persianism or the Ottoman imitation of Persian poetics was argued to be the main cause for Ottoman literary decadence and modernity meant to re-form Perso-Ottoman highly symbolic, thus unrealistic and untranslatable poetry and literary language.102 This we have seen in how both the tezkire tradition and Sufi poetics became contentious, if not unwanted, aspects of the Perso-Ottoman poetic tradition. If this is in part due to increasing concerns with building nationalized canons and finding foundational texts, which was the main point of disagreement between Daniş and Köprülü, there is also a strong moral dimension to this anti-Persian mindset. This we have also seen in Daniş’s effort to disentangle Khayyam’s poetry, with its dominant tropes of rose and wine, from undesirable readings of libertinism and mysticism, both found morally objectionable for different reasons. As such, how Khayyam was translated and contextualized tells us as much about the secularization of literary criticism as about the nationalization of literary histories.

Throughout, this article has advanced translation as a critical methodology to redress the overdominance of such discursive and formal points of rupture in studies of late Persianate literatures. In particular, considering translational practices that fall outside of the perimeter of modern literary studies enables us to move beyond an exclusive focus on the modern/colonial paradigm of translatability. In Khayyam’s translations, translation as commentary shows how linguistic difference can be retained without recourse to an othering or alienating discourse. As such, it also emerges as a hermeneutic space that can bridge between print and manuscript cultures or between literary-secular and mystic-religious criticism. In doing so, translation as commentary moves translation beyond a concern with texts and contexts. It brings the culture of interpretation and its circular temporality to the fore.

Rüşdi’s manuscript sits squarely in this context. On the one hand, his hermeneutic framework displays many aspects of the shared Persianate past—mysticism, ambiguity, and homoeroticism among others—which are found problematic by his contemporaries. On the other hand, being a Mevlevi, his intimate and immediate engagement with Persian poetry unsettles the distinction between religious and literary texts. For him, literary knowledge is tightly connected with the moral cultivation and formation of the individual. While it is possible to view his manuscript as an example of the persistence of Persianate webs of significance, one can also argue that its being an unpublished personal notebook demonstrates how Sufi poetics withdrew to private quarters. As such, if we conceptualize the Persianate as the hermeneutic ground of a widely shared cultural-literary complex across languages, Rüşdi’s invisibility intimates the precarity of this hermeneutic system, which was in turn dependent on the continuity of social-institutional networks that gave way to this complex in the first place. While further inquiry is needed to contextualize the history of modernity in Persianate cultures, one way to embark is through translation which offers complex and historicizing ways of engaging textuality and literary form in comparative poetics.


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  • Paker, Saliha. “On the Poetic Practices of ‘a singularly uninventive people’ and the Anxiety of Imitation.” In Tradition, Tension, and Translation in Turkey, edited by Şehnaz-Tahir Gürçağlar, Saliha Paker, and John Milton, 2753. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2015.

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  • Rastegar, Kamran. “Gulistan: Sublimity and the Colonial Credo of Translatability.” In Migrating Texts, edited by Marilyn Booth, 300317. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019.

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  • Silverstein, Brian. “Sufism and Governmentality in the Late Ottoman Empire.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 29, no. 2 (2009): 171185.

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  • Tanpınar, Ahmed Hamdi. XIX. Asır Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi. Istanbul: YKY, 2010. [First edition 1956.]

  • Tevfik, Rıza. Ömer Hayyam ve Rubaileri. Istanbul: Ahmet Halit Kitabevi, 1945.

  • Tevfik, Rıza. Sanat ve Estetik Yazıları. Edited by Abdullah Uçman. Istanbul: Dergah Yayınları, 2018.

  • Vejdani, Farzin. “Contesting Nations and Canons in the Early Twentieth-Century Ottoman and Iranian Press.” International Journal of Turkish Studies 20, no. 1–2 (2014): 4966.

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  • Venuti, Lawrence. “Hijacking Translation: How Comp Lit Continues to Suppress Translated Texts.” boundary 2 43, no. 2 (May 2016): 179204.

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Hüseyin Daniş, Rubaiyat-ı Ömer Hayyam (Istanbul: İkbal Kütüphanesi, 1927), 62.


This story is also given in Rıza Tevfik, Ömer Hayyam ve Rubaileri (Istanbul: Ahmet Halit Kitabevi, 1945), 110–17. There is a similar version of this story available on the website of the Omar Khayyam Club:, accessed March 1, 2022.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 73.


Emily Apter, Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability (London: Verso, 2013), 16.


Apter, Against World Literature, 17.


Lawrence Venuti, “Hijacking Translation: How Comp Lit Continues to Suppress Translated Texts,” boundary 2 43, no. 2 (May 2016): 198.


Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 5.


Venuti, “Hijacking Translation,” 198.


Saliha Paker, “On the Poetic Practices of ‘a singularly uninventive people’ and the Anxiety of Imitation,” in Tradition, Tension, and Translation in Turkey, ed. Şehnaz-Tahir Gürçağlar, Saliha Paker, and John Milton (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2015), 31–35.


Rebecca Gould, “Inimitability vs. Translatability,” The Translator 19, no. 1 (2014): 95.


Rebecca Gould, “Hard Translation: Persian Poetry and Post-National Literary Form,” Forum for Modern Language Studies, 54, no. 2 (April 2018): 4.


Saliha Paker, “On the Poetic Practices,” 32.


For the connection between linguistic learning and social distinction, see Linda Darling, “Ottoman Turkish: Written Language and Scribal Practice, 13th to 20th Centuries,” in Literacy in the Persianate World, ed. Brian Spooner and William L. Hanaway (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 171–95.


Murat Umut İnan, “Imperial Ambitions, Mystical Aspirations: Persian Learning in the Ottoman World,” in The Persianate World: The Frontiers of a Eurasian Lingua Franca, ed. Nile Green (Oakland: University of California Press, 2019), 75–92.


Aslıhan Gürbüzel, “Bilingual Heaven: Was There a Distinct Persianate Islam in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire?” Philological Encounters 6 (2021): 217.


Gürbüzel, “Bilingual Heaven,” 219.


Murat Umut İnan, “Ottomans Reading Persian Classics: Readers and Reading in the Ottoman Empire, 1500–1700,” in The Edinburgh History of Reading: Early Readers, ed. Mary Hammond (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 161–62.


Veysel Öztürk, “The notion of Originality from Ottoman Classical Literature to Turkish Modern Poetry,” Middle Eastern Literatures 9, no. 2 (2016): 135–61.


Kamran Rastegar, “Gulistan: Sublimity and the Colonial Credo of Translatability,” in Migrating Texts, ed. Marilyn Booth (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), 300–17.


Rastegar, “Gulistan,” 300.


Rastegar, “Gulistan,” 302.


Mana Kia and Afshin Marashi, “After the Persianate,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 36, no. 3 (2016): 379.


In the Ottoman/Turkish context, some classical Ottoman poets like Nefʾî, Fehim-i Kadim, and Haletî mention Khayyam in their poetry as a poet worthy of comparison and emulation. For instance, Latifî mentions in his tezkire that a poet named Mîrî-i Rumî compiled some quatrains by Khayyam as poetic specimens reflecting his own life. For more, M. Fatih Andı, “Türkçe’de Rubâiyyât-ı Hayyam Tercümeleri” (İlmi Araştırmalar 7, 1999), 9–29. Also, Latifî Tezkiresi, ed. Mustafa İsen (Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı, 1990), 320. For further information on tezkires that mention Khayyam outside of the Ottoman context, see Alexander Jabbari, “The Making of Modernity in Persianate Literary History,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 36, no. 3 (2016): 424.


Abdülbaki Gölpınarlı, Hayyam ve Rubaileri (Ankara: İnkılap ve Aka Kitabevleri, 1973), 49. For a list of the Ottoman/Turkish translations of Khayyam, see M. Fatih Andı, “Türkçe’de Rubâiyyât-ı Hayyam Tercümeleri,” 9–29.


Gölpınarlı, Hayyam ve Rubaileri, 25.


Alexander Jabbari, “The Making of Modernity in Persianate Literary History,” 422–25.


Samuel Hodgkin, “Classical Persian Canons of the Revolutionary Press,” in Persian Literature and Modernity: Production and Reception, ed. Hamid Rezaei Yazdi and Arshavez Mozafari (London & New York: Routledge, 2019), 201.


Gürbüzel, “Bilingual Heaven,” 218.


For a detailed account of Hüseyin Daniş’s life and intellectual work, see Tanya Elal Lawrence, “An Age of Trans-Imperial Vernacularisms: The Iranian Dissident Community of the Late Ottoman Empire” (PhD diss., Yale University, 2018), 198–209.


Farzin Vejdani, “Contesting Nations and Canons in the Early Twentieth-Century Ottoman and Iranian Press,” International Journal of Turkish Studies 20, no. 1–2 (2014): 49–66.


Hüseyin Daniş and Rıza Tevfik, Rubaiyat-ı Ömer Hayyam (Istanbul: Evkaf Matbaası, 1922).


Fuad Köprülü, “Türk Edebiyatı Tarihinde Usul,” in Mehmet Fuad Köprülü Edebiyat Araştırmaları I (Istanbul: Alfa, 2018), 69. For its English translation, “Method in Turkish Literary History,” trans. Gary Leiser, Middle Eastern Literatures 11, no. 1 (2008): 53–84.


Fuad Köprülü, “İran Tarih-i Edebiyatı,” in Bugünkü Edebiyat, ed. Mehmet Akif Akçağ and Ahmed Balcı (Istanbul: Akçağ Yayınları, 2007), 155.


Fuad Köprülü, “Hüseyin Daniş Bey’e,” in Bugünkü Edebiyat, 170 and 162.


Hüseyin Daniş, Münazaratım, ed. Bedia Koçakoğlu (Konya: Palet Yayınları, 2014), 66.


Daniş, Münazaratım, 82.


Daniş, Münazaratım, 79.


Hüseyin Daniş, Münazaratım, 67.


Fuad Köprülü, “İran Tarih-i Edebiyatı,” 159.


Hüseyin Daniş, Münazaratım, 67.


Hüseyin Daniş, Münazaratım, 65.


Daniş, Münazaratım, 71.


Daniş, Münazaratım, 66.


Daniş, Münazaratım, 81.


Daniş, Münazaratım, 99.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 18.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 22.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 13.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 79.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 56.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 78–79.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 54.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 52–53.


Daniş, Rubaiyat 88.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 80.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 320.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 89.


Daniş, Münazaratım, 91.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 83.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 318.


Tevfik, Ömer Hayyam ve Rubaileri, 98.


Tevfik, Ömer Hayyam ve Rubaileri, 94.


Tevfik, Ömer Hayyam ve Rubaileri, 87.


Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, second revised edition, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York [NY]: Continuum, 2004), 305–83.


Daniş and Tevfik, Rubaiyat-ı Ömer Hayyam, 168; Daniş, Rubaiyat, 123.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 123.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, the footnote to the quatrain 296 on p. 261.


Daniş, Rubaiyat, 124.


Rıza Tevfik, “Sembolizm” (Rübab V.I, 12–13 (April 25, 1912): 106–14), in Sanat ve Estetik Yazıları, ed. Abdullah Uçman (İstanbul: Dergah Yayınları, 2018), 60–69; Rıza Tevfik, Ömer Hayyam ve Rubaileri, 185–86.


Tevfik, “Sembolizm,” 65.


Tevfik, “Sembolizm,” 67, and Ömer Hayyam, 185.


Tevfik, “Sembolizm,” 67, and Ömer Hayyam, 185. It is the twenty-sixth verse from Sūrat al-Raḥmān: “everyone [everything] on earth perishes.” The Qurʾan, trans. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford’s World Classics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 354.


Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar, XIX. Asır Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi (Istanbul: YKY, 1956/2010), 22–27.


Tevfik, Ömer Hayyam, 185.


Tevfik, Ömer Hayyam, 186.


Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schoken Books, 1969), 16.


Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” 16.


Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” 17.


Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” 19.


Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” 22.


Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” 18.


Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” 20.


Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” 23.


Gould, “Hard Translation,” 13.


Muallim Feyzi, Rubaiyat-ı Ömer Hayyam (Şirket-i Mürettibiye Matbaası, 1886), 4.


In addition to M. Fatih Andı who mentions Mustafa Rüşdi’s translation in a list of Ottoman/Turkish translations of Khayyam, there is also a master’s thesis that gives brief information on Rüşdi’s life and transliterates Rüşdi’s compendium. M. Fatih Andı, “Türkçe’de Rubâiyyât-ı Hayyam Tercümeleri,” 13–14. Selma Ataman, “Mevlevî Mustafa Rüşdî ve Eserleri̇” (MA thesis, Ordu University, 2017).


This copy is located in Atatürk Kitaplığı where each section is listed separately even though each listing contains the whole compendium. Here I cite only one: Mustafa Rüşdi b. Mehmed Tevfik, Ravzat el-Uşşak Nuzhet el-Müştak, İ.B.B Atatürk Kitaplığı, Yazma Eserler, Bel_Yz_K_0530_01. I follow Mustafa Rüşdi’s page numbers and all translations are mine.


Brian Silverstein, “Sufism and Governmentality in the Late Ottoman Empire,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 29, no. 2 (2009): 171–85.


Mustafa Rüşdi, “Mukaddime,” 1, cf. Ataman, 39.


Rüşdi, “Aşk Nedir?” 2; cf. Ataman, 41.


Rüşdi, “Aşk Nedir?” 18; cf. Ataman, 56.


Rüşdi, “Aşk Nedir?” 18; cf. Ataman, 55.


Rüşdi, “Sebeb-i Telif Nedir?” 3; cf. Ataman, 38.


Rüşdi, “Aşk Nedir?” 21; cf. Ataman, 59.


Rüşdi, “Aşk Nedir?” 20; cf. Ataman, 58.


Rüşdi, “Hayyam,” 2; cf. Ataman, 159.


Rüşdi, “Hayyam,” 23; cf. Ataman, 182.


Rüşdi, “Enis el-Uşşak,” 1; cf. Ataman, 236.


Rüşdi, “Hayyam,” 24; cf. Ataman, 184.


Rüşdi, “Tarih-i irtihal-i müşarünileyh,” 1–2; cf. Ataman, 35–37.


Rüşdi, “Hayyam,” 47; cf. Ataman, 207–208.


For a clear articulation of this mindset, see Elias John Wilkinson Gibb, History of Ottoman Poetry, Volume I (London: Luzac & Co., 1900), 1–33.

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