Omar Khayyam translated in Welsh, twice

Omar Khayyam - Wikipedia

There are quite a few Persian historic figures who will be remembered forever more. One in particular has legendary status, whose work influences even today's brightest minds. Omar Khayyam was a mathematician best known for his work on cubic equations (remember those?), and astronomer who created the Jalali calendar which is still used by Iranians today but under the name The Solar Hijri.

As well as being big on science, he was also big on words, being a renowned philosopher and poet. His work was made famous in the west in 1859 when Edward FitzGerald translated Khayyam's work into English, called "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam".

The Rubaiyat has been translated time and time again, and in dozens of languages. It has been translated and published twice in Welsh - first by Sir John Morris-Jones in 1928 and then 11 years later by T. Ifor Rees.

Sir John Morris-Jones

Prior to translating the Rabaiyat, Morris-Jones was already an established academic and poet in Wales. He was the first professor in Welsh at Bangor University (then known as University College of North Wales, Bangor) - a proper Welsh linguist through-and-through. So how did he go about translating the Rabaiyat directly from Persian?

In his translation, Morris-Jones explains his processes in translating from Persian to Welsh and introduces his readers to Persian phonetics. It may have taken him a long time to make sure he got everything right, the effort was certainly worth it. In truth, it would make a fascinating audio book.

A first edition can be found at Bangor University, as part of its Gregynog Collection.

T. Ifor Rees

It appeared Rees translated the Rabaiyat for diplomacy reasons. In the late 1930s, the relationship between Britain and Mexico was sticky and the diplomat from Cardiganshire in West Wales was asked to defuse any tensions and be based in the Central American country. One of the first things he did was to befriend Mexico's Foreign Minister, Eduardo Hay. At the time, Hay was translating the Rabaiyat in Spanish and Rees thought, why not translate it in Welsh? And that's exactly what he did and it was published in Mexico City in 1939. It's certainly one way to break the ice.

Rees's work was a 'translation of a translation', basing his work on FitzGerald's. Only 300 copies were published and a volume is kept in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, less than five miles away (8km) from his hometown.


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