Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The story of Omar Khayyam, Hasan Ben Sabbah and Nizam ul Mulk: the origin of the word ¨assassin¨

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131). Google images

In the second half of the eleventh century, three Persian youths, each a capable scholar, studied together as pupils of one of the greatest wise men of Khorasan, the Imam Mowaffak of Naishapur.
The three youths –Nizam ul Mulk, Hasan Ben Sabbah, and Omar Khayyam- became close friends. Since it was the belief that a pupil of the Imam stood great chance of attaining fortune, Hasan one day proposed to his friends that the three of them take a vow to the effect that, to whomever of them fourtune should fall, he would share it equally with the others and reserve no preeminence for himself. As the years went by, Nizam proved to be the fortunate one, for he became Vizier to the Sultan Alp Arslan. In time his schools friends sought im out and claimed a share of his good fortune according to the school-day vow.
Hasan demanded a governmental post, which was granted by the Sultan at the Vizier’s request. But, being selfish and ungrateful, he endeavored to supplant his friend Nizam and was finally disgraced and banished. Omar desired neither title nor office, but simply begged to be permitted to live in the shadow of the Vizier’s fortune, where he might promulgate science and mathematics and pray for his friend’s long life and prosperity. Impressed by his former schoolmate’s modesty and sincerity, the Vizier granted Omar a yearly pension.
After many misadventures and wandering, Hasan became the head party of fanatics who, in 1090, seized the castle of Alamut in the mountainous area south of the Caspian Sea. Using the castle as a fortress and center for raids upon passing caravans, Hasan and his band spread terror through Mohmmedan world. Hasan became known as “ the old man of the mountain,” and it is thought that our present word “ assassin” derives either from the leader’s name Hasan or from the hashish opiate with which the band madened themselves for their murderous assaults. Among the countless victims of the assassins was the old school friend, Nizam ul Mulk.
In contrast to Hasan’s turbulent and destructive life, Omar’s was tranquil and constructive. He lived peacefully and contributed noteworthily to both the literary and the scientific culture of his age.

Hasan Ben Sabbah. Google images


Excerpt from: Great Moments in Mathematics: (before 1650) By Howard Whitley Eves. Chapter: the poet-mathematician of Khorasan, page 149. USA. 1983

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