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Rubaiyat mnemonics … some untested ground

One of the first attempts by the language boffins to decipher the lines of capital letters making up the Rubaiyat code was to see – in a menmonic sense – if they fitted any of the Rubaiyat quatrains. I remember them having a problem with the letter Q as it apparently doesn’t occur in the Fitzgerald edition. But that’s not to say the code doesn’t fit into an edition printed in another language that uses both the Roman script and loanwords*.

Latin or Roman is the official script for nearly all the languages of Western Europe and of some Eastern European languages. It is also used by some non-European languages such as TurkishVietnameseMalay languageSomaliSwahili and Tagalog. It is an alternative writing system for languages such as Serbian and Bosnian. Wikipedia

So – Taking Verse 1 in the Fitzgerald edition.

(1) Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night (8 words)

(2) Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight: (10 words)

(3) And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught (9 words)

(4) The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light. (8 words)

And comparing it to the same verse written in Turkish using a web-based translator –

(1) Uyanık! Kase Gece Sabahı için (5 words)

 (2) Yıldızları Uçuran Taşı fırlattı: (4 words)

 (3) Ve lo! Doğu Avcısı yakaladı (5 words)

 (4) Aydınlık İlçede Sultanın Kulesi. (4 words)

Then by juxtaposing both of these to the Rubaiyat code – on the assumption that line 2 has been corrected and re-written as line 3 – we can compare apples with apples, numerically speaking.

Line 1 – 9 letters

Line 2 – 11 letters

Line 3 – 11 letters

Line 4 – 13 letters

That’s the basic data.

The first thing evident is that all three examples comprise four lines, as does every quatrain in the Rubaiyat.

The second is that what takes 8 words to write in English in some instances only takes 5 to write in Turkish (Line 1)


Where this may lead us is to (1) make a blind stab at the Somerton Man’s foreign origins, and (2) see if the Rubaiyat is published in that language.

Failing that, we might deduce he was an English speaker testing his memory of a particular quatrain written in another language.

The Fitzgerald edition in full

After all, Harkness gave Boxall a dual language edition and who’s to say Alf didn’t try to learn the odd quatrain in Malay if only to impress some of the Crusader crew over a quiet jar in an Ambon bar.

*a word adopted from a foreign language with little or no modification.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Clive #

    I wonder if there was/is a Latvian language version, just have a feeling that’s where the SM originated from.

    January 21, 2021
  2. пожалуйста #

    The Latvian alphabet lacks Q, W, X and Y according to Wikipedia. I suspected Polish, but same problem with the Q.

    January 22, 2021
    • Then we look at the languages that use Q in their translation.

      French, for instance – V23

      To the rolling Heav’n itself I cried,
      Asking, “What Lamp were Destiny to guide
      Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?”
      And “Blind and lost!” Heav’n replied.

      Au ciel roulant lui-même j’ai pleuré,
      Demander “Quelle lampe était destinée à guider?”
      Ses petits trébuchent dans le noir? “
      Et “Aveugle et perdu!” Paradis m’a dit.

      January 22, 2021
  3. Byron Deveson #

    What about Scots or Irish Gaelic, or even Canadian Gaelic. I noted that there are Scots Gaelic translations of the ROK. And I note that there are other translations apart from Fitzgerald’s.

    January 23, 2021
  4. So we look for a quatrain with the word ‘what’ in the middle of a stanza then check the Spanish and French translations for a ‘Que’ in the same place. Makes sense? Then look for a double T in the same stanza.

    Wouldn’t it be an irony if the letter Q (Gordon’s initial claim to micro-writing) was the key to the code.

    January 23, 2021
  5. Clive #

    We’d have to form a ‘Q’

    January 23, 2021
    • I know where you live, Clive, you should remember that.

      January 23, 2021
    • MyName #

      The Q is a problem for many languages – and it’s so clear it’s unlikely to be a mis-identified O or G or something else. I think, though, that there are many Latvian languages – not really dialects, distinct languages. Latgalian and Livonian (ok, google tells me that’s actually Finnic) are the first to spring to mind – but neither has a ‘Q’.

      Additionally Russian would be quite common in Latvia from that era, along with (apparently) Belarusian and Yiddish ( I sort of like the idea floated elsewhere of the page being a cyrillic script – such as Russian/Belarussian being on the page, and it having been Anglicized/Romanized by an analyst not familiar with it – it might help explain some of the unusual shapes of some of the letter.

      But on the original post I’m not sure using an online translator for the poem is necessarily helpful, because the translations aren’t necessarily literal translations line by line, but are themic translations – not even verse by verse. Even the Fitzgerald translations vary let alone other translations – some of which are even in prose, so I’m not sure directly translating lines compares apples with apples. Add to that that when people write poetry they will deliberately modify the style of language to reach a specific meter that I doubt an online translator appreciates.
      It might be interesting to translate the Turkish back into the English and see whether you still get lines of about 9-11 words (on google translate, I got 5,8,6,6).

      There’s a story that someone used an early online translator to translate “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” into Russian, and then translated it back into English. the result? “The vodka is strong, but the meat is rotten”

      January 28, 2021
  6. Clive #

    Still can’t work out why the first two lines have a gap between the first and second letters? Is there a letter that ‘fits’ these gaps?

    January 28, 2021

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