The Person Who Discovered the Unknown: Omar Khayyam

The Person Who Discovered the Unknown: Omar Khayyam

First of all, let me state this from the beginning: This article is not a detailed article about Omar Khayyam. In this article, only Omar Khayyam’s contributions to mathematics and astronomy will be mentioned. So let’s get to know the person who found the unknown.

Who is Omar Khayyam?

Omar Khayyam is a poet, writer, mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer. People who have knowledge in many disciplines such as Omar Khayyam are called polymath.

Khayyam’s love of questioning the unknown can also be understood from this line. He often questioned unknown concepts such as religion and God in his poem. This special type of poem is called rubaiyat. Mostly, he reproached those who gained power by using these sensitive concepts in their works. Perhaps Omar Khayyam deserves to be mentioned as someone who was far ahead of his time. Because he was not only a poet but also a very successful mathematician.

Khayyam’s Birthday

The exact date of birth of many of the people who lived in ancient times is not known. However, this does not apply to Omar Khayyam. Khayyam calculated his own date of birth day by day and found that it was May 18, 1048.

Khayyam’s expertise in calendars is not just about calculating his birthday. Khayyam prepared the Celali Calendar, which is much more precise than the Gregorian and Hijri Calendars used today, by making astronomical calculations.

Naming the Unknown

The letter “x is commonly used to denote the unknown in mathematics. The reason for using this letter is also based on Omar Khayyam. He is a very successful mathematician and worked on the solution of equations with third-degree unknowns. In these works, he used the word “shay“, which means “thing” in Arabic, to indicate the unknown. Later, this work was translated into Spanish and during this translation, the word “thing” was changed to “xay”. Then, for convenience, only the initial letter was used and the unknown letter was indicated with the letter “x”.

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Pascal’s Triangle or Khayyam’s Triangle?

Khayyam’s contributions to mathematics are not limited to the solution of equations and the letter “x”. Khayyam was the first to use the “binomial expansion“. In this way, he created the triangular binomial expansion called “Pascal’s Triangle in European countries. This expansion, which finds uses from biology to statistics and many modern physics topics, is called the Khayyam Triangle” after Khayyam, who created it in the Eastern world.

Pascal's Triangle
Khayyam’s Triangle (Pascal’s Triangle)

A Nature Philosopher: Omar Khayyam

Omar Khayyam was far ahead of his time. It shows us that lifestyle and religious views cannot prevent science. Khayyam tried to understand nature throughout his life.

He used science, philosophy, and art as tools to understand nature. Meanwhile, he did not neglect to drink his wine and have fun. And doing one of these did not prevent him from doing the other. He spent his whole life questioning instead of paying allegiance directly. That’s why Omar Khayyam’s position on our website is different.

References and Further Readings

Bijan Vahabzadeh, “KHAYYAM, OMAR xv. As Mathematician,” Encyclopædia Iranica Online, available at (accessed on 28 Feb 2021).

Omar Khayyam. (2021, February 25). Retrieved February 28, 2021, from

Pascal üçgeni. (2021, January 30). Retrieved February 28, 2021, from

You can access the sources of the images used by clicking on the images.

The proofreading has been done by Asu Pelin Akköse and Mete Esencan.

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Mete Esencan

Hello everyone! I'm Mete Esencan. I am a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at METU. I was planning to establish a platform by combining the research knowledge I gained during my basic science education and the management experience I gained in the METU Chemistry Society, which I was in charge of for three years. For this purpose, in February of 2021, I took the first step and established the OkButWhy, a platform where we can write articles as if to chat about science, art and philosophy. I wish everyone a pleasant reading!

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