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Word Count: 4,990
The man who was to keep the torch of scientific humanism alight within early Islamic civilization was born a thousand years after the death of Lucretius and into a vastly different cultural setting Nevertheless in all that Omar Khayyam wrote one can clearly recognize the influence of the great Roman poet and of the naturalistic Epicureanism that he celebrated This is doubly remarkable when we recall that during the centuries between Lucretius and Khayyam a Dark Age had engulfed and stifled Western Europe The spread of a mystical form of religion throughout the remnants of the Roman empire combined with the influence of the Germanic tribes had gradually produced what amounted to a reversion to barbarism Gullibility and ignorance pervaded life at all levels while economic activity declined to primitive levels of barter An attitude of contempt for earthly existence and bodily pleasures had become the norm along with belief in all manner of superstition and magic Southward and eastward however two different cultural patterns had emerged One was the Byzantine Empire -- populated by Hellenized Central Asians Greeks Syrians Jews Armenians Egyptians and Persians It existed as a static class-dominated authoritarian society with change occurring only in extreme form and imposed from without Yet by the sheer fact of its existence in those first cruel centuries following the fall of Rome this remnant of the ancient civilizations performed a critical holding action for human culture Within it were preserved many of the achievements of the Hellenic and Classical world Then in the seventh century came the emergence of a new religion among the Arabs and Bedouins to the south sparking a civilization which eventually encompassed and surpassed what little there had been of original Byzantine achievement Mohammed the founder of Islam became at the same time the founder of a new Arabic state with its capital at Medina In the century after his death the Islamic rulers called Caliphs or successors to the Prophet
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