Iranian literature and culture


The first major literary works are the scriptures of Zoroastrianism and the Pahlavi writing of Parthian and Sassanian Iran.  Our knowledge of this is limited, however, and all we have of it is some brief works in Middle Persian or Pahlavi which were preserved in the Zoroastrian communities.

The Arab conquest in the 7th century made Arabic the literary language and Islam the dominant literary theme.  Persian re-emerged as the literary language in te 9th century, and classical Persian literature flourished in the following centuries.  The poetry of this period is held in particularly high esteem, and it was imitated in Asia Minor, Central Asia and the Muslim communities in India.  One of the most famous poets of this period was Daqiqi, who was commissioned to write the epic Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), the national epic.  This gives the history of Iran to the end of the Sassanian period.

The Seljuk period produced remarkably rich works, of both verse and prose.  Examples include Bayhaqi’s History of the Ghaznavids, Kaykavus’s Book of Qabus and Nezami Aruzi’s Four Discourses.  

Omar Khayyam (11th century) was a poet and mathematician, who is chiefly known to English-speaking readers for his most famous work, the Rubaiyat.   

After the 15th century, Persian literature went into a decline that lasted until the 19th century.  The influence of the west in the 20th century as well as the struggle for social justice has meant that political and social themes often play an important role in literature, and literary language has become simplified.  Modern poets include Aref Pishavari, Hushang Ebtehaj and Nima Ushij; modern novelists include Saadegh Hedayat, Ali-Mohammad Afghani and Jamal Mir Saadeghi.

Literature in English about Iran: 


Lifting the Veil by John Simpson and Tira Schubart

This book explores aspects of post-revolutionary Iran 

Honeymoon in Purdah by Alison Wearing

The author’s journey recent journey through Iran

The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron

The classic diary of a slow passage from England to Afghanistan, which includes travel through Iran

The national language of Iran is Persian, an Indo-European language also known as Farsi.  The other main regional languages are Azari, Kurdish, Arabic and Lori.  The introduction of Islam saw the Arabic script adapted to Persian, but there is no standard method of transliterating Persian into English.

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