Persian Poets and Literature

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Joshua J. Mark
by
published on 12 February 2024

Persian literature is usually dated to the Behistun Inscription of Darius I (the Great, r. 522-486 BCE) at c. 522 BCE. It is generally understood that a significant body of work was created by Persian writers between that time and c. 330 BCE when Alexander the Great destroyed the library at Persepolis when he set fire to the city.

Many scholars, therefore, claim there is no “Persian Literature” prior to the Sassanian Empire (224-651) or date its beginnings to c. 750 with the rise of the Abbasid Dynasty whose poets preserved ancient tales from pre-Islamic Iran. Those who date Persian literature to the Sassanian Period cite the reign of Shapur I (240-270) as its inception as he encouraged literacy by having the Avesta, previously an oral text, committed to writing.

Although “literature” is commonly understood to refer to works of the imagination, Persian literature includes scripture, medical treatises, histories, and many other kinds of writings. A religious text like the Avesta, included below, might not be defined as “literature” in another culture but is regarded as such in Persian literature owing to its literary style and lyricism.

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Questions & Answers

When is Persian Literature dated to?

Persian Literature is commonly dated to the Behistun Inscription of c. 522 BCE.

When was Persian Literature destroyed?

Persian literary works written between c. 522 BCE and c. 330 BCE were destroyed when Alexander the Great burned the city of Persepolis in 330 BCE, including the great library.

Who is the greatest Persian Poet?

Hafez Shiraz (l. 1315-1390 CE) is generally considered the greatest Persian poet of all time, though there are other contenders for the honor.

What is the greatest work of Persian literature?

The Shahnameh by Ferdowsi, written between 977-1010 CE, is considered the greatest work of Persian literature.

About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
A freelance writer and former part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level.

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