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Ancient Persian Literature

The only written works in the Old Persian language that was spoken during the Achaemenian period (550-330 BC) in Persia are the inscriptions of some of the Achaemenian kings in the cuneiform system that have survived on rocks, gold and silver tablets, weights, stamps, and vessels. The only relic that may have been written in the Old Persian language after the Achaemenian period is an inscription in the Aramaic language found in Naqsh-e Rostam, of which only a few words have been deciphered thus far. The contents of this inscription are mainly of a political and administrative nature. However, notwithstanding the limited contents of these state-owned inscriptions and despite the fact that not all of them have been deciphered thus far, the literary greatness of Darius I is undeniable. It also needs to be mentioned that the owner of the words of these inscriptions has expressed himself in all honesty and has abstained from indulging in any amplification. The impeccability of expression, simplicity of wording, and brevity have compensated for the monotony of language that can be observed in the various parts of the inscriptions. Interestingly, all the texts that have been written in the name of Darius I have been planned appropriately and comprise an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. The stone inscriptions of the descendents of Darius I with the exception of the “Div” tablet of King Xerxes I are nothing but repetitions of King Darius’s words. It is noteworthy that the Ancient Persian cuneiform inscriptions are devoid of any imaginative literature and although they are considered as valuable documents from the historical and linguistic points of view, they do not hold any real literary value.

It can be deduced from what has been recorded by the Greek writers that in all probability the epic literature in ancient Iran was oral. In the view of Christiansen, it is quite likely that besides government documents, there had been a collection of oral epic narrations like the “Khodāynāmeh” and the “Shāhnāmeh” during the Achaemenid period that had been used by the Greek writers in their writings. For example, the legend of “Zupir”, the stories related to Cyrus that have been narrated by Herodotus, as well as the stories related to Bardiyā that have appeared in other Greek narrations belong to the said collection.


* source: Zarshenas , Zohreh " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.557 - 558

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