“By a sweet tongue and kindness, you can drag an elephant with a hair. A bad wound heals but a bad word doesn’t. Thousands of friends are far too few, one enemy is too much.”
Persian literature (Persian: ادبیات پارسی) spans two and a half millennia, though much of the pre-Islamic material has been lost. Its sources has been within historical Persia including present-day Iran as well as regions of Central Asia where the Persian language has been the national language through history. For instance, Rumi, one of Persia’s best-loved poets, born in Balkh, wrote in Persian, and lived in Konya then the capital of the Seljuks. The Ghaznavids conquered large territories in Central and South Asia and adopted Persian as their court language. There is thus Persian literature from areas that are now part of Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia. Not all this literature is written in Persian, as some consider works written by ethnic Persians in other languages, such as Greek and Arabic, to be included.
Described by some as one of the great literatures of mankind, the Persian literature has its roots in surviving works in Old Persian or Middle Persian dating back as far as 522 BCE, the date of the earliest surviving Achaemenid inscription, the Behistun Inscription. The bulk of the surviving Persian literature, however, comes from the times following the Islamic conquest of Persia circa 650 CE. After the Abbasids came to power (750 CE), the Persians became the scribes and bureaucrats of the Islamic empire and, increasingly, also its writers and poets. Persians wrote both in Persian and Arabic; Persian predominated in later literary circles. Persian poets such as Sa’di, Hafiz , Rumi and Omar Khayyam are well known in the world and have influenced the literature of many countries.
Very few literary works survived from ancient Persia. This is partly due to the destruction of the library at Persepolis. Most of what remains consists of the royal inscriptions of Achaemenid kings, particularly Darius I (522–486 BC) and his son Xerxes. Zoroastrian writings mainly were destroyed in the Islamic conquest of Persia. The Parsis who fled to India, however, took with them some of the books of the Zoroastrian canon, including some of the Avesta and ancient commentaries (Zend) thereof. Some works of Sassanid geography and travel also survived albeit in Arabic translations.
No single text devoted to literary criticism has survived from pre-Islamic Persia. However, some essays in Pahlavi such as “Ayin-e name nebeshtan” (Principles of Writing Book) and “Bab-e edteda’I-ye” (Kalileh o Demneh) have been considered as literary criticism (Zarrinkoub, 1959). Some researchers have quoted the Sho’ubiyye as asserting that the pre-Islamic Persians had books on eloquence, such as ‘Karvand’. No trace remains of such books. There are some indications that some among the Persian elite were familiar with Greek rhetoric and literary criticism (Zarrinkoub, 1947).