A discussion of the role of literature in Iranian culture should begin with several caveats. First of all, the discussion in this chapter is limited to Persian literature. There are, of course, other languages in Iran that have a literary tradition, but it is not possible to try to deal with them here. This is not to demean or neglect their importance in any way, but it can perhaps be justifi ed not only by necessity but on the grounds that Persian literature, unlike those other literatures, is the common heritage of all Iranians: Not many Persian speakers would be at all familiar with, say, Azeri Turkish literature, but it is a safe bet that an educated Azeri would be very knowledgeable about Persian literature and take as much pride in it as his Persian compatriot. At the same time, it has to be remembered that Persian literature is international in character and not confi ned to the nation-state of Iran. Some of the great masters of Persian literature had no real connection with Iran at all, but rather lived in Anatolia, India, or central Asia. For example, the great mystic poet Jalâl-od-Din Rumi (1207–73) was born in Balkh (now part of Afghanistan) and spent most of his life in Konya (in modern Turkey and then ruled by Saljuq Turks). Historically speaking, Rumi is arguably of greater importance for Saljuq and Ottoman Turkish culture than for Iran. Most of his poetry, however, was written in Persian, and the greatest of his works, the long didactic poem known as the Masnavi-e Ma‘navi (“Profound Couplets”), is often held to be the equivalent of “the Koran in Persian,” were such a thing possible. Certainly, no comprehensive survey of Persian literature could ignore such an author, any more than one of English language literature could exclude Robert Burns or Ernest Hemingway. As a practical matter, however, such an approach would vastly expand the scope of this chapter, which will have to concentrate on authors with closer connections to Iran proper. Finally, it should be kept in mind that mass literacy in Iran is a very recent phenomenon. For most of its history, literature was produced by and for a small elite, and this has affected its character in many ways. Yet some of this literature defi nitely had a mass impact, especially poetry, which was particularly susceptible to being memorized and recited at public and private gatherings. At the same time, the country has produced a vast amount of folk literature, perhaps the best guide to key features of authentic Iranian culture. In more recent years, increased literacy rates and contact with non-Iranian literatures have dramatically altered both the genres and the nature of Persian literature.