A Short History of Iranian Memoirs

A review of the literature on Iranian memoirs in both the ancient and Islamic periods in Iranian history, particularly in reference to the similar literature in other cultures and civilizations, has provided the basic premise for the following conclusions.

It was the Achaemenid kings who, for the first, included personal and autobiographical notes in their inscriptions which abound in uncommonly detailed description of their past deeds, personal wishes or commands to their subjects. Sassanian memoirs, due to the absence of personal data in their accounts, are somewhat less revealing than those of the Achaemenid period. Nevertheless, with their relatively extensive description of historical events, they remain a valuable source and, compared to the memoirs of the Roman Emperor, Augustus, must be considered of superior historical value.

In the memoirs written in the Islamic period, the "self", the person of the writer, remains unobtrusive and is not directly described or revealed to the reader. Yet, a variety of memoirs, including chronicles of the royal courts, travelogues, diaries and scattered autobiographical references in Persian literary works which are not unlike comparable western writings prior to the Age of Enlightenment, merit to be considered as important biographical or autobiographical sources. A number of personal monographs, short treatises, or parts of literary or historical works of this period also include autobiographical notes and references. Indeed, a large number of Iranian classical poets of this period have used their divans as a medium to reveal facets of their private lives and personal experiences.

Finally, it should be noted that only in the Age of Enlightenment did autobiographical works emerge as a distinct and powerful literary and historical medium in the west and left its impact on modern Iranian writers of life-stories.

* Abstract prepared by Iran Nameh

Ahmad Ashraf
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