Epic Literature of Ancient Iran
The most significant literary heritage of ancient Iran, however, is the heroic poetry which eventually evolved into the Iranian national epic. The core of this poetry belongs to a heroic age of remote antiquity, that of the Kayanians. Under this dynasty, whose history is wrapped in legend, the ancestors of the Avestan people offered worship and sacrifice to a broad range of deities who often symbolized the forces of nature. Grappling with the hazards of a cold, frost-stricken climate, beset by demons of drought, and harassed by marauding neighbors, they struggled to overcome the physical and social challenges of their environment. The institution of kingship had already developed among them; the worship of tribal gods and ancestral spirits had given way to a common worship of universal gods and the spirits of protective, departed heroes. The first adumbration of the major legends of the Iranian epic are found in the Yashts of the Avesta, where Kayanian kings offer sacrifice to the gods in order to earn their support and gain strength in the perpetual struggle against their enemies, the Turanians. As the major concern of the Kayanians, this bitter, never-ending feud with the Turanians constitutes the main theme of the Iranian epic. Zoroastrianism adopted these legends of the past and extended its blessing to their protagonists.