National Geographic has an interesting article on Iran and its past:
They like to say, for instance, that when invaders came to Iran, the Iranians did not become the invaders; the invaders became Iranians. Their conquerors were said to have "gone Persian," like Alexander [the Great], who, after laying waste to the administrative practices, took a Persian wife to do the same in a mass wedding. Iranians seem particularly proud of their capacity to get along with others by assimilating compatible aspects of the invaders' ways without surrendering their own - a cultural elasticity that is at the heart of their Persian identity.
The author, Marguerite Del Giudice, really did her homework--it's very hard to define words that have no direct translation in English, but she aptly defines the word, "taarof," which means "fighting for the lower hand." To understand this word provides substantial insight into Persian culture. The article also lists the best Persian poets: Rumi, Sa‘id, Omar Khayyám, and Hāfez .
Thanks to Alison Bryan for the tip (August 31, 2008 posting):