What Is Didactic Writing? (Definition)
In simplest terms, didactic writing is the kind of writing that instructs.
When a text gives a moral, an instruction, a rule, or a principle to follow, it implements the philosophy of didacticism.
Didacticism can be defined (academically) as a philosophy that teaches moral lessons and entertain its readers. However, the aesthetic function of didactic literature is secondary to its disciplinary purpose.
Didactic literature aims to dictate the moral life and moral behavior of the reader, or the main character in the plot, or design the world of the textbook in a way that the content provides didactic examples to anyone in association with the piece.
Didacticism is one of the most popular literary devices. It has been used widely by writers, poets, philosophers, directors to instruct and teach right and wrong, to-dos and not to-dos.
History of Didacticism (Origins)
The word ‘didactic’ has been derived from the Greek didaktikós meaning "apt at teaching" (Merriam-Webster).
The Greek word didaktós means “taught, or learned.” The word didacticus from New Latin also means the same.
The practice of didacticism began before the written word. Didacticism is a concept encompassed in things one says or hears all day. Oral epics, folk songs, cave art all can be didactic in nature. Any medium of art (in the broader sense) that teach, imparts morality, instructs is a didactic work.
Let us now have a glimpse of didacticism throughout literary history.
Famous Ancient Texts
Many ancient texts can fall wholly under the category of didactic tales.
Aesop, believed to live in ancient Greece, is credited with having written numerous fables that carry essential lessons on how to live morally and ethically. Aesop has over 120 stories attributed to his name that can be read by children and adults alike.
Works and Days by Hesiod
An important didactic poem with over 800 lines, written by the ancient poet Hesiod in Greece, around 700 BC. It is a didactic source for farmers (like modern how-to books) on the art of agriculture.
An ancient Indian collection of didactic animal fables in Sanskrit prose and verse dated earlier than 200 BCE.
A collection of didactic religious texts sacred in Judaism, Christianity, and other faiths. Considered to be “divinely inspired,” The Bible contains hymns, didactic letters, essays, prophecies, and accounts of divine knowledge.
Many associate the seven deadly sins as part of the Bible stories, but such is not the case.
Famous Didactic Literature in the Middle Ages/Medieval Europe
Ars Poetica by Horace
Ars Poetica or The Art of Poetry is a didactic poem where Horace, the ancient Roman poet, teaches writers the art of writing a poem and drama.
It heavily influenced French drama in the following ages.
Jataka Tales by Gautama Buddha
The Jataka Tales are a collection of didactic texts by worldly wiseman Gautama Buddha. The body contains more than 500 didactic tales and is an integral part of the Pali literary canon. It aims for moral education and helps readers create a better society.
The Morality Plays
Morality plays are a genre of drama from medieval Europe that instruct the audience on various virtues and sins, moral lives, healthy living practices, etc. They draw a broad line between good and bad, moral and evil.
Some literary examples of morality plays are:
The Castle of Perseverance
A morality play from medieval England is considered the earliest full-length play in the category. Together with Wisdom and Mankind, it is known as the Macro Manuscript.
Another piece of didactic literature, similar to The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, The Everyman uses allegorical characters to make observations and give examples of attaining Christian salvation.
Types of Didactic Literature
Here are some didactic literature categories.
Children's Literature and Fables
Didacticism examples are most heavily used in children's literature to teach and form necessary principles upon their impressionable minds.
Texts such as morality plays, the Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavat Gita all aim to instruct believers on living morally and serve God as understood in their ways.
Plays, Poem, Prose
Writers such as Charles Dickens, Antoine de Saint-Exupery Ayn Rand, Salman Rushdie, Philip K. Dick, Paulo Coelho, Thomas Hardy, John Bunyan, Herman Hesse, Aristotle, Plato, Ovid have works that can be shelved under solid didactic literature example.
Essays and Non-fiction
Political and European neoclassical texts are examples of didactic literature.
Examples of Didactic Literature
The Neoclassical Age (18th century) in Europe fits the definition of didacticism perfectly. Neoclassicism was a reaction to the metaphysical nature of literature, and neoclassics like Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Joseph Butler emphasized instruction, rationalism, and objective in their works.
Pragmatism subordinated idealism; this method was expected to be followed in core parts of life such as religious beliefs, literature, and morality. Too much accentuation on didacticism ultimately gave rise to what we call the Romantic Movement in literature.
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress is a Christian allegory, and the main character's name is Christian. Christian is an everyman character who is burdened by the knowledge of his sins after reading the Bible.
The book accounts for his journey from the City of Destruction to Celestial City. Celestial City here meant heaven, while the City of Destruction is the name for “this world.”
Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
Fourteen-year-old Sophie becomes obsessed with finding the meaning behind her identity when she receives a mail asking, “Who are you?” and, “Where do you come from?”
An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope
This essay is a didactic piece intended to justify the ways of God to men. This essay was intended to be a part of a “system of ethics” Pope wanted to enunciate in his poetry.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
An allegorical novella by George Orwell instructing readers of the time to break free from autocracy and strive for freedom and equality.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury, it shares a lesson on the importance of books in a society.
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
The story of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, originally written in German, and giving a spiritual example to the readers.
Purpose of Didacticism (Functions)
The purpose of didacticism is to put forth an example of should and should nots upon society. These are achieved through religious doctrines, political ideas, moral story and lesson, the canonization of history and literature, the use of characters that personify virtues, an angry god that punishes the sinner, and so on.
Functions of didacticism are:
- To instruct and teach lessons;
- To give the reader common examples of morals to live by;
- To give a definition of life and its purpose;
- To serve the audience with ethical codes;
- To attain religious salvation;
How to Use Didacticism (Methods)
Popular literary devices report that the use of too much didacticism in writing can make the text dull, bureaucratic, and literally dictatorial. Didactic speeches are robust and have been exploited heavily by autocrats and dictators.
Modern use of didacticism can be found in speeches, posters, clothing, didactic campaign slogans, songs, hoardings, school lessons and prayers, and most commonly in instruction manuals.
If you are composing a story with a moral, it is didactic fiction. After reading your story, the reader will find a clear principle or code that you think will improve their lives.
If you are forming a how-to guide, it falls under a didactic document. The most popular example is the For Dummies series.
Anything that instructs, teaches, is didactic - whether a piece of revered literary work like that of John Bunyan's, the morality plays, or your professors lecturing the class. A parent's lesson to the child is didactic, and use of didacticism can be found everywhere on a daily basis.
Quiz: Important Lessons to Test Yourself On
Have some fun taking this quiz to test what you've learned.
1. What is the purpose of didactic literature?
- To entertain
- To instruct
- Both (a) and (b)
2. Which of the following is not a didactic text?
- A Pilgrim's Progress
- Bible stories
- The Twilight Saga
3. Which age made the most use of didacticism in English literature?
- The Romantic Age
- The Victorian Age
- The Neoclassical Age
4. Which of the following activities implement didacticism?
5. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
The above excerpt is an example of?
6. The Greek didaktikós means:
- Apt at teaching
- Smiling is the best medicine
- Knowledge is power
7. The definition of didacticism is:
- A Biblical code for followers of Christianity.
- A philosophy that intends to teach moral lessons and entertain its readers.
- A literary device to make the reader melancholic.
ANSWERS: 1 (C); 2 (C); 3 (C); 4 (A); 5 (A); 6 (A); 7 (B);
- A contemporary Goodreads compilation of didactic literature.
- A World Cat collection of didactic literature, movies and places.
An archive of religious didactic literature by Washington State University.