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Didactic Literature: Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

This lesson discusses didactic literature and goes over examples of this type of writing. Learn the definition, history, and a few literary examples of this enlightening genre!

Definition of Didactic Literature

Have you ever wanted to fix your bike or build a new deck? Unless you're a technical wizard, taking on these projects probably requires you to find some sort of guidebook to help show you the way. Books of this kind and many others can be considered didactic literature, or any verse or prose work intended to be instructional.

When the Greeks first used the term didaktikos, it referred to someone or something that was 'apt at teaching.' To them, this meant not only relaying educational information, but also effectively demonstrating that information in practice.

The same can be said for didactic literature today -- you wouldn't expect your favorite cookbook to just contain a list of ingredients for German chocolate cake, but also instructions on what to do with those ingredients.

With over 1600 titles in the collection, the For Dummies series might well be the largest library of didactic literature in history.

History of Didactic Literature

As some of the earliest forms of literature, didactic works didn't exactly start out teaching people how to operate Windows 8. In fact, many of the religious texts of the world can also be considered didactic.

Full of important mythology, parables, anecdotes, metaphor, and outright commandments, books like the Jewish Torah or the Greek Theogony by the poet Hesiod are meant to inform people of their places in the world and to show them how to live accordingly.

Showing people how to play nicely is not the only thing didactic literature has to offer, though. For instance, Hesiod himself also composed the Works and Days, which is essentially a how-to guide for farmers.

The Roman poet Ovid even produced several didactic pieces on everything from seduction to women's facial and hair treatments!

If there's something you want to learn, there's almost certainly a piece of didactic literature that can teach you. Just take a look at a few examples below.

With over 1,600 titles in the collection, the For Dummies series might well be the largest library of didactic literature in history!
Collection of __For Dummies__ books

Examples of Didactic Literature

Let's take a look at some examples of didactic literature:

Ars Poetica

Composed in the 1st century A.D. by the Roman poet Horace, Ars Poetica (Latin for The Poetic Art) has been the didactic centerpiece of Western literature for almost two millennia.

When the Greeks and Romans recognized writing as a technical art, they also recognized the need for learning how to do it skillfully. For this reason, children were educated from a very early age in the arts of grammar and rhetoric.

Horace takes this learning a step further, demonstrating in his Ars Poetica how one can combine these skills in beautifully and appropriately crafted poetry. Many after Horace owe their careers to his work not just as writers, but also as literary critics who use his standards as their own.

Sophie's World

Next we'll look at an example in the work Sophie's World.

Horace and many other Latin authors also participated in a rich Roman literary tradition known as 'epistolary literature,' which is comprised of collections of letters, or 'epistles,' to friends and family. Although they discussed the weather and their children, writers of these 'epistles' (like those by St. Paul in the Bible) also expounded upon various points of ethical and philosophical interest.

This tradition of using letters for philosophically didactic purposes was taken up many years later by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder for his instructional work Sophie's World.

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