Show Summary Details

Quick Reference


Instructive; designed to impart information, advice, or some doctrine of morality or philosophy. Much of the most ancient surviving literature is didactic, containing genealogies, proverbial wisdom, and religious instruction. Most European literary works of the Middle Ages have a strong didactic element, usually expounding doctrines of the Church. Practical advice has often been presented in verse, as in the Georgics (37–30bce) of Virgil, which give advice on farming, and in the imitative georgics of the 18th century. Since the ascendancy of Romanticism and Aestheticism in the 19th century, didactic writing has been viewed unfavourably as foreign to true art, so that the term didacticism refers (usually pejoratively) to the use of literary means to a doctrinal end. Some imaginative works still contain practical information, however: Robert Pinsky's verse sequence ‘Tennis’ (1975) offers practical tips on service, backhand shots, and other relevant skills. The boundaries of didactic literature are open to dispute, since both the presence and the prominence of doctrinal content are subject to differing interpretations. In the broadest sense, most allegories and satires implying a moral or political view may be regarded as didactic, along with many other kinds of work in which the theme embodies some philosophical or other belief of the author. A stricter definition would confine the term to those works that explicitly tell readers what they should do. See also propagandism.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.