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A work is didactic if its primary purpose is to educate or enlighten the reader. This can come across either in the tone of the work or its actual content. In principle, there is nothing wrong with a work being didactic. In practice, however, the term is sometimes used in a negative way. For example, to call a novel didactic could mean that its "condescending" tone has detracted from its aesthetic merit.

Description of didactic 

A written or spoken work that is didactic is designed or intended to teach people something – for instance proper or moral behaviors that they should follow. These teachings are usually unwanted or irritating to the people being taught. Didactic is an adjective that can describe texts or speeches. The word “didactic” is often used today in critiques of writing or lecturing, and is derived from the Greek didaktikos, which means “related to education and teaching.” Synonyms of didactic are sermonic, homiletic, moralistic, preachy, and sententious. The first known use of didactic was in 1658.


Didactic works of writing or speaking may be directed at a particular portion of the population, or directed at the entire population of an author’s or speaker’s work. Poetry can even be didactic in many cases. Here are some examples of didactic being used in a sentence.

Example 1: The author’s work became more and more didactic during his tenure at Harvard.

Example 2: Much of German folklore is didactic, as is the folklore from other regions on the planet. Stories of old were invented as moralistic, explanatory, or didactic tales meant to teach and inform young children and young adults in the ways of the natural world.

Didacticism is a philosophy used to emphasize instructional and informative literature and art. Throughout history, didactic plays demonstrated morality and simple truths to audiences all over the world. Even a piece of music can be didactic at times. An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope, published in 1711, is didactic in nature, giving advice on writing critics and criticism itself. Guido of Arezzo’s musical chant Ut queant laxis was intended to teach music pupils solfege syllables.


Near the beginning of the 19th century didactic took on somewhat negative connotations as it was used to criticize a piece of work that was too factual and instructive in nature. Often, this work was difficult or painstaking to read due to its didactic nature, and caused the reader or audience to be put off or lost interest. As a result, didactic came to mean dull, pedantic, and unimaginative in works of art, writing, or plays. Didactic pieces were thought to take away from the enjoyment of the reader or the audience, dulling art with too many facts, numbers, or outdated moralistic ideals.

There are many ancient and historical texts that are valued for their didactic qualities today, but which may never have been considered “entertainment.” For instance, Works and Days (c. 700 B.C.E.) by Hesiod is an ancient Greek poem which is essentially a farmer’s almanac written to instruct Hesiod’s brother Perses in agriculture and moral principles the latter should apply to his life. The Jātaka Tales, written in Sanskrit, are a large body of native Indian literature which talk about the jāti, or previous births and lives of Buddha. These stories may have been written as early as the 4th century B.C.E.

A more modern example of a didactic work is the novel Sophie’s World, written by Jostein Gaarder of Norway. The novel was extremely successful in its efforts to explain philosophical history and thinking through the eyes of Sophie Amundsen, a teenage girl experiencing her world and learning about philosophy for the first time. It was the best-selling book throughout the world in 1995, and had been translated into fifty-nine languages by 2011. Sophie’s World is an excellent example of perfectly balanced didactic novels; it so captured the world’s imagination that the learning aspect became one with the entertainment aspect. Sophie’s World was made into a film starring Silje Storstein as its main character and was released in 1999.

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