Didactic Literature: Teaching Lessons

Probably every society that has ever existed on Earth has told to teach its people how to live
and how not to live. Writing like these, which are primarily aimed at teaching or instructing, are
called didactic works.
The Bible and the Koran the sacred scriptures o! "udaism, #hristianity, and $slam% include
didactic texts written to !ul!ill the most serious o! instructive purposes. They ask and answer
pro!ound &uestions about the meaning o! li!e, what happens a!ter death, how we should worship
'od, and how we should live our everyday lives.
(ther didactic writings are less pro!ound) some o! them are immensely practical, even cynical.
*idactic writings make use o! a variety o! !orms. Two o! the most popular teachings !orms are
the anecdote and the parable. + parable !rom the ,ew Testament is on page -./% + parable is
a very brie! story about human characters that teaches by comparison. The teacher telling the
parable draws the story0s action !rom everyday events that listeners have experiences1 + lost
coin, a traveler attacked by thieves, a problem son. The listeners have to in!er the comparison
the teacher is making. The message is not always crystal clear2parables are told to make us
3en Buddhist monks in "apan and 4u!i masters !rom Persia teach by means o! anecdotes 5ike
parables, anecdotes are brie! stories that contain !amiliar characters, settings, and actions that
teach a lesson about living. The lesson o! the anecdote is not always stated and o!ten has to be
in!erred by the listener.
+nother popular didactic !orm is the brie!, wise saying called the aphorism or maxim. +merica0s
Ben6amin 7ranklin liked to write aphorisms on the value o! thri!t, hard work, and the simple
li!e. 5ao8t9u, the #hinese philosopher who is thought to have !ounded Taoism in the sixth
century, also taught through maxims.
The beast fable is a narrative !orm that teaches its lessons through talking animals. Beast
!ables appeared long ago in $ndia, well be!ore the sixth century B.#. They were collected in the
second century B.#. in a story cycle known as the Panchatantra. Beast !ables were later used
by +esop in ancient 'reece, by 5a 7ontaine in 7rance, and even by the +merican humorist
"ames Thurber in the twentieth century. Beast !ables are still alive and well today1 Think o!
*isney0sThe Lion King and o! animal cartoons like Pogo.
The Bible
by *avid +dams 5eeming
$n Western cultures, the Bible is important as a sacred book and as a chronicle o! history. +s a
work o! literature, it has had a pro!ound in!luence on every aspect o! people0s imaginative lives.
Writers like Ernest :emingway, Walt Whitman, Emily *ickinson, ;artin 5uther King, "r., and
"ames Baldwin have been in!luenced by the Bible2not only by its themes but also by its
rhythms and language.
5iterature is not the only art !orm indebted to the Bible. $t is virtually impossible to visit an art
museum without seeing works that re!lect Biblical themes or events1 +dam and Eve0s expulsion
!rom the 'arden o! Eden, *avid0s slaying o! 'oliath, the birth o! "esus, the 5ast 4upper, the
#ruci!ixion. Biblical allusions, or re!erences, abound in everyday language, too. + person who
helps another is called a good 4amaritan. + mass movement o! holiday travelers !rom the city is
called an exodus. + particularly tough 6ob re&uires the patience o! "ob.
$t is important to understand that the Bible is two di!!erent books to two di!!erent religions. The
:ebrew Bible is made up o! many books that contain narratives, poems, historical records,
prophecies, and laws. The !irst !ive books o! the :ebrew Bible are called the Torah :ebrew !or
<teaching= or <law=%) they are also known as the 7ive Books o! ;oses or the Pentateuch 'reek
!or <!ive books=%. The Torah together with the other most sacred texts o! "udaism the books o!
the prophets and other <writings=% is known by the :ebrew acronym Tanakh.
The early #hristians were "ews, and so they considered the :ebrew Bible their sacred text also,
but they did not believe that it contained the complete story o! 'od0s relationship with :is
people. Thus, the :ebrew Bible became the !irst part o! the #hristian Bible. The second part,
the ,ew Testament, includes !our'ospels, which are accounts o! the li!e and teachings o!
"esus. The 'ospels are !ollowed by historical accounts o! the early days o! the #hristian #hurch
and the Book o! >evelation a vision o! the end o! time%. The 'ospels were !irst written down
between +.*. ?@ and .?@ in Koine 'reek, the everyday <international= language o! the ;iddle
East at that time.
Psalm AB
King "ames Bible
The 5ord is my shepherd) $ shall not want.
:e maketh me to lie down in green pastures1
:e leadeth me beside the still waters.
:e restoreth my soul1
? :e leadeth me in the paths o! righteousness !or his
name0s sake.
Cea, though $ walk through the valley o! the shadow o!
$ will !ear no evil1 !or thou art with me)
Thy rod and thy sta!! they com!ort me.
Thou preparest a table be!ore me in the presence o!
mine enemies1
.@ Thou anointest my head with oil) my cup runneth over.
4urely goodness and mercy shall !ollow me all the days
o! my li!e1
+nd $ will dwell in the house o! the 5ord !or ever.
To Every Thing There $s a 4eason
King "ames Bible
To every thing there is a season,
+nd a time to every purpose under the heaven1
+ time to be born, and a time to die)
+ time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted)
? + time to kill, and a time to heal)
+ time to break down, and a time to build up)
+ time to weep, and a time to laugh)
+ time to mourn, and a time to dance)
+ time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together)
.@ + time to embrace, and a time to re!rain !rom embracing)
+ time to get, and a time to lose)
+ time to keep, and a time to cast away)
+ time to rend, and a time to sew)
+ time to keep silence, and a time to speak)
.? + time to love, and a time to hate)
+ time o! war, and a time o! peace.
2Ecclesiastes B1.DE
;aking ;eanings
Psalm AB F To Every Thing There $s a 4eason
7irst Thoughts
.. #an you see why people have !ound com!ort in these two poemsG :ow do you respond to
themG "ot down words and phrases that describe your !eelings.
4haping $nterpretations
A. What are the two central metaphors o! Psalm ABG The !irst one is directly stated in line .,
and the second is implied in lines - and .@.% By implication, what is the speaker compared to in
each metaphorG
B. :ow does the poet extend the !irst metaphor through line E o! Psalm ABG
H. $n the ;iddle East it was a sign o! hospitality to pour a small amount o! oil onto a guest0s
head because he would be dusty !rom traveling or !rom working in the !ields%. What other
images o! hospitality do you !ind in Psalm ABG
?. $n the passage !rom Ecclesiastes, what do you think the phrase <a time to cast away stones=
meansG What does <gather stones together= meanG What modern !igures o! speech would you
use to express these ideasG
/. When do you think it might be appropriate <to lose= rather than <to get=G #an you suggest
when it is best <to keep silence= and when it is best <to speak=G
Extending the Text
I. 5ook at the world around you. $n terms o! <To Every Thing There $s a 4eason,= what <time= is
itG 'ive examples to support your opinion.
#hallenging the Text
E. The poem !rom Ecclesiastes says that there is <a time to kill,= <a time to hate,= and <a time !or
war.= :ow can these be reconciled with the commandments <Thou shalt not kill= and <5ove thy
neighbor as thysel!=G Explain your views.
!rom the JurKan
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
By the light o! day, and by the !all o! night, your 5ord has not !orsaken you, nor does
:e abhor you.
The li!e to come holds a richer pri9e !or you than this present li!e. Cou shall be
grati!ied with what your 5ord will give you.
*id :e not !ind you an orphan and give you shelterG
*id :e not !ind you in error and guide youG
*id :e not !ind you poor and enrich youG
There!ore do not wrong the orphan, nor chide away the beggar. But proclaim the
goodness o! your 5ord.
884ura -B

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
:ave We not li!ted up your heart and relieved you o! the burden which weighed down
your backG
:ave We not given you high renownG
Every hardship is !ollowed by ease. Every :ardship is !ollowed by ease.
When your task is ended, resume your Toil, and seek the 5ord with all !ervor.
884ura -H
3en Parables
translated by Paul >eps

;uddy >oad
Tan9an and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. + heavy rain was still
#oming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the
<#ome on, girl,= said Tan9an at once. 5i!ting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night, when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no
longer could restrain himsel!. <We monks don0t go near !emales,= he told Tan9an, <especially not
young and lovely ones. $t is dangerous. Why did you do thatG=
<$ le!t the girl there,= said Tan9an. <+re you still carrying herG=
The Thie! Who Became a *isciple
(ne evening, as 4hichiri Ko6un was reciting sutras, a thie! with a sharp sword entered,
demanding either his money or his li!e.
4hichiri told him1 <*o not disturb me. Cou can !ind the money in that drawer.= Then he resumed
his recitation.
+ little while a!terward, he stopped and called1 <*on0t take it all. $ need some to pay taxes with
The intruder gathered up most o! the money and started to leave. <Thank a person when you
receive a gi!t,= 4hichiri added. The man thanked him and made o!!.
+ !ew days a!terward, the !ellow was caught and con!essed, among others, the o!!ense against
4hichiri. When 4hichiri was called as a witness, he said1 <This man is no thie!, at least as !ar as $
am concerned. $ gave him the money and he thanked me !or it.=
+!ter he had !inished his prison term, the man went to 4hichiri and became his disciple.

;aking ;eanings 3en Parables%
7irst Thoughts
.. Were the lessons o! these two parables immediately clear to youG Why or why notG What did
they <teach= youG
4haping $nterpretations
A. $n <;uddy >oad,= what do you think Tan9an means when he asks Ekido i! he is <still carrying=
the girlG
B. :ow would you state the implied moral o! <;uddy >oad=G *iscuss a situation in someone0s
li!e today in which this lesson would apply.
H. Why do you think the thie! became a disciple o! 4hichiri Ko6unG What did he learnG
from Sayings of Saadi
translated by Idries Shah

+ lamp has no rays at all in the !ace o! the sun)
+nd a high minaret even in the !oothills o! a
mountain looks low.
Information and Knowledge
:owever much you study, you cannot know
without action.
+ donkey laden with books is neither an
intellectual nor a wise man.
Empty o! essence, what learning has he2
Whether upon him is !irewood or bookG
The Thief and the Blanket
+ thie! entered the house o! a 4u!i, and !ound
nothing there. +s he was leaving, the dervish
perceived his disappointment and threw him
the blanket in which he was sleeping, so that he
should not go away empty8handed.
The Destiny of a olf !ub
The destiny o! a wol! cub is to become a wol!,
even i! it is reared among the sons o! men.
;aking ;eanings
!rom 4ayings o! 4aadi
4haping $nterpretations
"ara#hrase2restate in your own words2each o! these sayings o! 4aadi. #ompare
your paraphrases with those o! your classmates. :ave you read the sayings the
same wayG +re di!!erent interpretations possibleG
Extending the Text
#ould you apply any o! these old sayings to situations or people todayG

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