Book Series Disputatio, vol. 15

What Nature Does Not Teach

Didactic Literature in the Medieval and Early-Modern Periods

Juanita Feros Ruys (ed)

  • Pages: 530 p.
  • Size:160 x 240 mm
  • Illustrations:3 b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2008

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52596-9
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53746-7
  • E-book
  • Available


"The essays in this volume demonstrate that ‘didactic literature’ should not be thought of as dry and dull but often lively and entertaining as such texts would need to be if they were to be efficacious." (L. M. Clopper, in: Journal of the Northern Renaissance, 28 December 2009)

"The anthology comprehensively investigates the complexities involved in writing didactically. Can we ever be sure that audiences took any of this material to heart?" (Moira Fitzgibbons, in: Journal of English and Germanic Philology 110/2, April 2011, p. 252)

"While each of the articles constitutes an investigation that is well documented and enlightening on its particular point, the volume, by virtue of its organization and its well-tailored introduction, takes on truly remarkable breadth and importance." (Denis Hüe, in: Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. XLIII/1, Spring 2012, p. 177-179


This interdisciplinary volume takes as its subject the multi-faceted genre of didactic literature (the literature of instruction) which constituted the cornerstone of literary enterprise and social control in medieval and early modern Europe. Following an Introduction that raises questions of didactic meaning, intent, audience, and social effect, nineteen chapters deal with the construction of the individual didactic voice and persona in the premodern period, didactic literature for children, women as the creators, objects, and consumers of didactic literature, the influence of advice literature on adult literacy, piety, and heresy, and the revision of classical didactic forms and motifs in the early modern period. Attention is paid throughout to the continuities of didactic literature across the medieval and early modern periods—its intertextuality, reliance on tradition, and self-renewal—and to questions of gender, authority, control, and the socially constructed nature of advice. Contributors particularly explore the intersection of advice literature with real lives, considering the social impact of both individual texts and the didactic genre as a whole. The volume deals with a wide variety of texts from the early Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, written in languages from Latin through the European vernaculars to Byzantine Greek and Russian, offering a comprehensive overview of this pervasive and influential genre.