Need A New Memory Strategy for the School Year? Here’s Cicero on Simonides’ Good Fortune

Ancient memory techniques go back to oratorical training in theory, but in practice probably much further back in human history. PPhilostratus records the reputation of Dionysius of Miletus and his “memory-men”. But one of the most easily abused and likely misunderstood method from the ancient world is the “memory palace” (or “method of loci“), made famous by Cicero, but credited to the lyric poet Simonides.

Cicero De Oratore 2.352–355

“But, so I may return to the matter”, he said, “I am not as smart as Themistocles was as to prefer the art of forgetting to the art of memory. And So I am thankful to that Simonides of Ceos who, as they say, first produced an art of memory. For they say that when Simonides was dining at the home of a wealthy aristocrat named Scopas in Thessaly and had performed that song which he wrote in his honor—in which there were many segments composed for Castor and Pollux elaborated in the way of poets. Then Scopas told him cruelly that he would pay him half as much as he had promised he would give for the song; if it seemed right to him, he could ask Tyndareus’ sons for the other half since he had praised them equally.

A little while later, as they tell the tale, it was announced that Simonides should go outside—there were two young men at the door who had been calling him insistently. He rose, exited, and so no one. Meanwhile, in the same space of time, the ceiling under which Scopas was having his feast collapsed: the man was crushed by the ruins a d died with his relatives. When people wanted to bury them they could not recognize who was where because they were crushed. Simonides is said to have shown the place in which each man died from his memory for their individual burials.

From this experience, Simonides is said to have learned that it is order most of all that brings light to memory. And thus those who wish to practice this aspect of the skill must select specific places and shape in their mind the matters they wish to hold in their memory and locate these facts in those places. It will so turn out that the order of the places will safeguard the order of the matters, the reflections of the facts will remind of the facts themselves, and we may use the places like wax and the ideas like letters written upon it.”

Sed, ut ad rem redeam, non sum tanto ego, inquit, ingenio quanto Themistocles fuit, ut oblivionis artem quam memoriae malim; gratiamque habeo Simonidi illi Cio quem primum ferunt artem memoriae protulisse.  Dicunt enim cum cenaret Crannone in Thessalia Simonides apud Scopam fortunatum hominem et nobilem cecinissetque id carmen quod in eum scripsisset, in quo multa ornandi causa poetarum more in Castorem scripta et Pollucem fuissent, nimis illum sordide Simonidi dixisse se dimidium eius ei quod pactus esset pro illo carmine daturum: reliquum a suis Tyndaridis quos aeque laudasset peteret si ei videretur. Paulo post esse ferunt nuntiatum Simonidi ut prodiret: iuvenes stare ad ianuam duos quosdam qui eum magnopere evocarent; surrexisse illum, prodisse, vidisse neminem; hoc interim spatio conclave illud ubi epularetur Scopas concidisse; ea ruina ipsum cum cognatis oppressum suis interiisse; quos cum humare vellent sui neque possent obtritos internoscere ullo modo, Simonides dicitur ex eo quod meminisset quo eorum loco quisque cubuisset demonstrator uniuscuiusque sepeliendi fuisse; hac tum re admonitus invenisse fertur ordinem esse maxime qui memoriae lumen afferret. Itaque eis qui hanc partem ingeni exercerent locos esse capiendos et ea quae memoria tenere vellent effingenda animo atque in eis locis collocanda: sic fore ut ordinem rerum locorum ordo conservaret, res autem ipsas rerum effigies notaret, atque ut locis pro cera, simulacris pro litteris uteremur.

thanks to S. Raudnitz for reminding me of this passage too!

 

Image result for ancient greek memory palace medieval giulio camillo
This stuff is still popular: The Memory Theater of Guilio Camillo

As a bonus, here’s Plato for the mind and wax:

 

Plato, Theaetetus 191a

Soc. “For the sake of argument, imagine that there is a single chunk of wax in our minds, for some it is bigger, for some smaller, and for one the wax is clearer, while for another it is more contaminated and rather inflexible;  for others, in turn, the wax more pliable and even.”

Th. Ok….

Soc. Let us say that this is the gift of the Muses’ mother, Mnemosunê, and when we wish to recall something we have seen or heard or thought ourselves, we show this wax to our perceptions or thoughts and find the imprint, just as we find meaning in seal rings. Whatever is printed can be remembered and understood as long as its image persists. Whenever it is softened or cannot be recorded is forgotten and not understood.”

Soc. Θὲς δή μοι λόγου ἕνεκα ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ἡμῶν ἐνὸν κήρινον ἐκμαγεῖον, τῷ μὲν μεῖζον, τῷ δ᾿ ἔλαττον, καὶ τῷ μὲν καθαρωτέρου κηροῦ, τῷ δὲ κοπρωδεστέρου, καὶ σκληροτέρου, ἐνίοις δὲ ὑγροτέρου, ἔστι δ᾿ οἷς μετρίως ἔχοντος.

ΘΕΑΙ.Τίθημι.

Soc. Δῶρον τοίνυν αὐτὸ φῶμεν εἶναι τῆς τῶν Μουσῶν μητρὸς Μνημοσύνης, καὶ ἐς τοῦτο, ὅ τι ἂν βουληθῶμεν μνημονεῦσαι ὧν ἂν ἴδωμεν ἢ ἀκούσωμεν ἢ αὐτοὶ ἐννοήσωμεν, ὑπέχοντας αὐτὸ ταῖς αἰσθήσεσι καὶ ἐννοίαις, ἀποτυποῦσθαι, ὥσπερ δακτυλίων σημεῖα ἐνσημαινομένους· καὶ ὃ μὲν ἂν ἐκμαγῇ, μνημονεύειν τε καὶ ἐπίστασθαι ἕως ἂν ἐνῇ τὸ εἴδωλον αὐτοῦ· ὃ δ᾿ ἂν ἐξαλειφθῇ ἢ μὴ οἷόν τε γένηται ἐκμαγῆναι, ἐπιλελῆσθαί τε καὶ μὴ ἐπίστασθαι.

And Quintilian trying to turn our ability to fantasize into something more ‘productive’:

Quintilian’s Inst. Orat. 6.2

“The fictions I have been talking about pursue us when our minds are at rest as empty hopes or certain daydreams so that we imagine we are on a journey, sailing, fighting, talking to new people, or distributing wealth we do not have—and we seem not to be considering but to be doing these things. Couldn’t we transfer this vice of the mind to something useful?”

quod quidem nobis volentibus facile continget; nisi vero inter otia animorum et spes inanes et velut somnia quaedam vigilantium ita nos hae de quibus loquor imagines prosecuntur ut peregrinari navigare proeliari, populos adloqui, divitiarum quas non habemus usum videamur disponere, nec cogitare sed facere, hoc animi vitium ad utilitatem non transferemus [ad hominem]

And Plutarch on the importance of memory for education

Plutarch, The Education of Children (Moralia 9)

It is especially important to train and practice children’s memory: for memory is the warehouse of learning. This is why we used to mythologize Memory as the mother of the Muses, making it clear through allegory that nothing creates and nourishes the way memory does. This should be trained in both cases, whether children have a good memory from the beginning or are naturally forgetful. For we may strengthen the inborn ability and supplement the deficiency. The first group will be better than others; but the second will be better than themselves. This is why the Hesiodic line rings true: “If you add a little by little, and you keep doing it, soon you can have something great.”

Parents should also not forget that a skill of memory contributes its great worth not only to education but to life’s actions in general. For the memory of past events becomes an example of good planning for future actions.”

Πάντων δὲ μάλιστα τὴν μνήμην τῶν παίδων ἀσκεῖν καὶ συνεθίζειν· αὕτη γὰρ ὥσπερ τῆς παιδείας ἐστὶ ταμιεῖον, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο μητέρα τῶν Μουσῶν ἐμυθολόγησαν εἶναι τὴν Μνημοσύνην, αἰνιττόμενοι καὶ παραδηλοῦντες ὅτι οὕτως οὐδὲν γεννᾶν καὶ τρέφειν ὡς ἡ μνήμη πέφυκε. καὶ τοίνυν ταύτην κατ᾿ ἀμφότερ᾿ ἐστὶν ἀσκητέον, εἴτ᾿ ἐκ φύσεως μνήμονες εἶεν οἱ παῖδες, εἴτε καὶ τοὐναντίον ἐπιλήσμονες. τὴν γὰρ πλεονεξίαν τῆς φύσεως ἐπιρρώσομεν, τὴν δ᾿ ἔλλειψιν ἀναπληρώσομεν· καὶ οἱ μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ἔσονται βελτίους, οἱ δ᾿ ἑαυτῶν. τὸ γὰρ Ἡσιόδειον καλῶς εἴρηται

εἰ γάρ κεν καὶ σμικρὸν ἐπὶ σμικρῷ καταθεῖο
καὶ θαμὰ τοῦτ᾿ ἔρδοις, τάχα κεν μέγα καὶ τὸ γένοιτο. (=Works and Days, 361-2)

μὴ λανθανέτω τοίνυν μηδὲ τοῦτο τοὺς πατέρας, ὅτι τὸ μνημονικὸν τῆς μαθήσεως μέρος οὐ μόνον πρὸς τὴν παιδείαν ἀλλὰ καὶ πρὸς τὰς τοῦ βίου πράξεις οὐκ ἐλαχίστην συμβάλλεται μοῖραν. ἡ γὰρ τῶν γεγενημένων πράξεων μνήμη τῆς περὶ τῶν μελλόντων εὐβουλίας γίγνεται παράδειγμα.

Models and Vices of the Mind: Plato and Quintilian on Imagination

Plato, Theaetetus 191a

Soc. “For the sake of argument, imagine that there is a single chunk of wax in our minds, for some it is bigger, for some smaller, and for one the wax is clearer, while for another it is more contaminated and rather inflexible;  for others, in turn, the wax more pliable and even.”

Th. Ok….

Soc. Let us say that this is the gift of the Muses’ mother, Mnemosunê, and when we wish to recall something we have seen or heard or thought ourselves, we show this wax to our perceptions or thoughts and find the imprint, just as we find meaning in seal rings. Whatever is printed can be remembered and understood as long as its image persists. Whenever it is softened or cannot be recorded  it is forgotten and not understood.”

Soc. Θὲς δή μοι λόγου ἕνεκα ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ἡμῶν ἐνὸν κήρινον ἐκμαγεῖον, τῷ μὲν μεῖζον, τῷ δ᾿ ἔλαττον, καὶ τῷ μὲν καθαρωτέρου κηροῦ, τῷ δὲ κοπρωδεστέρου, καὶ σκληροτέρου, ἐνίοις δὲ ὑγροτέρου, ἔστι δ᾿ οἷς μετρίως ἔχοντος.

ΘΕΑΙ.Τίθημι.

Soc. Δῶρον τοίνυν αὐτὸ φῶμεν εἶναι τῆς τῶν Μουσῶν μητρὸς Μνημοσύνης, καὶ ἐς τοῦτο, ὅ τι ἂν βουληθῶμεν μνημονεῦσαι ὧν ἂν ἴδωμεν ἢ ἀκούσωμεν ἢ αὐτοὶ ἐννοήσωμεν, ὑπέχοντας αὐτὸ ταῖς αἰσθήσεσι καὶ ἐννοίαις, ἀποτυποῦσθαι, ὥσπερ δακτυλίων σημεῖα ἐνσημαινομένους· καὶ ὃ μὲν ἂν ἐκμαγῇ, μνημονεύειν τε καὶ ἐπίστασθαι ἕως ἂν ἐνῇ τὸ εἴδωλον αὐτοῦ· ὃ δ᾿ ἂν ἐξαλειφθῇ ἢ μὴ οἷόν τε γένηται ἐκμαγῆναι, ἐπιλελῆσθαί τε καὶ μὴ ἐπίστασθαι.

Image result for Ancient Greek wax signet

Thanks to S. Raudnitz for drawing my attention to the passage from the Theaetetus

Quintilian’s Inst. Orat. 6.2

“The fictions I have been talking about pursue us when our minds are at rest as empty hopes or certain daydreams so that we imagine we are on a journey, sailing, fighting, talking to new people, or distributing wealth we do not have—and we seem not to be considering but to be doing these things. Couldn’t we transfer this vice of the mind to something useful?”

quod quidem nobis volentibus facile continget; nisi vero inter otia animorum et spes inanes et velut somnia quaedam vigilantium ita nos hae de quibus loquor imagines prosecuntur ut peregrinari navigare proeliari, populos adloqui, divitiarum quas non habemus usum videamur disponere, nec cogitare sed facere, hoc animi vitium ad utilitatem non transferemus [ad hominem]

I do believe that, along with Aristotle and Plato, Lavar Burton might disagree with Quintilian’s dismissal of fantasy:

“What is Written Here is Brief”: Some Roman Memorials for Memorial Day

Some Archaic Latin Inscriptions from the Loeb Classical Library (the LCL numbers are first, translations are mine). There are earlier poetic epitaphs on this site as well, even legendary ones

Epitaphs 14 [CIL 1861]

“Here lies the sweet clown and slave of Clulius
Protogenes, who created many moments of happiness for people with his joking”

Protogenes Cloul[i] | suavis heicei situst | mimus
plouruma que | fecit populo soueis | gaudia nuges.

15 [CIL 1202]

“This monument was erected for Marcus Caecilius
We give you thanks, Friend, since you stopped by this home.
May you have good fortune and be well. Sleep without worry.”

Hoc est factum monumentum | Maarco Caicilio. |
Hospes, gratum est quom apud | meas restitistei seedes. |
Bene rem geras et valeas, | dormias sine qura.

18 [CIL 1211]

“Friend, what is written here is brief—stop and read it all.
This is the unattractive tomb of an attractive woman.
Her parents named her Claudia
She loved her own husband with her whole heart.
She had two sons and leaves one of them
On the earth, but placed the other beneath it.
[She was] charming in conversation; but proper in behavior.
She safeguarded her house. She made wool. I have said it all. Go.”

Hospes, quod deico paullum est; asta ac pellege.
Heic est sepulcrum hau pulcrum pulcrai feminae.
Nomen parentes nominarunt Claudiam.
Suom mareitom corde deilexit souo.
Gnatos duos creavit, horunc alterum
in terra linquit, alium sub terra locat.
Sermone lepido, tum autem incessu commodo.
Domum servavit, lanam fecit. Dixi. Abei.

39 [CIL 1219]

“Here are the bones of Pompeia the first daughter
Fortune promises a lot to many but makes a guarantee for no one.
Live for all days and all hours. For nothing is yours wholly.
Salvius and Heros donated this.”

Primae | Pompeiae | ossua heic.|
Fortuna spondet | multis, praestat nemini;
vive in dies | et horas, nam proprium est nihil. |
Salvius et Heros dant.

Image result for ancient roman epitaph

Amazing, Wonderful Lies: Isocrates, Odysseus–Correspondence and Coherence

Isocrates, Helen 1-3

“There are some people who get puffed up if they manage to talk about something tolerably after they have themselves selected a strange and impossible subject. Men have also grown old claiming that it is impossible to say or disprove a lie or to speak two ways about the same matters. Others claim that courage, wisdom, and justice are the same thing, that we have none of these by nature, and that there is a single knowledge about them all. Others waste their time in conflicts which bring no benefit, which can only create more trouble for those who approach them.

I, if I saw that this superfluity had only just emerged in speeches and that these men were eager for honor in the novelty of what they discover, I would not be a surprised at them. But, now, who is such a late-learner that he does not know Protagoras and the sophists who were active at his time and that they left to us these types of things and speeches even more excessively composed than these? How could anyone overcome Gorgias who dared to say that nothing exists at all or Zeno who tried to demonstrate that the same things are possible and impossible or even Melissos who—although some things are countless in number—tried to provide a proof that everything is one!”

Εἰσί τινες οἳ μέγά φρονοῦσιν, ἢν ὑπόθεσιν ἄτοπον καὶ παράδοξον ποιησάμενοι περὶ ταύτης ἀνεκτῶς εἰπεῖν δυνηθῶσι· καὶ καταγεγηράκασιν οἱ μὲν οὐ φάσκοντες οἷόν τ᾿ εἶναι ψευδῆ λέγειν οὐδ᾿ ἀντιλέγειν οὐδὲ δύω λόγω περὶ τῶν αὐτῶν πραγμάτων ἀντειπεῖν, οἱ δὲ διεξιόντες ὡς ἀνδρία καὶ σοφία καὶ δικαιοσύνη ταὐτόν ἐστι, καὶ φύσει μὲν οὐδὲν αὐτῶν ἔχομεν, μία δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καθ᾿ ἁπάντων ἐστίν· ἄλλοι δὲ περὶ τὰς ἔριδας διατρίβουσι τὰς οὐδὲν μὲν ὠφελούσας, πράγματα δὲ παρέχειν τοῖς πλησιάζουσι δυναμένας.

Ἐγὼ δ᾿ εἰ μὲν ἑώρων νεωστὶ τὴν περιεργίαν ταύτην ἐν τοῖς λόγοις ἐγγεγενημένην καὶ τούτους ἐπὶ τῇ καινότητι τῶν εὑρημένων φιλοτιμουμένους, οὐκ ἂν ὁμοίως ἐθαύμαζον αὐτῶν· νῦν δὲ τίς ἐστιν οὕτως ὀψιμαθής, ὅστις οὐκ οἶδε Πρωταγόραν καὶ τοὺς κατ᾿ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον γενομένους σοφιστάς, ὅτι καὶ τοιαῦτα καὶ πολὺ τούτων πραγματωδέστερα συγγράμματα κατέλιπον ἡμῖν; πῶς γὰρ ἄν τις ὑπερβάλοιτο Γοργίαν τὸν τολμήσαντα λέγειν ὡς οὐδὲν τῶν ὄντων ἔστιν, ἢ Ζήνωνα τὸν ταὐτὰ δυνατὰ καὶ πάλιν ἀδύνατα πειρώμενον ἀποφαίνειν, ἢ Μέλισσον ὃς ἀπείρων τὸ πλῆθος πεφυκότων τῶν πραγμάτων ὡς ἑνὸς ὄντος τοῦ παντὸς ἐπεχείρησεν ἀποδείξεις εὑρίσκειν;

Theogony 26-28

“Rustic shepherds, wretched reproaches, nothing but bellies,
We know how to say many lies similar to the truth
And we know how to speak the truth when we want to.”

“ποιμένες ἄγραυλοι, κάκ’ ἐλέγχεα, γαστέρες οἶον,
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ’ εὖτ’ ἐθέλωμεν ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.”

Odyssey 19.203

“He was like someone speaking many lies similar to the truth.”

ἴσκε ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγων ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα·

Od. 13.256-273

“I heard of Ithaca even in broad Krete
Far over the sea. And now I myself have come
With these possessions. I left as much still with my children
When I fled, because I killed the dear son of Idomeneus,
Swift-footed Orsilokhos who surpassed all the grain-fed men
In broad Krete with his swift feet
Because he wanted to deprive me of all the booty
From Troy, over which I had suffered much grief in my heart,
Testing myself against warlike men and the grievous waves.
All because I was not showing his father favor as an attendant
In the land of the Trojans, but I was leading different companions.
I struck him with a bronze-pointed spear as he returned
From the field, after I set an ambush near the road with a companion.
Dark night covered the sky and no human beings
Took note of us, I got away with depriving him of life.
But after I killed him with the sharp bronze,
I went to a ship of the haughty Phoenicians
And I begged them and gave them heart-melting payment.”

“πυνθανόμην ᾿Ιθάκης γε καὶ ἐν Κρήτῃ εὐρείῃ,
τηλοῦ ὑπὲρ πόντου· νῦν δ’ εἰλήλουθα καὶ αὐτὸς
χρήμασι σὺν τοίσδεσσι· λιπὼν δ’ ἔτι παισὶ τοσαῦτα
φεύγω, ἐπεὶ φίλον υἷα κατέκτανον ᾿Ιδομενῆος,
᾿Ορσίλοχον πόδας ὠκύν, ὃς ἐν Κρήτῃ εὐρείῃ
ἀνέρας ἀλφηστὰς νίκα ταχέεσσι πόδεσσιν,
οὕνεκά με στερέσαι τῆς ληΐδος ἤθελε πάσης
Τρωϊάδος, τῆς εἵνεκ’ ἐγὼ πάθον ἄλγεα θυμῷ,
ἀνδρῶν τε πτολέμους ἀλεγεινά τε κύματα πείρων,
οὕνεκ’ ἄρ’ οὐχ ᾧ πατρὶ χαριζόμενος θεράπευον
δήμῳ ἔνι Τρώων, ἀλλ’ ἄλλων ἦρχον ἑταίρων.
τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ κατιόντα βάλον χαλκήρεϊ δουρὶ
ἀγρόθεν, ἐγγὺς ὁδοῖο λοχησάμενος σὺν ἑταίρῳ·
νὺξ δὲ μάλα δνοφερὴ κάτεχ’ οὐρανόν, οὐδέ τις ἥμεας
ἀνθρώπων ἐνόησε, λάθον δέ ἑ θυμὸν ἀπούρας.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ τόν γε κατέκτανον ὀξέϊ χαλκῷ,
αὐτίκ’ ἐγὼν ἐπὶ νῆα κιὼν Φοίνικας ἀγαυοὺς
ἐλλισάμην καί σφιν μενοεικέα ληΐδα δῶκα·

This is the first ‘lie’ Odysseus tells upon his arrival on Ithaca. He does not know that he is speaking to Athena and a scholiast explains his choices as if he were speaking to a suitor or one who would inform them.

Scholia V ad. Od. 13.267

“He explains that he killed Idomeneus’ son so that the suitors will accept him as an enemy of dear Odysseus. He says that he has sons in Crete because he will have someone who will avenge him. He says that the death of Orsilochus was for booty, because he is showing that he would not yield to this guy bloodlessly. He says that he trusted Phoenicians so that he may not do him wrong, once he has reckoned that they are the most greedy for profit and they spared him.”

τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ κατιόντα] σκήπτεται τὸν ᾿Ιδομενέως υἱὸν ἀνῃρηκέναι, ἵνα αὐτὸν πρόσωνται οἱ μνηστῆρες ὡς ἐχθρὸν τοῦ ᾿Οδυσσέως φίλου. ἑαυτῷ δὲ ἐν Κρήτῃ υἱούς φησιν εἶναι, ὅτι τοὺς τιμωρήσοντας ἕξει. καὶ τὸν ᾿Ορσιλόχου δὲ θάνατον λέγει διὰ τὴν λείαν, δεικνὺς ὅτι οὐδὲ ἐκείνῳ παραχωρήσει ἀναιμωτί. Φοίνιξι δὲ πιστεῦσαι λέγει, ἵνα μὴ ἀδικήσῃ, λογισάμενος ὅτι οἱ φιλοκερδέσταται αὐτοῦ ἐφείσαντο.
V.

In studying memory systems, Martin Conway suggests that there are two forces in human memory: correspondence, which is about equivalence between details of ‘reality’ (or experience) and details of a story and coherence, which means that details make sense together in a narrative. When it comes to the way these systems operate in the human mind, not only does he argue that the memory systems have different neuro-anatomy, but he suggests that the episodic memory system (which prizes correspondence) developed earlier and is more basic to day-to-day survival than the autobiographical memory system which focuses more on coherence and is essential for the development of a goal or ‘identity’ driven self. The two systems are not exclusive—autobiographical memory selects from episodic memory in the creation of a coherent self.

Perhaps rather than considering these moments from the Theogony and the Odysseyas reflections of a tension between “fact and fiction”, we might find the relationship of correspondence and coherence more illuminating. Just as the Theogonic narrative selects from the range of mythical episodes to create a coherent narrative that is goal-driven, so too does Odysseus select and reintegrate details throughout books 13–19 in order to reintegrate into his community and complete a narrative of vengeance.

Image result for Ancient Greek Memory

Some things to read

Martin A. Conway. “Memory and the Self,” Journal of Memory and Language 53 (2005) 594-628.

Charles Fernyhough. Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Past. London: Profile, 2012.

David C. Rubin. “The Basic-systems Model of Episodic Memory,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 1 (2006) 277-311.

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’sSeptember 2014, 49-52.

Make A Seating Plan for Your Holiday Feast, Unless Simonides is Coming…

Ancient memory techniques go back to oratorical training in theory, but in practice probably much further back in human history. Philostratus records the reputation of Dionysius of Miletus and his “memory-men”. But one of the most easily abused and likely misunderstood method from the ancient world is the “memory palace” (or “method of loci“), made famous by Cicero, but credited to the lyric poet Simonides.

Cicero De Oratore 2.352–355

“But, so I may return to the matter”, he said, “I am not as smart as Themistocles was as to prefer the art of forgetting to the art of memory. And So I am thankful to that Simonides of Ceos who, as they say, first produced an art of memory. For they say that when Simonides was dining at the home of a wealthy aristocrate named Scopas in Thessaly and had performed that song which he wrote in his honor—in which there were many segments composed for Castor and Pollux elaborated in the way of poets. Then Scopas told him cruelly that he would pay him half as much as he had promised he would give for the song; if it seemed right to him, he could ask Tyndareus’ sons for the other half since he had praised them equally.

A little while later, as they tell the tale, it was announced that Simonides should go outside—there were two young men at the door who had been calling him insistently. He rose, exited, and so no one. Meanwhile, in the same space of time, the ceiling under which Scopas was having his feast collapsed: the man was crushed by the ruins a d died with his relatives. When people wanted to bury them they could not recognize who was where because they were crushed. Simonides is said to have shown the place in which each man died from his memory for their individual burials.

From this experience, Simonides is said to have learned that it is order most of all that brings light to memory. And thus those who wish to practice this aspect of the skill must select specific places and shape in their mind the matters they wish to hold in their memory and locate these facts in those places. It will so turn out that the order of the places will safeguard the order of the matters, the reflections of the facts will remind of the facts themselves, and we may use the places like wax and the ideas like letters written upon it.”

Sed, ut ad rem redeam, non sum tanto ego, inquit, ingenio quanto Themistocles fuit, ut oblivionis artem quam memoriae malim; gratiamque habeo Simonidi illi Cio quem primum ferunt artem memoriae protulisse.  Dicunt enim cum cenaret Crannone in Thessalia Simonides apud Scopam fortunatum hominem et nobilem cecinissetque id carmen quod in eum scripsisset, in quo multa ornandi causa poetarum more in Castorem scripta et Pollucem fuissent, nimis illum sordide Simonidi dixisse se dimidium eius ei quod pactus esset pro illo carmine daturum: reliquum a suis Tyndaridis quos aeque laudasset peteret si ei videretur. Paulo post esse ferunt nuntiatum Simonidi ut prodiret: iuvenes stare ad ianuam duos quosdam qui eum magnopere evocarent; surrexisse illum, prodisse, vidisse neminem; hoc interim spatio conclave illud ubi epularetur Scopas concidisse; ea ruina ipsum cum cognatis oppressum suis interiisse; quos cum humare vellent sui neque possent obtritos internoscere ullo modo, Simonides dicitur ex eo quod meminisset quo eorum loco quisque cubuisset demonstrator uniuscuiusque sepeliendi fuisse; hac tum re admonitus invenisse fertur ordinem esse maxime qui memoriae lumen afferret. Itaque eis qui hanc partem ingeni exercerent locos esse capiendos et ea quae memoria tenere vellent effingenda animo atque in eis locis collocanda: sic fore ut ordinem rerum locorum ordo conservaret, res autem ipsas rerum effigies notaret, atque ut locis pro cera, simulacris pro litteris uteremur.

thanks to S. Raudnitz for reminding me of this passage too!

 

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This stuff is still popular: The Memory Theater of Guilio Camillo

Dinners: Invitations and Guest-Lists for the Feasts

Matro  of Pitane

“Dinners, Muse, tell me of dinners much-nourishing and so very / many”

δεῖπνα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροφα καὶ μάλα / πολλά

 

P. Oxy. 1485.

“The Exegete would love for you to dine today, the ninth day, at the temple of Demeter at the seventh hour”

Ἐρωτᾷ σαι διπν[ῆ-]σαι ὁ ἐξηγητὴ[ς] ἐν τῷ Δημητρίῳ σήμερον ἥτις ἐσ-τὶν θ ἀπὸ ὥρ(ας) ζ.

A few weeks ago we played around with a twitter hastag #deadclassics, unintentionally anticipating the holiday season by a few weeks. This year we have been stringing together thematically linked posts, recently a flurry of animal noises and werewolves. Why should we stop now when we can keep indulging? (A thematic comment if any can be to anticipate the banquets to come). So, from now through the holidays we will be posting often–though not exclusively–about ancient banquets, parties, and feasts. And drinking, of course. You know, just in case you need any more holiday stress.

Here’ the beginning of Plutarch’s The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men to make you reconsider your guest-list for thanksgiving.

Moralia 146: Dinner of the Seven Wise Men

“Nikarkhos, I guess that as time passes by it will impose a great darkness over events and total obscurity if even false accounts of what has just happened have belief. For, there was not a dinner of only seven men as you have heard, but there were more than twice as many—among whom I was present, since I was Periander’s friend thanks to my profession and a guest-friend of Thales who stayed at my home after Periander told him to. Whoever it was who informed you of the events did not recall the speeches correctly—it is likely he was not one of the guests. But since I have a lot of free time and old age is too uncertain a thing to justify putting off the tale, I will tell you the entire story from the beginning which you are so eager to hear.”

Ἦ που προϊὼν ὁ χρόνος, ὦ Νίκαρχε, πολὺ σκότος ἐπάξει τοῖς πράγμασι καὶ πᾶσαν ἀσάφειαν, εἰ νῦν ἐπὶ προσφάτοις οὕτω καὶ νεαροῖς λόγοι ψευδεῖς συντεθέντες ἔχουσι πίστιν. οὔτε γὰρ μόνων, ὡς ὑμεῖς ἀκηκόατε, τῶν ἑπτὰ γέγονε τὸ συμπόσιον, ἀλλὰ πλειόνων ἢ δὶς τοσούτων (ἐν οἷς καὶ αὐτὸς ἤμην, συνήθης μὲν ὢν Περιάνδρῳ διὰ τὴν τέχνην, ξένος δὲ Θάλεω· παρ᾿ ἐμοὶ γὰρ κατέλυσεν ὁ ἀνὴρ Περιάνδρου κελεύσαντος), οὔτε τοὺς λόγους ὀρθῶς ἀπεμνημόνευσεν ὅστις ἦν ὑμῖν ὁ διηγούμενος· ἦν δ᾿ ὡς ἔοικεν οὐδεὶς τῶν παραγεγονότων. ἀλλ᾿ ἐπεὶ σχολή τε πάρεστι πολλὴ καὶ τὸ γῆρας οὐκ ἀξιόπιστον ἐγγυήσασθαι τὴν ἀναβολὴν τοῦ λόγου, προθυμουμένοις ὑμῖν ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς ἅπαντα διηγήσομαι.

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Learning Requires Memory and Experience

Aristotle, Metaphysics 980a22-981

“All people naturally yearn for knowledge. A sign of this our delight in our senses: for we take pleasure in them beyond their use—especially in the use of our eyes. This is not only so we may act but also when we are about to do nothing we choose seeing before all of the other senses, in general. The cause of this is that this sense especially helps us learn and clarifies many differences.

Animals too are born having senses, and from these some have memory and some do not. This is why some animals have more thoughts and may learn better than those who are not capable of memory. Some are clever but without the skill of learning, for example the bee or another other type of this kind of creature. However so many creatures have perception in addition to memory can learn. The rest of the animals live by images and instincts and have a small portion of experience.

The human race survives both by skill and reasoning. Experience comes to us from memory—for the many memories of the same matter results in the power of a single experience. Experience certainly seems similar to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill come to people from experience. For, “experience produces art,”  as Polus has rightly pronounced, “while inexperience makes good luck.”

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Πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἡ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀγάπησις· καὶ γὰρ χωρὶς τῆς χρείας ἀγαπῶνται δι᾿ αὑτάς, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων ἡ διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων. οὐ γὰρ μόνον ἵνα πράττωμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ μηθὲν μέλλοντες πράττειν τὸ ὁρᾶν αἱρούμεθα ἀντὶ πάντων ὡς εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων. αἴτιον δ᾿ ὅτι μάλιστα ποιεῖ γνωρίζειν τι ἡμᾶς αὕτη τῶν αἰσθήσεων, καὶ πολλὰς δηλοῖ διαφοράς. Φύσει μὲν οὖν αἴσθησιν ἔχοντα γίγνεται τὰ ζῷα, ἐκ δὲ ταύτης τοῖς μὲν αὐτῶν οὐκ ἐγγίγνεται μνήμη τοῖς δ᾿ ἐγγίγνεται. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ταῦτα φρονιμώτερα καὶ μαθητικώτερα τῶν μὴ δυναμένων μνημονεύειν ἐστί, φρόνιμα μὲν ἄνευ τοῦ μανθάνειν ὅσα μὴ δύναται τῶν ψόφων ἀκούειν, οἷον μέλιττα, καὶ εἴ τι τοιοῦτον ἄλλο γένος ζῴων ἔστι· μανθάνει δ᾿ ὅσα πρὸς τῇ μνήμῃ καὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴν αἴσθησιν. Τὰ μὲν οὖν ἄλλα ταῖς φαντασίαις ζῇ καὶ ταῖς μνήμαις, ἐμπειρίας δὲ μετέχει μικρόν· τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος καὶ τέχνῃ καὶ λογισμοῖς. γίγνεται δ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μνήμης ἐμπειρία τοῖς ἀνθρώποις αἱ γὰρ πολλαὶ μνῆμαι τοῦ αὐτοῦ πράγματος μιᾶς ἐμπειρίας δύναμιν ἀποτελοῦσιν. καὶ δοκεῖ σχεδὸν ἐπιστήμῃ καὶ τέχνῃ ὅμοιον εἶναι ἡ ἐμπειρία, ἀποβαίνει δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καὶ τέχνη διὰ τῆς ἐμπειρίας τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἐμπειρία τέχνην ἐποί- ησεν, ὡς φησὶ Πῶλος, ὀρθῶς λέγων, ἡ δ᾿ ἀπειρία τύχην.