Memory And Greeks

During the course of writing this book, I took the opportunity to read up on the history of memory. It came as something of a shock to discover that ■■ there were a number of striking similarities between my method and the Greeks' approach to memory.

I had heard of Simonides of Ceos, the Greek poet born in the 6th century BC, but I had never studied his famous memory skills in detail. A brilliant poet, Simonides is widely acknowledged as the founder of the art of memory.

The Greeks, and later the Romans, went on to develop some of the greatest memories the civilized world has ever seen. Memory was ranked as one of the most important disciplines of oratory, a flourishing art. They were living in an age of no paper, so people couldn't readily refer to any notes. Speeches were committed to memory; lawyers depended on their memory in court; and poets, whose role in society was paramount, regularly drew on their enormous powers of recall to recite long passages of verse.

The Greeks in general had a high level of literacy. Important texts were recorded on papyrus, and wax tablets were used to teach reading and writing in schools. Nevertheless, their culture remained a predominantly oral one.

The classical system disappeared around the fourth century AD, reappeared in the thirteenth century with a religious twist, thanks to Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics, and adopted various magical, occult, and scientific guises during Medieval and Renaissance times. Sadly, though, the art of memory in Europe had already begun to wane in the fifteenth century with the advent of printing. It put up a heroic fight for almost two centuries but by the end of the seventeenth century, it had become marginalized.

I hope you, too, enjoy discovering the similarities between two systems staring at each other across a divide of over two thousand years. In some ways, it

is not so much coincidence, more a case of natural selection: both systems are rooted in personal experience, and have evolved accordingly.

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