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Cosma Rosselli, i. e. Cosmas Rossellius: Thesaurus artificiosae memoriae

 

Cosma Rosselli, i.e. Cosmas Rossellius: Thesaurus artificiosae memoriae

 

Cosma Rosselli, i.e. Cosmas Rossellius: Thesaurus artificiosae memoriae

 

Cosma Rosselli, i.e. Cosmas Rossellius: Thesaurus artificiosae memoriae

 

Cosma Rosselli, i. e. Cosmas Rossellius:

THESAVRVS | ARTIFICIOSAE MEMORIAE, | Concionatoribus, Philoſophis, Medicis, Iuriſtis, Oratori-|bus, Procuratoribus, cæterisq; bonarum littera-|rum amatoribus: | Negociatoribus inſuper, alijsq; ſimilibus, tenacem, ac firmam rerum | Memoriam cupientibus, perutilis. | Ac omnes ſui amatores, & poſſeſiores valde locupletans, inſimulq; decorans, | Cum rerum celeſtium atq; terreſtrium tenax, ac tutum ſcrinium eſſe poſſit. | avtore r. p. f. cosma rosselio | Fiorensino, Sacri Ord. Prædic. minimo Profeſſore. | Cum Indicibus locupletiſſimis, tum Capitum, tum rerum omnium inſigniorum. | cvm privilegio.

Venedig: Antonius Paduanius, 1579.

Quarto. 216 × 147 mm. [16], 145 (recte 147), [1] Blätter. Lagenkollation: a-d4, A-Q4, R4+2, S-Z4, Aa-Mm4, Nn6 (fol. d4v & fol. Nn6v weiß). Mit 23 meist ganzseitigen Holzschnitten, vier Tafeln mit Alphabeten, einer ungezählten gefalteten Tafel nach fol. E3; vier- und siebenzeilenhohen Holzschnittinitialen, Holzschnittzierleisten, Holzschnittsignet auf Titel.

Marmoriertes dunkelbraunes Kalbleder des späten 17. Jh. auf fünf echten, erhabenen Bünden, reicher Panelled-calf-Vergoldung auf den Rückenfeldern, auf zweitem Feld ein rotbraunes Titelschildchen mit der goldgeprägten Titelei. Stehkantenvergoldung, handgestochene Kapitale, Schnitt braun und rot gesprenkelt; Vorsätze aus Marmorpapier.

Erste Ausgabe, herausgegeben von Damiano Rosselli. “In fact, Publicius, Peter of Ravenna, Romberch, and Rossellius may be said to be the leading names amongst writers on memory“ (Frances A. Yates: The Art of Memory, pp. 114-115).
¶ Wie Romberch zuvor sagt auch Rossellius, daß die Gedächtniskunst den Theologen, Predigern, Beichtigern, Richtern, Anwälten, Doktoren, Philosophen, Lehrern der freien Künste wie auch den Botschaftern nützlich sei. Romberch wie Rossellius berufen sich auf die klassischen lateinischen Quellen, also Ad Herennium, Ciceros De oratore und Quintilian, doch auch auf Thomas von Aquin und Petrarca, und - für die Häuser des Zodiak - natürlich auf Metrodoros von Skepsis.
¶ Jener eher Dantesche Typ der Erinnerungsorte geht auf die Scholastische Tradition des späteren Mittelalters zurück, visuelle Alphabete wohl auf die schwer zu interpretierende entsprechende Passage in “Ad Herennium“. Daneben werden die vorzustellenden klassischen architektonischen Gebäude wie Abteien, Klöster, Kirchen u. s. w. behandelt, wie sie in der Antike eingeführt wurden, und mit emblematischen bzw. der eigenen Biographie nahen Figuren gefüllt, die das zu Erinnernde durch Symbole, Zeichen oder Assoziationen quasi an sich ‚speichern‘.
¶ Ein Neues sind hier die mnemonischen Verse, die helfen sollen, die Ordnung imaginierter Orte zu erinnern.
¶ Cosma Rosselli (gest. 1578): “Its author described on the title page as a Florentine and a member of the Order of Preachers. The book is on similar lines to Romberch’s and the main types of interpretation of artificial memory are discernible in it. The Dantesque type is given great prominence. Rosselius divides Hell into eleven places, as illustrated in his diagram of Hell [fol. 12 recto] as a memory place system. (...) The place of Paradise [fol. 37 verso, & fol. 51 recto] is to be imagined as surrounded with a wall sparkling with gems. (...) There is nothing at all unusual about Rossellius’s Paradise, except that it is classed as ‘artificial memory’. (...) Rossellius also envisages the constellations as memory place systems, of course mentioning Metrodorus of Scepsis in connection with a zodiacal place system. A feature of Rossellius’s book are the mnemonic verses given to help memorise orders of places, whether orders of places in Hell, or the order of the signs of the zodiac. These verses are by a fellow Dominican [Nicolaus Alexius (1505-1585), cf. Jöcher I,265] who is also an inquisitor. (...) Rossellius describes the making of ‘real’ places in abbeys, churches and the like. And discusses human images as places on which subsidiary images are to be remembered“ (Frances A. Yates: The Art of Memory, p. 122).
¶ “Rosselli gives instruction on how to position the fingers in order to make the individual letters (...) The finger alphabet has obvious advantages, such as allowing one to construct a list of persons, things, or ideas to be remembered by actually making and repeating the letters on the hand in a familiar order. Once learned this system is a readily available reminder valuable in preaching sermons and allied activities (...) Rosselli’s finger alphabet (...) not only continues the mnemonic tradition but also suggests further development of the fingers and the hand as an instrument of visual communication, allied with, but effective as a substitute for oral and written language” — Claire Richter Sherman: Writing on Hands. Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001, p. 186.

Vorderer Vorsatz mit ergänzter Fehlstelle durch entferntes Exlibris. Wenige Blätter papierbedingt leicht gebräunt, einige fast zeitgenössische Marginalien; Titel mit unauffälligem Prägestempel im weißen Rand. Sonst sauber, meist frisch, breitrandig. Schönes, dekoratives Exemplar.

First edition. Late 17th-century calf, spine richly gilt in compartments. Some leaves slightly browned due to quality of paper, some old marginal annotations, otherwise a fine copy.

Young 307 – Bird 2095 & 2096 – Durling 3947 – Wellcome I,5572 – Linet/Hillard: Sainte-Geneviève 1752 (incompl.) – Adams R803 – Rosenthal 6083 – Bibliographien.

 

Schade, daß mnemotechnische Werke so selten sind, sonst wäre ich imstande gewesen, mein Gedächtnis zu verbessern. Das Buch von Yates ist eine Fundgrube.

“But it is important that we should look here more particularly at what memory treatises by Dominicans were like in the sixteenth century, since the main strand, descending from the scholastic emphasis on memory, is in my opinion the most important strand in the history of the subject. The Dominicans were naturally at the centre of this tradition, and in Johannes Romberch, a German, and Cosmas Rosselius, a Florentine, we have two Dominicans who wrote books on memory, small in format but packed with detail, apparently intended to make the Dominican art of memory generally known. Romberch says that his book will be useful to theologians, preachers, confessors, jurists, advocates, doctors, philosophers, professors of the liberal arts, and ambassadors. Rossellius makes a similar statement. Romberch's book was published near the beginning of the sixteenth century; Rossellius’s near its end. Together they span the century, as influential memory teachers who are frequently quoted. In fact, Publicius, Peter of Ravenna, Romberch, and Rossellius may be said to be the leading names amongst writers on memory.” — Frances A. Yates: The Art of Memory. London: Routledgc & Kegan Paul, 1966. pp. 114-115.

 

Rhetorica ad Herennium

„Memoria utrum habeat quiddam artificiosi, an omnis ab natura proficiscatur, aliud dicendi tempus [magis] idoneum dabitur. Nunc proinde atque constet in hac re multum valere artem et praeceptionem, ita de ea re loquemur. Placet enim nobis esse artificium memoriae; quare placeat, alias ostendemus; in praesentia, cuiusmodi sit ea, aperiemus.

Sunt igitur duae memoriae: una naturalis, altera artificiosa. Naturalis est ea, quae nostris animis insita est et simul cum cogitatione nata; artificiosa est ea, quam confirmat inductio quaedam et ratio praeceptionis. Sed qua via in ceteris rebus ingenii bonitas imitatur saepe doctrinam, ars porro naturae commoda confirmat et auget, item fit in hac re, ut nonnumquam naturalis memoria, [29] si cui data est egregia, similis sit huic artificiosae, porro haec artificiosa naturae commoda retineat et amplificet ratione doctrinae; quapropter [et] naturalis memoria praeceptione confirmanda est, ut sit egregia, et haec, quae doctrina datur, indiget ingenii. Nec hoc magis aut minus in hac re, quam in ceteris artibus fit, ut ingenio doctrina, praeceptione natura nitescat. Quare et illis, qui natura memores sunt, utilis haec erit institutio, quod tute paulo post poteris intellegere: et si illei, freti ingenio, nostri non indigerent, tamen iusta causa daretur, quare iis, qui minus ingenii habent, adiumento velimus esse. Nunc de artificiosa memoria loquemur.

Constat igitur artificiosa memoria locis et imaginibus. Locos appellamus eos, qui breviter, perfecte, insignite aut natura aut manu sunt absoluti, ut eos facile naturali memoria conprehendere et amplecti queamus: [ut] aedes, intercolumnium, angulum, fornicem et alia, quae his similia sunt. Imagines sunt formae quaedam et notae et simulacra eius rei, quam meminisse volumus: quod genus equi, leones, aquilae; [memoriam] si volemus habere imagines eorum, locis certis conlocare oportebit. [30] Nunc, cuiusmodi locos invenire et quo pacto reperire et in locis imagines constituere oporteat, ostendemus.

Quemadmodum igitur qui litteras sciunt, possunt id, quod dictatur, eis scribere et recitare quod scripserunt, item qui nemonica didicerunt, possunt, quod audierunt, in locis conlocare ex his memoriter pronuntiare. Nam loci cerae aut cartae simillimi sunt, imagines litteris, dispositio et conlocatio imaginum scripturae, pronuntiatio lectioni. Oportet igitur, si volumus multa meminisse, multos [nos] nobis locos conparare, uti multis locis multas imagines conlocare possimus. Item putamus oportere [ex ordine hos locos habere,] ne quando perturbatione ordinis inpediamur, quo setius, quoto quoquo loco libebit, vel ab superiore vel ab inferiore parte imagines sequi et ea, quae mandata locis erunt, edere possimus: nam ut, si in ordine stantes notos quomplures viderimus, nihil nostra intersit, utrum ab summo an ab imo an ab medio nomina eorum dicere incipiamus, item in locis ex ordine conlocatis eveniet, ut in quamlibebit partem quoque loco lubebit imaginibus commoniti dicere possimus id, quod locis mandaverimus: [31] quare placet et ex ordine locos conparare. Locos, quos sumpserimus, egregie commeditari oportebit, ut perpetuo nobis haerere possint: nam imagines, sicuti litterae delentur, ubi nihil utimur; loci, tamquam cera, remanere debent. Et, ne forte in numero locorum falli possimus, quintum quemque placet notari: quod genus, si in quinto loco manum auream conlocemus, [si] in decumo aliquem notum, cui praenomen sit Decumo; deinde facile erit inceps similis notas quinto quoquo loco conlocare. Item commodius est in derelicta, quam in celebri regione locos conparare, propterea quod frequentia et obambulatio hominum conturbat et infirmat imaginum notas, solitudo conservat integras simulacrorum figuras. Praeterea dissimilis forma atque natura loci conparandi sunt, ut distincti interlucere possint: nam si qui multa intercolumnia sumpserit, conturbabitur similitudine, ut ignoret, quid in quoquo loco conlocarit. Et magnitudine modica et mediocris locos habere oportet: nam et praeter modum ampli vagas imagines reddunt et nimis angusti saepe non videntur posse capere imaginum conlocationem. [32] Tum nec nimis inlustris nec vehementer obscuros locos habere oportet, ne aut obcaecentur tenebris imagines aut splendore praefulgeant. Intervalla locorum mediocria placet esse, fere paulo plus aut minus pedum tricenum: nam ut aspectus item cogitatio minus valet, sive nimis procul removeris sive vehementer prope admoveris id, quod oportet videri.

Sed quamquam facile est ei, qui paulo plura noverit, quamvis multos et idoneos locos conparare, tamen si qui satis idoneos invenire se non putabit, ipse sibi constituat quam volet multos licebit. Cogitatio enim quamvis regionem potest amplecti et in ea situm loci cuiusdam ad suum arbitrium fabricari et architectari. Quare licebit, si hac prompta copia contenti non erimus, nosmet ipsos nobis cogitatione nostra regionem constituere et idoneorum locorum commodissimam distinctionem conparare.

De locis satis dictum est; nunc ad imaginum rationem transeamus.

[33] Quoniam ergo rerum similes imagines esse oportet, ex omnibus rebus nosmet nobis similitudines eligere debemus. Duplices igitur similitudines esse debent, unae rerum, alterae verborum. Rerum similitudines exprimuntur, cum summatim ipsorum negotiorum imagines conparamus; verborum similitudines constituuntur, cum unius cuiusque nominis et vocabuli memoria imagine notatur.

Rei totius memoriam saepe una nota et imagine simplici conprehendimus; hoc modo, ut si accusator dixerit ab reo hominem veneno necatum, et hereditatis causa factum arguerit, et eius rei multos dixerit testes et conscios esse: si hoc primum, ut ad defendendum nobis expeditum [sit] meminisse volemus, in primo loco rei totius imaginem conformabimus: aegrotum in lecto cubantem faciemus ipsum illum, de quo agetur, si formam eius detinebimus; si eum non, at aliquem aegrotum [non] de minimo loco sumemus, ut cito in mentem venire possit. Et reum ad lectum eius adstituemus, dextera poculum, sinistra tabulas, medico testiculos arietinos tenentem: hoc modo et testium et hereditatis et veneno necati memoriam habere poterimus. [34] Item deinceps cetera crimina ex ordine in locis ponemus; et, quotienscumque rem meminisse volemus, si formarum dispositione et imaginum diligenti notatione utemur, facile ea, quae volemus, memoria consequemur.

Cum verborum similitudines imaginibus exprimere volemus, plus negotii suscipiemus et magis ingenium nostrum exercebimus. Id nos hoc modo facere oportebit:

Iam domum itionem reges Atridae parant.

Hunc versum meminisse si volemus, conveniet primo in loco constituere manus ad caelum tollentem Domitium, cum a Regibus Marciis loris caedatur: hoc erit «Iam domum itionem reges»; in altero loco Aesopum et Cimbrum subornari, ut ad Ephigeniam, in Agamemnonem et Menelaum: hoc erit «Atridae parant.» Hoc modo omnia verba erunt expressa. Sed haec imaginum conformatio tum valet, si naturalem memoriam exsuscitaverimus hac notatione, ut versu posito ipsi nobiscum primum transeamus bis aut ter eum versum, deinde tum imaginibus verba exprimamus. Hoc modo naturae subpeditabitur doctrina. Nam utraque altera separata minus erit firma, ita tamen, ut multo plus in doctrina atque arte praesidii sit. Quod docere non gravaremur, nei metueremus, ne, cum ab instituto nostro recessissemus, minus commode servaretur haec dilucida brevitas praeceptionis.

[35] Nunc, quoniam solet accidere, ut imagines partim firmae et acres et ad monendum idoneae sint, partim inbecillae et infirmae, quae vix memoriam possint excitare, qua de causa utrumque fiat, considerandum est, ut cognita causa, quas vitemus et quas sequamur imagines, scire possimus.

Docet igitur nos ipsa natura, quid oporteat fieri. Nam si quas res in vita videmus parvas, usitatas, cottidianas, meminisse non solemus propterea quod nulla nova nec admirabili re commovetur animus: at si quid videmus aut audimus egregie turpe aut honestum, inusitatum, magnum, incredibile, ridiculum, id diu meminisse consuevimus. aut audimus, obliviscimur plerumque; quae acciderunt in pueritia, meminimus optime saepe; nec hoc alia de causa potest accidere, nisi quod usitatae res facile e memoria elabuntur, insignes et novae diutius [manent in animo. [36] Solis] exortus, cursus, occasus nemo admiratur, propterea quia cottidie fiunt; at eclipsis solis mirantur, quia raro accidunt, et solis eclipsis magis mirantur quam lunae, propterea quod hae crebriores sunt. Docet ergo se natura vulgari et usitata re non exsuscitari, novitate et insigni quodam negotio commoveri. Imitetur ars igitur naturam et, quod ea desiderat, id inveniat, quod ostendit, sequatur. Nihil est enim, quod aut natura extremum invenerit aut doctrina primum; sed rerum principia ab ingenio profecta sunt, exitus disciplina conparantur.

[37] Imagines igitur nos in eo genere constituere oportebit, quod genus in memoria diutissime potest haerere. Id accidet, si quam maxime notatas similitudines constituemus; si non multas nec vagas, sed aliquid agentes imagines ponemus; si egregiam pulcritudinem aut unicam turpitudinem eis adtribuemus; si aliquas exornabimus, ut si coronis aut veste purpurea, quo nobis notatior sit similitudo; aut si qua re deformabimus, ut si cruentam aut caeno oblitam aut rubrica delibutam inducamus, quo magis insignita sit forma, aut ridiculas res aliquas imaginibus adtribuamus: nam ea res quoque faciet, ut facilius meminisse valeamus. Nam, quas res facile meminerimus, easdem fictas et diligenter notatas meminisse non difficile est. Sed illud facere oportebit, ut identidem primos quosque locos imaginum renovandarum causa celeriter animo pervagemus.

[38] Scio plerosque Graecos, qui de memoria sripserunt, fecisse, ut multorum verborum imagines conscriberent, uti, qui ediscere vellent, paratas haberent, ne quid in quaerendo consumerent operae. Quorum rationem aliquot de causis inprobamus: primum, quod in verborum innumerabili multitudine ridiculumst mille verborum imagines conparare. Quantulum enim poterunt haec valere, cum ex infinita verborum copia modo aliud modo aliud nos verbum meminisse oportebit? Deinde cur volumus ab industria quemquam removere, ut ne quid ipse quaerat, nos illi omnia parata quaesita tradamus? Praeterea similitudine alia alius magis commovetur. Nam ut saepe, formam si quam similem cuipiam dixerimus esse, non omnes habemus adsensores, quod alii videtur aliud, item fit [in] imaginibus, ut, quae nobis diligenter notata sit, ea parum videatur insignis aliis. [39] Quare sibi quemque suo commodo convenit imagines conparare. Postremo praeceptoris est docere, quemadmodum quaeri quidque conveniat, et unum aliquod aut alterum, non omnia, quae eius generis erunt, exempli causa subicere, quo res possit esse dilucidior: [ut] quom de prohemiis quaerendis disputamus, rationem damus quaerendi, non mille prohemiorum [genera conscribimus, item arbitramur] de imaginibus fieri convenire.

Nunc, ne forte verborum memoriam aut nimis difficilem aut parum utilem arbitrere, rerum ipsarum memoria contentus sis, quod et utilior sit et plus habeat facultatis, admonendus es, quare verborum memoriam [non] inprobemus. Nam putamus oportere eos, qui velint res faciliores sine labore et molestia facere, in rebus difficilioribus esse ante exercitatos. Nec nos hanc verborum memoriam inducimus, [ut versus meminisse possimus,] sed ut hac exercitatione illa rerum memoria, quae pertinet ad utilitatem, confirmetur, ut ab hac difficili consuetudine sine labore ad illam facultatem transire possimus. [40] Sed cum in omni disciplina infirma est artis praeceptio sine summa adsiduitate exercitationis, tum vero in nemonicis minimum valet doctrina, nisi industria, studio labore, diligentia conprobatur. Quam plurimos locos ut habeas et quam maxime ad praecepta adcommodatos curare poteris; in imaginibus conlocandis exerceri cotidie convenit. Non enim, sicut a ceteris studiis abducimur nonnumquam occupatione, item ab hac re nos potest causa deducere aliqua. Numquam est enim, quin aliquid memoriae tradere velimus et tum maxime, cum aliquo maiore negotio detinemur. Quare, cum sit utile facile meminisse, non te fallit, quod tantopere utile sit, quanto labore sit adpetendum: [quod] poteris existimare utilitate cognita. Pluribus verbis ad eam te hortari non est sententia, ne aut tuo studio diffisi aut minus, quam res postulat, dixisse videamur.“ — Rhetorica ad Herennium, III,16-24.

“The question whether memory has some artificial quality, or comes entirely from nature, we shall have another, more favourable, opportunity to discuss. At present I shall accept as proved that in this matter art and method are of great importance, and shall treat the subject accordingly. For my part, I am satisfied that there is an art of memory — the grounds of my belief I shall explain elsewhere. For the present I shall disclose what sort of thing memory is.

There are, then, two kinds of memory: one natural, and the other the product of art. The natural memory is that memory which is imbedded in our minds, born simultaneously with thought. The artificial memory is that memory which is strengthened by a kind of training and system of discipline. But just as in everything else the merit of natural excellence often rivals acquired learning, and art, in its turn, reinforces and develops the natural advantages, so does it happen in this instance. The natural memory, if a person is endowed with an exceptional one, is often like this artificial memory, and this artificial memory, in its turn, retains and develops the natural advantages by a method of discipline. Thus the natural memory must be strengthened by discipline so as to become exceptional, and, on the other hand, this memory provided by discipline requires natural ability. It is neither more nor less true in this instance than in the other arts that science strives by the aid of innate ability, and nature by the aid of the rules of art. The training here offered will therefore also be useful to those who by nature have a good memory, as you will yourself soon come to understand. But even if these, relying on their natural talent, did not need our help, we should still be justified in wishing to aid the less well-endowed. Now I shall discuss the artificial memory.

The artificial memory includes backgrounds and images. By backgrounds I mean such scenes as are naturally or artificially set off on a small scale, complete and conspicuous, so that we can grasp and embrace them easily by the natural memory — for example, a house, an intercolumnar space, a recess, an arch, or the like. An image is, as it were, a figure, mark, or portrait of the object we wish to remember; for example, if we wish to recall a horse, a lion, or an eagle, we must place its image in a definite background. Now I shall show what kind of backgrounds we should invent and how we should discover the images and set them therein.

Those who know the letters of the alphabet can thereby write out what is dictated to them and read aloud what they have written. Likewise, those who have learned mnemonics can set in backgrounds what they have heard, and from these backgrounds deliver it by memory. For the backgrounds are very much like wax tablet or papyrus, the images like letters, the arrangement and disposition of the images like the script, and the delivery is like the reading. We should therefore, if we desire to memorize a large number of items, equip ourselves with a large number of backgrounds, so that in these we may set a large number of images. I likewise think it obligatory to have these backgrounds in a series, so that we never by confusion in their order be prevented from following the images — proceeding from any background we wish, whatsoever its place in the series, and whether we go forwards or backwards — nor from delivering orally what has been committed to the backgrounds. For example, if we should see a great number of our acquaintances standing in a certain order, it would not make any difference to us whether we should tell their names beginning with the person standing at the head of the line or at the foot or in the middle. So with respect to the backgrounds. If these have been arranged in order, the result will be that, reminded by the images, we can repeat orally what we committed to the backgrounds, proceeding in either direction from any background we please. That is why it also seems best to arrange the backgrounds in a series.

We shall need to study with special care the backgrounds we have adopted so that they may cling lastingly in our memory, for the images, like letters, are effaced when we make no use of them, but the backgrounds, like wax tablets, should abide. And that we may by no chance err in the number of backgrounds, each fifth background should be marked. For example, if in the fifth we should set a golden hand, and in the tenth some acquaintance whose first name is Decimus, it will then be easy to station like marks in each successive fifth background.

Again, it will be more advantageous to obtain backgrounds in a deserted than in a populous region, because the crowding and passing to and fro of people confuse and weaken the impress of the images, while solitude keeps their outlines sharp. Further, backgrounds differing in form and nature must be secured, so that, thus distinguished, they may be clearly visible; for if a person has adopted many intercolumnar spaces, their resemblance to one another will so confuse him that he will no longer know what he has set in each background. And these backgrounds ought to be of moderate size and medium extent, for when excessively large they render the images vague, and when too small often seem incapable of receiving an arrangement of images. Then the backgrounds ought to be neither too bright nor too dim, so that the shadows may not obscure the images nor the lustre make them glitter. I believe that the intervals between backgrounds should be of moderate extent, approximately thirty feet; for, like the external eye, so the inner eye of thought is less powerful when you have moved the object of sight too near or too far away.

Although it is easy for a person with a relatively large experience to equip himself with as many and as suitable backgrounds as he may desire, even a person who believes that he finds no store of backgrounds that are good enough, may succeeded in fashioning as many such as he wishes. For the imagination can embrace any region whatsoever and it at will fashion and construct the setting of some background. Hence, if we are not content with our ready-made supply of backgrounds, we may in our imagination create a region for ourselves and obtain a most serviceable distribution of appropriate backgrounds.

On the subject of backgrounds enough has been said; let me now turn to the theory of images.

Since, then, images must resemble objects, we ought ourselves to choose from all objects likenesses for our use. Hence likenesses are bound to be of two kinds, one of subject-matter the other of words. Likenesses of matter are formed when we enlist images that present a general view of the matter with which we are dealing; likenesses of words are established when the record of each single noun or appellative is kept by an image.

Often we encompass the record of an entire matter by one notation, a single image. For example, the prosecutor has said that the defendant killed a man by poison, has charged that the motive for the crime was an inheritance, and declared that there are many witnesses and accessories to this act. If in order to facilitate our defence we wish to remember this first point, we shall in our first background form an image of the whole matter. We shall picture the man in question as lying ill in bed, if we know his person. If we do not know him, we shall yet take some one to be our invalid, but a man of the lowest class, so that he may come to mind at once. And we shall place the defendant at the bedside, holding in his right hand a cup, and in his left tablets, and on the fourth finger ram's testicles. In this way we can record the man who was poisoned, the inheritance, and the witnesses. In like fashion we shall set the other counts of the charge in backgrounds successively, following their order, and whenever we wish to remember a point, by properly arranging the patterns of the backgrounds and carefully imprinting the images, we shall easily succeed in calling back to mind what we wish.

When we wish to represent by images the likenesses of words, we shall be undertaking a greater task and exercising our ingenuity the more. This we ought to effect in the following way:

Iam domum itionem reges Atridae arant.

“And now their home-coming the kings, the sons of Atreus, are making ready.”

If we wish to remember this verse, in our first background we should put Domitius, raising hands to heaven while he is lashed by the Marcii Reges — that will represent “Iam domum itionem reges” (“And now their home-coming the kings,”); in the second background, Aesopus and Cimber being dressed as for the rôles of Agamemnon and Menelaüs in Iphigenia — that will represent “Atridae parant” (“the sons of Atreus, making ready”). By this method all the words will be represented. But such an arrangement of images succeeds only if we use our notation to stimulate the natural memory, so that we first go over a given verse twice or three times to ourselves and then represent the words by means of images. In this way art will supplement nature. For neither by itself will be strong enough, though we must note that theory and technique are much the more reliable. I should not hesitate to demonstrate this in detail, did I not fear that, once having departed from my plan, I should not so well preserve the clear conciseness of my instruction.

Now, since in normal cases some images are strong and sharp and suitable for awakening recollection, and others so weak and feeble as hardly to succeed in stimulating memory, we must therefore consider the cause of these differences, so that, by knowing the cause, we may know which images to avoid and which to seek.

Now nature herself teaches us what we should do. When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvellous. But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonourable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable, or laughable, that we are likely to remember a long time. Accordingly, things immediate to our eye or ear we commonly forget; incidents of our childhood we often remember best. Nor could this be so for any other reason than that ordinary things easily slip from the memory while the striking and novel stay longer in mind. A sunrise, the sun's course, a sunset, are marvellous to no one because they occur daily. But solar eclipses are a source of wonder because they occur seldom, and indeed are more marvellous than lunar eclipses, because these are more frequent. Thus nature shows that she is not aroused by the common, ordinary event, but is moved by a new or striking occurrence. Let art, then, imitate nature, find what she desires, and follow as she directs. For in invention nature is never last, education never first; rather the beginnings of things arise from natural talent, and the ends are reached by discipline.

We ought, then, to set up images of a kind that can adhere longest in the memory. And we shall do so if we establish likenesses as striking as possible; if we set up images that are not many or vague, but doing something; if we assign to them exceptional beauty or singular ugliness; if we dress some of them with crowns or purple cloaks, for example, so that the likeness may be more distinct to us; or if we somehow disfigure them, as by introducing one stained with blood or soiled with mud or smeared with red paint, so that its form is more striking, or by assigning certain comic effects to our images, for that, too, will ensure our remembering them more readily. The things we easily remember when they are real we likewise remember without difficulty when they are figments, if they have been carefully delineated. But this will be essential — again and again to run over rapidly in the mind all the original backgrounds in order to refresh the images.

I know that most of the Greeks who have written on the memory have taken the course of listing images that correspond to a great many words, so that persons who wished to learn these images by heart would have them ready without expending effort on a search for them. I disapprove of their method on several grounds. First, among the innumerable multitude of words it is ridiculous to collect images for a thousand. How meagre is the value these can have, when out of the infinite store of words we shall need to remember now one, and now another? Secondly, why do we wish to rob anybody of his initiative, so that, to save him from making any search himself, we deliver to him everything searched out and ready? Then again, one person is more struck by one likeness, and another more by another. Often in fact when we declare that some one form resembles another, we fail to receive universal assent, because things seem different to different persons. The same is true with respect to images: one that is well-defined to us appears relatively inconspicuous to others. Everybody, therefore, should in equipping himself with images suit his own convenience. Finally, it is the instructor's duty to teach the proper method of search in each case, and, for the sake of greater clarity, to add in illustration some one or two examples of its kind, but not all. For instance, when I discuss the search for Introductions, I give a method of search and do not draught a thousand kinds of Introductions. The same procedure I believes be followed with respect to images.

Now, lest you should perchance regard the memorizing of words either as too difficult or as of too little use, and so rest content with the memorizing of matter, as being easier and more useful, I must advise you why I do not disapprove of memorizing words. I believe that they who wish to do easy things without trouble and toil must previously have been trained in more difficult things. Nor have I included memorization of words to enable us to get verse by rote, but rather as an exercise whereby to strengthen that other kind of memory, the memory of matter, which is of practical use. Thus we may without effort pass from this difficult training to ease in that other memory. In every discipline artistic theory is of little avail without unremitting exercise, but especially in mnemonics theory is almost valueless unless made good by industry, devotion, toil, and care. You can make sure that you have as many backgrounds as possible and that these conform as much as possible to the rules; in placing the images you should exercise every day. While an engrossing preoccupation may often distract us from our other pursuits, from this activity nothing whatever can divert us. Indeed there is never a moment when we do not wish to commit something to memory, and we wish it most of all when our attention is held by business of special importance. So, since a ready memory is a useful thing, you see clearly with what great pains we must strive to acquire so useful a faculty. Once you know its uses you will be ab le to appreciate this advice. To exhort you further in the matter of memory is not my intention, for I should appear either to have lacked confidence in your zeal or to have discussed the subject less fully than it demands.” — Translated by Harry Caplan. London: Heineman, 1954. pp. 204-224.

 

Marcus Tullius Cicero

„... und ich weiß es dem Simonides aus Keos Dank, daß er, wie man sagt, zuerst die Kunst des Gedächtnisses gelehrt hat. Man erzählt nämlich, Simonides habe einst zu Krannon in Thessalien bei Skopas, einem begüterten und vornehmen Mann, gespeist und ein auf ihn gedichtetes Lied gesungen, worin er vieles nach Art der Dichter zur Ausschmückung auf das Lob des Kastor und Polydeukes eingestreut habe; Skopas habe hierauf gar zu knickerig zu Simonides gesagt, er werde ihm nur die Hälfte der ausbedungenen Summe für dieses Lied geben, die andere Hälfte möge er sich, wenn es ihm beliebe, von seinen Tyndariden erbitten, die er eben so sehr gelobt habe. Bald darauf, erzählt man weiter, wurde dem Simonides gemeldet, er möchte herauskommen; zwei junge Männer ständen vor der Tür, die ihn dringend zu sprechen wünschten. Er erhob sich von seinem Sitz, ging hinaus, sah aber niemand. In der Zwischenzeit stürzte das Zimmer, in dem Skopas speiste, zusammen, er wurde mit den Seinigen durch den Einsturz unter den Trümmern begraben und kam um. Als nun die Angehörigen diese zu bestatten wünschten und die Zerschmetterten durchaus nicht unterscheiden konnten, soll Simonides dadurch, daß er sich erinnerte, welchen Platz jeder bei Tisch eingenommen hatte, allen gezeigt haben, wen jeder zu begraben habe. Durch diesen Vorfall aufmerksam gemacht, erzählt man, machte er damals ausfindig, daß es besonders die Ordnung sei, die dem Gedächtnis Licht verschaffe. Es müßten daher die, die dieses Geistesvermögen üben wollten, gewisse Plätze auswählen, das, was man im Gedächtnis behalten wolle, sich unter einem Bild vorstellen und in diese Plätze einreihen. So werde die Ordnung der Plätze die Ordnung der Sachen bewahren; die Sachen selbst aber würden durch Bilder bezeichnet, und so könnten wir uns der Plätze statt der Wachstafeln und der Bilder statt der Buchstaben bedienen. Wie gewinnreich aber, wie nützlich und wie wichtig das Gedächtnis für den Redner ist, wozu soll ich das erwähnen? Daß wir nämlich mittelst seiner das behalten, was wir bei Annahme der Sache vernommen, was wir selbst ausgedacht haben, daß alle Gedanken in unserer Seele festhaften, daß der ganze Vorrat von Worten gehörig angeordnet ist, daß wir sowohl den, von dem wir uns belehren lassen, als auch den, dem wir antworten müssen, so anhören, daß sie die Reden nicht in unsere Ohren hineinzugießen, sondern in die Seele einzugraben scheinen. Nur die also, die ein starkes Gedächtnis besitzen, wissen, was, wieviel und wie sie reden müssen, was sie beantwortet haben und was noch übrig ist; ebenso haben sie auch aus anderen Verhandlungen vieles im Gedächtnis, was sie irgendeinmal vorgetragen haben, vieles, was sie von anderen gehört haben. Ich muß nun allerdings gestehen, daß diese Gabe wie alle die Eigenschaften, von denen ich zuvor sprach, hauptsächlich von der Natur ausgehen; beruht doch das Wesen unserer ganzen Kunst der Beredsamkeit – wenn man sie nicht vielleicht lieber ein Abbild oder Nachbild der Kunst nennen will – darauf, daß sie zwar nicht ein Ganzes, von dem in unserem Geist gar keine Spur vorhanden ist, erzeuge und hervorbringe, wohl aber die uns angeborenen und in uns bereits erzeugten Naturanlagen aufziehe und kräftige. Indes besitzt nicht leicht jemand ein so starkes Gedächtnis, daß er ohne vorhergegangene Anordnung und Bezeichnung der Sachen die Reihenfolge der Worte und Gedanken auffassen könnte, sowie auch nicht ein so schwaches Gedächtnis, daß ihm nicht durch eine solche Gewohnheit und Übung einige Erleichterung gewährt werden sollte. Denn einsichtsvoll erkannte Simonides, oder wer sonst der Erfinder dieser Kunst war, daß das am leichtesten in unserer Seele haftet, was ihr durch die Sinne zugeführt und eingeprägt ist, und daß unter allen Sinnen der des Gesichts der schärfste ist; daher lassen sich die durch das Gehör oder durch die Denkkraft aufgefaßten Vorstellungen am leichtesten in der Seele festhalten, wenn sie zugleich auch durch Vermittelung des Gesichtssinnes der Seele zugeführt werden; auf die Weise können wir unsichtbare und der Beurteilung durch die Augen entrückte Gegenstände durch die sinnliche Vorstellung in Bildern und Gestalten so bezeichnen, daß wir Dinge, von denen wir uns nicht imstande sein würden, uns eine Vorstellung zu machen, gleichsam durch Anschauung festhalten. Durch solche sinnlichen Bilder sowie durch alles, was Gegenstand der Anschauung ist, wird unser Gedächtnis erweckt und angeregt. Aber man hat Plätze nötig; denn ein Körper läßt sich nicht denken, ohne daß er einen Platz einnimmt. Wir müssen also, um nicht in einer allgemein bekannten Sache zu weitläufig und lästig zu werden, viele Plätze verwenden, und zwar solche, die in die Augen fallen, leicht übersehbar und durch mäßige Zwischenräume getrennt sind; die Bilder aber müssen lebhaft, eindringlich und hervorstechend sein, so daß sie der Seele leicht entgegentreten und sie schnell erregen können. Die Geschicklichkeit gewinnen wir teils durch Übung, aus der Gewohnheit entsteht, teils durch Bildung ähnlicher Wörter entweder mittels Umwandlung und Abänderung ihrer Endungen oder durch Übertragung ihrer Bedeutung vom Teil auf das Ganze, teils durch die Vorstellung eines ganzen Gedankens unter dem Bild eines einzigen Wortes nach der Verfahrungsart eines großen Malers, der durch Verteilung der Gestalten die einzelnen Stellen seines Gemäldes gegeneinander abstechen läßt. Aber das Wortgedächtnis, das für uns jedoch minder notwendig ist, unterscheidet sich durch eine größere Mannigfaltigkeit der Bilder. Es gibt nämlich viele Wörter, welche, gleichsam wie Gelenke, die Glieder der Rede verknüpfen. Die lassen sich durch keine sinnliche Bezeichnung vorstellen, und wir müssen uns daher für sie willkürliche Bilder aussinnen, die wir immer gebrauchen können. Das Sachgedächtnis ist eine wesentliche Eigenschaft des Redners. Dieses können wir durch einzelne aufgestellte Bilder kenntlich machen, indem wir die Gedanken an die Bilder, die Gedankenfolge aber an die Plätze knüpfen. Auch ist nicht wahr, was von trägen Menschen gesagt wird, das Gedächtnis erliege unter der Last der Bilder, und sogar das werde hierdurch verdunkelt, was es durch sich selbst vermöge seiner natürlichen Kraft hätte festhalten können. Denn ich habe ausgezeichnete Männer von einem fast übermenschlichen Gedächtnis gekannt, zu Athen den Charmadas, in Asien den Metrodoros aus Skepsis, der noch jetzt leben soll, die mir beide versicherten, daß sie, wie durch Buchstaben auf Wachs, so durch Bilder auf den Plätzen, die sie sich ausgewählt hätten, das, was sie im Gedächtnis behalten wollten, niederschrieben. Durch diese Übung nun läßt sich zwar das Gedächtnis, wo keines von Natur vorhanden ist, nicht herausarbeiten, aber sicherlich, wo es versteckt liegt, hervorlocken.“ — Marcus Tullius Cicero: Vom Redner. De Oratore. Übersetzt, eingeleitet und erläutert von Raphael Kühner. Stuttgart: Hoffmann’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 2. Auflage, 1873. II,351-360.

 

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus

“The achievement of Simonides appears to have given rise to the observation that it is an assistance to the memory if localities are sharply impressed upon the mind, a view the truth of which everyone may realise by practical experiment. For when we return to a place after considerable absence, we not merely recognise the place itself, but remember things that we did there, and recall the persons whom we met and even the unuttered thoughts which passed through our minds when we were there before. Thus, as in most cases, art originates in experiment. Some place is chosen of the largest possible extent and characterised by the utmost possible variety, such as a spacious house divided into a number of rooms. Everything of note therein is carefully committed to the memory, in order that the thought may be enabled to run through all the details without let or hindrance. And undoubtedly the first task is to secure that there shall be no delay in finding any single detail, since an idea which is to lead by association to some other idea requires to be fixed in the mind with more than ordinary certitude. The next step is to distinguish something which has been written down or merely thought of by some particular symbol which will serve to jog the memory; this symbol may have reference to the subject as a whole, it may, for example, be drawn from navigation, warfare, etc., or it may, on the other hand, be found in some particular word. (For even in cases of forgetfulness one single word will serve to restore the memory.) However, let us suppose that the symbol is drawn from navigation, as, for instance, an anchor; or from warfare, as, for example, some weapon. These symbols are then arranged as follows. The first thought is placed, as it were, in the forecourt; the second, let us say, in the living-room; the remainder are placed in due order all round the impluvium and entrusted not merely to bedrooms and parlours, but even to the care of statues and the like. This done, as soon as the memory of the facts requires to be revived, all these places are visited in turn and the various deposits are demanded from their custodians, as the sight of each recalls the respective details. Consequently, however large the number of these which it is required to remember, all are linked one to the other like dancers hand in hand, and there can be no mistake since they what precedes to what follows, no trouble being required except the preliminary labour of committing the various points to memory. What I have spoken of as being done in a house, can equally well be done in connexion with public buildings, a long journey, the ramparts of a city, or even pictures. Or we may even imagine such places to ourselves. We require, therefore, places, real or imaginary, and images or symbols, which we must, of course, invent for ourselves. By images I mean the words by which we distinguish the things which we have to learn by heart: in fact, as Cicero says, we use ‘places like wax tablets and symbols in lieu of letters.’ It will be best to give his words verbatim: ‘We must for this purpose employ a number of remarkable places, clearly envisaged and separated by short intervals: the images which we use must be active, sharply-cut and distinctive, such as may occur to the mind and strike it with rapidity.’ This makes me wonder all the more, how Metrodorus should have found three hundred and sixty different localities in the twelve signs of the Zodiac through which the sun passes. It was doubtless due to the vanity and boastfulness of a man who was inclined to vaunt his memory as being the result of art rather than of natural gifts.” — Quintilian: Institutio Oratoria. Loeb Classical Library, 1920. XI,ii,17-22. English translation by Harold Edgeworth Butler.

 

Frances A. Yates

“The first basic fact which the student of the history of the classical art of memory must remember is that the art belonged to rhetoric as a technique by which the orator could improve his memory, which would enable him to deliver long speeches from memory with unfailing accuracy. And it was as a part of the art of rhetoric that the art of memory travelled down through the European tradition in which it was never forgotten, or not forgotten until comparatively modern times, that those infallible guides in all human activities, the ancients, had laid down rules and precepts for improving the memory.

It is not difficult to get hold of the general principles of the mnemonic. The first step was to imprint on the memory a series of loci or places. The commonest, though not the only, type of mnemonic place system used was the architectural type. The clearest description of the process is that given by Quintilian. In order to form a series of places in memory, he says, a building is to be remembered, as spacious and varied a one as possible, the forecourt, the living room, bedrooms, and parlours, not omitting statues and other ornaments with which the rooms are decorated. The images by which the speech is to be remembered—as an example of these Quintilian says one may use an anchor or a weapon—are then placed in imagination on the places which have been memorised in the building. This done, as soon as the memory of the facts requires to be revived, all these places are visited in turn and the various deposits demanded of their custodians. We have to think of the ancient orator as moving in imagination through his memory building whilst he is making his speech, drawing from the memorised places the images he has placed on them. The method ensures that the points are remembered in the right order, since the order is fixed by the sequence of places in the building. Quintilian's examples of the anchor and the weapon as images may suggest that he had in mind a speech which dealt at one point with naval matters (the anchor), at another with military operations (the weapon).” — Frances A. Yates: The Art of Memory. London: Routledgc & Kegan Paul, 1966. pp. 2-3.

 

John Michael Greer

“One goal of the Hermetic tradition, by contrast, is to maximize human capacities, as tools for the inner transformations sought by the Hermeticist. Many of the elementary practices of that tradition – and the same is true of esoteric systems worldwide – might best be seen as a kind of mental calisthenics, intended to stretch minds grown stiff from disuse. This quest to expand the powers of the self stands in opposition to the prosthetic culture of the modern West, which has consistently tended to transfer power from the self to the exterior world. The difference between these two viewpoints has a wide range of implications-philosophical, religious, and (not the least) political – but the place of the Art of Memory can be found among them.

From what might be called the prosthetic standpoint, the Art is obsolete because it is less efficient than external data-storage methods such as books, and distasteful because it requires the slow development of inner abilities rather than the purchase of a piece of machinery. From a Hermetic standpoint, on the other hand, the Art is valuable in the first place as a means of developing one of the capacities of the self, the memory, and in the second place because it uses other capacities-attention, imagination, mental imagery-which have a large role in other aspects of Hermetic practice.

Like other methods of self-development, the Art of Memory also brings about changes in the nature of the capacity it shapes, not merely in that capacity’s efficiency or volume; its effects are qualitative as well as quantitative – another issue not well addressed by the prosthetic approach. Ordinarily, memory tends to be more or less opaque to consciousness. A misplaced memory vanishes from sight, and any amount of random fishing around may be needed before an associative chain leading to it can be brought up from the depths. In a memory trained by the methods of the Art, by contrast, the chains of association are always in place, and anything memorized by the Art can thus be found as soon as needed. Equally, it's much easier for the mnemonist to determine what exactly he or she does and does not know, to make connections between different points of knowledge, or to generalize from a set of specific memories; what is stored through the Art of Memory can be reviewed at will.” — John Michael Greer: An Introduction To The Hermetic Art Of Memory.