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Below is a bit of the story about Simonides and his memory palace ideas.
Here is a link to a current story about memory which also includes a description of the memory palace concept and how it has been used thorough the ages.

Story of Simonides:

The Memory Palace
Simonides of Ceos was an ancient Greek poet who wrote many elegies and epitaphs. He was the first poet to accept payment for his poetry. He lived from 556 to 486 BCE (before the common era). During a banquet with a number of notable Greeks, Simonides stepped outside to discuss a payment dispute. While he was outside the building, its roof collapsed killing everyone inside. As the rubble was being cleared he was called upon to identify the bodies of the dead so that their families could give them proper burial. He was able to do this by remembering the locations where they had been sitting around the banquet table.

This experience gave rise to his ideas connecting memory triggers with physical location which became the foundation for the art of memory. The exercise and strengthening of one’s memory was essential training for any scholar or orator in ancient times. It was as much a part of life as exercising one’s body or bathing.

headless statue from the grotto


By the middle ages, memory arts were studied through the writings of Cicero, the Roman orator whose De Oratore in 55 BCE includes, as part of the section on Rhetoric, the story of Simonides at the banquet as a way of documenting the origin of the art of memory. Scholars in the middle ages used Cicero’s texts to recreate the practice of the Art of Memory and the use of loci as triggers for stored memories. There is however no complete set of instructions for the art of memory as it was practiced in ancient Greece since every document that exists assumes general knowledge of this practice is commonplace.

The Art of Memory employs loci or physical locations—spots in a house or market or temple or other structure—to hold a series of thoughts for later retrieval. The idea is that one strolls through a building, one’s own home for example, and locates spots of significance (instructions are that this spot must be well lit and striking in color, shape, or emotional impact) and in these spots, points along a trajectory of thought or even exact words in a pre-composed speech are stored. First the building must be well known to the person storing the ideas, then the ideas must be firmly planted there in the mind—the mind associates the ideas with the loci. The loci are thought of as the wax tablets or pages on which the ideas are written—then retrieval is achieved later by taking a mental walk though this memory palace when the speaker needs the information in the course of speaking in public.

As taught in the middle ages, vivid images are used to symbolize ideas. In the mind’s eye, one then places each of these images into different loci. They can then be recalled in order by imagining that one is walking through the building again, visiting each of the loci in order, and mentally viewing each of the images that were placed in the loci, thereby recalling each piece of memory or speech in order. One might imagine that this practice took time to learn and to use well. The practice of using the method would strengthen with time and the facility for memorization would improve with repetition. This method was used not only for rote memorization but for composition as well. Taking a stroll through the structure—past corners and pieces of favorite furniture or windows or doorways—can also suggest ordering principles for ideas one intends to express. Senators and other orators in ancient Rome could speak for two hours and longer without recourse to notes and it is understood that though in some way they were speaking extemporaneously, their ideas had been pre-composed and ordered via memory palaces constructed as part of a discipline that was an ordinary part of education. A method that focused not just on facts but on mechanics of thought itself. For monks in the middle ages it was also a method for memorizing and recalling sacred texts and prayers. Illuminated manuscripts with their bright colors and vivid images aided in the memorization of the texts they contained.

star pond at the grotto


In our time the aspect of the mind’s capacity that is most attended to and admired is the imagination—great powers in any field are attributed to a great imagination. In the middle ages the aspect most admired was memory. Not just because people were thought of as repositories of great works but also because this extended and developed memory gave them great discipline and capacity of mind. Thomas Aquinas was said to be able to dictate to four secretaries or scribes at once keeping each train of thought separately developing—and this is the dictation of four different texts fully composed in his mind
and waiting there available for recall.

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Paternity search text:
I am looking for my biological father who was stationed in Penryn, Cornwall, England in 1944/45. My mother was Mrs Queenie Eustace who lived at the Kings Arms Hotel, Penryn. I have been told that my father was a US naval officer stationed at Tremough, Penryn. Can anyone help me find which units were stationed in Penryn at the time. I have tried for years but keep hitting brick walls.
I have found a beautiful grotto at Tremough Convent which was built by the US Navy in which there is a plaque bearing the names D Helie R King K Radley F Pilling R Haskell J Fransisco USN 8-12-44. The US chaplain was Rev. J Lynch. Does anyone recognise these names? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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photo by Ben Thompson

photo by Ben Thompson


One of the first exercises that we did today was to walk through our path in the garden in our heads. After doing this we wrote down the sorts of things that we experienced and what we noticed.

After this we split up into our pairs and created a short response to yesterdays research task. Henrik and I created a piece exploring the movement of water through the gardens. Other members of the group explored things such as letters from the archives and the history of trees in the gardens.

Next we were split up into groups of 3/4 and given the task of making a piece of work using the ‘system’ task, our research material and our three named places. The group that I was in started working by showing each other our systems. This progressed into a dialogue about old to new and the way in which things on the estate seem to always refresh and renew themselves such as the way that the great hall went from a grand building to a ruin and then back to a grand building again. We also spent some time arguing over which Chekov came to Dartington! We then used this dialogue to feed our performance and began creating.

After we had worked for an hour we spent some time individually working on our performances of our farewell songs, then we went to lunch.

After lunch we performed our farewell songs around the old school building and experimented with the spaces in which the songs were placed and what happens when the songs are sung over each other.

Next we viewed the work that we had created earlier. One group showed a piece where cups of water were fenced off from a person who kept stealing them and pouring them over another person who was walking around the site. Another piece was a sort of sensory soundscape where the audience experienced different sounds and sensations created by the performers. Our piece explored ideas of renewal and finished with us creating a metaphorical link between Dartington and Falmouth, and the final group used mud to create traces of people and then images on the wall within a studio space.
Matthew

Contributions coming soon from Alfred (Alfie), & Adrian

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