[Cicero], Rhetorica ad Herennium

LCL 403: 208-209

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Constat igitur artificiosa memoria ex locis et1 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, leonis, aquilae memoriam si volemus habere, imagines 30eorum locis certis conlocare oportebit. Nunc cuiusmodi locos invenire et quo pacto reperire et in locis imagines constituere oporteat ostendemus.

XVII. Quemadmodums igitur qui litteras sciunt possunt id quod dictatur eis scribere, et recitare quod scripserunt, item qui mnemonica2 didicerunt possunt quod audierunt in locis conlocare et ex his memoriter pronuntiare. Nam loci cerae aut chartae 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

  • 1ex locis M: locis et E Mx.
  • 2qui mnemonica Aldus: qui nemonica Mx: quinimmodica P: qui inmodica Hb: qui immodica IIB C l d.

Ad Herennium, III

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 back-30ground. Now I shall show what kind of backgrounds we should invent and how we should discover the images and set them therein.

XVII. 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 tabletsa or papyrus, the images like the 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 may never by confusion in their order be prevented from following the images—proceeding

  • aCf. “the table of my memory,” Shakespeare, Hamlet 1. 5. 98. For the analogy with wax cf. Socrates in Plato, Theaet. 191 CD; Cicero, Pari. Orat. 6. 26, and in De Oratore 2. 88. 360, Charmadas (fl. 107 b.c.) and Metrodorus (bom c. 150 b.c.); and the seal-ring in Aristotle, De Mem. et Recollect. 450 ab. Cf. also, in Theophrastus, De Sens. 51-2, Democritus’ theory that in vision the air is moulded like wax, and see the interpretation of this passage by Paul Friedländer, Die platonischen Schriften, Berlin and Leipzig, 1930, p. 448, note 1.
DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.marcus_tullius_cicero-rhetorica_ad_herennium.1954