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Ancient Greek Writing for Memory

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Textual Features as Mnemonic Facilitators

image of Mnemosyne

Throughout antiquity memory played a central role in the production, publication, and transmission of texts. Greek mnemotechnics started developing as early as the 6th century BCand by the 2nd century BCmemory established itself as a formal division of rhetoric. Techniques of memorization are described at length in ancient rhetorical or scientific works (such as Aristotle’s De memoria), or alluded to in literary works. The theory of mnemotechnics was concerned with how to learn virtually any text by heart, but there is no systematic discussion of what makes a text intrinsically easy to memorize, nor of how to compose in a memory-friendly manner. However, passing remarks scattered throughout ancient Greek texts show that some awareness existed that certain stylistic and structural features improve the memorability of texts. A systematic study of these primary sources reveals that (a) memorization was not regarded as specifically functional to oral performance alone, and (b) the Greek literary and technical writers consciously looked at the mnemonic advantage of stylistic and structural features only when they wanted to favour the memory of the audience, not that of the performer.

Affiliations: 1: Wolfson College, University of Oxford ox2 6 udOxford UK


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