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From Medieval Mnemonics to a Social Construction of Memory - page 4 / 23





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ultimately the contemporary project of scientific method. In The Art of Memory, Yates (1966/1974) wrote,

Mysticism and philanthropy are bound up with the encyclopaedia and the univer- sal calculus. When we think of this side of Leibniz, the comparison with Bruno is again striking. The religion of Love, Art, Magic, and Mathesis was hidden in the Seals of Memory. A religion of love and general philanthropy is to be made mani- fest, or brought about, through the universal calculus. If we delete Magic, substi- tute genuine mathematics for Mathesis, understand Art as the calculus, and retain Love, the Leibnizian aspirations seem to approximate strikingly closely—though in a seventeenth-century transformation—to those of Bruno. (p. 387)

In keeping with the dynamic changes and conflicts of the Middle Ages, tradi- tional faith-based medieval philosophy was challenged in 1128 by “new” logic, which was actually old Aristotelian logic newly translated from Greek to Latin. Both new and old logic were indebted to earlier medieval methods of memoriza- tion, or memoria, as the academic discipline of recalling textual knowledge of antiquity (itself an acknowledgement of progress beyond antiquity). In praise of the “giants of antiquity,” the famous quote of Bernard of the Cathedral School of Chartres reflects this self-awareness:

We are dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants. We can see more than they can and further, not because our eyes are clearer or our bodies taller, but because they arose and lifted us up into the heights. (Piltz, 1981, p. 41)

In addition to serving as a method for medieval subjects to enter into a con- versation with the past, memoria was an honorable mental discipline in a world where books were scarce and rhetorical dialogue was instrumental in teaching and learning the catechism. In The Book of Memory, Mary Carruthers (1990/ 1996) wrote,

Training the memory was much more than a matter of providing oneself with the means to compose and converse intelligently when books were not readily at hand, for it was in trained memory that one built character, judgment, citizenship, and piety. (p. 9)

The higher levels of instruction in the catechism retain the question and answer format but with more of an emphasis on creative responses based on the assimi- lated knowledge. In her book devoted to descriptions of medieval memory- training techniques and mnemonics, Carruthers underscored the dialectical essence of memoria:

The choice to train one’s memory or not, for the ancients and medievals, was not a choice dictated by convenience: it was a matter of ethics. A person without a mem- ory, if such a thing could be, would be a person without moral character and, in a basic sense, without humanity. Memoria refers not to how something is communi- cated, but to what happens once one has received it, to the interactive process of

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