January 7, 2022

Memory Palace: In the House of My Grandmother

Memory Palace: In the House of My Grandmother

I'm reading The Art of Memory by Frances A Yates, as promised, but am still in the depths of chapter one, which covers Roman writings on the topic. The primary text from Rome that remains to us is titled Ad Herennium (To Herennius, Herennius being the patron of the anonymous author, the latter of whom is sometimes known as pseudo-Cicero). AH covers the basic technique, but gives primarily rules for how to build one's palace, lay it out, and choose images for it, rather than examples that people actually use. The examples it does give are vivid, but bizarre to the modern mind. One example involves severed bull testicals, in order to make a pun on testes meaning testicals and testes meaning witnesses giving testimony.

I have already started building my own palace for the Hymn to Hekate, and am taking a very different approach. Instead of inventing a palace and populating it with invented images, I am using my maternal grandmother's house, and largely using items that were actually in it while she was alive. It's been interesting how well the contents and layout of even a small portion of the house has coincided with the Hymn.

To return for a moment to the book, AoM says that AH lays out two kinds of memory that may be recorded in an "artificial memory", or memory palace. One is a memory for things, whereby one tracks the points one wishes to make in a speech or items in a list or some such, and the other is memory for words, which pertains to actually memorizing specific words. Pseudo-Cicero admits that the second is much harder, and that artificial memory can only serve as an aid to natural memory. He also dismisses it as much less necessary for students of rhetoric (that being his audience), who mostly need to memorize the points they want to make, and can invent specific words along the way.

Of course, I am trying to memorize specific words, and ones in a language I don't speak. So again, I must substantially modify my approach. Now, fortunately, my natural memory has managed to break down the Hymn and memorize phrases (based on where the breath marks fall, as recommended by my teacher), but it has trouble keeping the phrases in order. I know enough Greek roots from my religious studies to generally be able to identify at least one word in each phrase, so it's really a matter of keying each phrase to an order. I've gotten halfway through the Hymn so far, and only had to stretch what items were there a little.

Here's the Hymn, in Greek:

Εἰνοδίαν Ἑκάτην κλῄζω, τριοδῖτιν, ἐραννήν,
οὐρανίαν χθονίαν τε καὶ εἰναλίαν, κροκόπεπλον,
τυμβιδίαν, ψυχαῖς νεκύων μέτα βακχεύουσαν,
Περσείαν, φιλέρημον, ἀγαλλομένην ἐλάφοισιν,
νυκτερίαν, σκυλακῖτιν, ἀμαιμάκετον βασίλειαν,
θηρόβρομον, ἄζωστον, ἀπρόσμαχον εἶδος ἔχουσαν,
ταυροπόλον, παντὸς κόσμου κληιδοῦχον ἄνασσαν,
ἡγεμόνην, νύμφην, κουροτρόφον, οὐρεσιφοῖτιν,
λισσομένοις κούρην τελεταῖς ὁσίαισι παρεῖναι
βουκόλῳ εὐμενέουσαν ἀεὶ κεχαρηότι θυμῷ.

And here's how I break down the first half (which is as far as I've gotten) into phrases, transliterated:

Einodian Hekate
kleizo, trioditin, erannen
Ouranian chthonian
te kai einalian, krokopeplon,
Tymbidian, psychais
nekyon meta bakcheuousan,
Perseian, phileremon,
agallomenen elaphoisin,
Nykterian, skylakitin,
amaimaketon basileian

And then here's roughly what each phrase means, without any attempt to make it pretty:

She of the Roads, Hekate
You I invoke, of the Crossroads, Lovely One
Of heaven, of the underworld
And of the sea, wearing a saffron-yellow gown
Among the tombs, among souls
Of the dead, being ecstatic
Daughter of Perses, lover of isolation
Delighting in deer
She of the night, lover of dogs,
Irresistable queen

Here's how they're keyed, so far, and the walkthrough of the house in parentheses:

She of the Roads, Hekate - standing in the street outside the house
(go up the driveway)
You I invoke, of the Crossroads, Lovely One - the place where the path to the door meets the driveway, making a crossroads
(up the two steps and into the house)
Of heaven, of the underworld - on a little table near the door, a statue of Mary, Queen of Heaven
And of the sea, wearing a saffron-yellow gown - a vase of artificial yellow roses on the same table
(walk past the table and turn right down the hall; on the left there is an alcove with a hutch, a door, and a bookcase)
Among the tombs, among souls - on the hutch, a wedgwood box with a winged figure, as if an elaborate grave marker
Of the dead, being ecstatic - also on the hutch, a blue-painted china plate with a scene of people dancing, reminding me of Bacchae
Daughter of Perses, lover of isolation - the door leads to the bathroom, exactly where one wants to be alone
Delighting in deer - hanging from the bookcase is a strap of sleighbells, a Christmas decoration that, when I was young, I was told came from Santa's sleigh; Santa's sleigh is pulled by reindeer, thus, deer
She of the night, lover of dogs - three steps further down the hallway, a door on the right leads to the room I slept in as a child; the room of the night
Irresistable queen - above the bed I slept in hangs a photo of my grandmother seated in a large chair, surrounded by her children and their spouses, as if by courtiers, the matriarch and queen

Some of these things aren't in the exact places where they really appeared in Granny's house (I think the yellow roses were across the room), and some are made-up objects that fit the theme of what was there (there really was a wedgwood box, but I have no idea what was on it, and the rest of the items on the hutch were tea cups). There's also one phrase that's giving me trouble, because I don't have any link between the meaning and the Greek words, "agallomenen elaphoisin", "delighting in deer". I'm trying to work in a book with an elephant on the cover behind the sleigh bells, to key "eleph" to "elaph", but I can't think of a book that would belong on that shelf that has an elephant on the cover, so I'm a little stuck. All I can come up with are kids' books like Babar, and the kids' books were elsewhere in the house. It has to make sense with what's there, or it won't work for me. I'll do some digging.

But I got that far last night, and this morning I was able to sing the first half of the Hymn, with just a hiccup on "agallomenen elaphoisin", which is more than I could do before, so it seems to be going well.