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The Art of Memory (1966)

by Frances A. Yates

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,3071511,644 (4.04)27
This unique and brilliant book is a history of human knowledge. Before the invention of printing, a trained memory was of vital importance. Based on a technique of impressing 'places' and 'images' on the mind, the ancient Greeks created an elaborate memory system which in turn was inherited by the Romans and passed into the European tradition, to be revived, in occult form, during the Renaissance. Frances Yates sheds light on Dante's Divine Comedy, the form of the Shakespearian theatre and the history of ancient architecture; The Art of Memoryis an invaluable contribution to aesthetics and psychology, and to the history of philosophy, of science and of literature.… (more)
  1. 00
    Incerti auctoris De ratione dicendi ad C. Herennium by Marcus Tullius Cicero (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: The pseudo-Ciceronian text is a cornerstone of the tradition that Yates traces in her book.
  2. 01
    What Is Called Thinking? by Martin Heidegger (vy0123)
    vy0123: Thinking and memory relate.
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» See also 27 mentions

English (13)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (15)
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Very hard going for me. I'm sure there are many academics who would enjoy it. Knowledge of Latin needed. ( )
  MarkKeeffe | Mar 7, 2022 |
This was a very interesting book with curious subject matter. It allowed me to broach the subject of "The Art of Memory" and to explore it in depth. It is adequately written and I believe good reading for those interested in intellectual pursuits.

4 stars. ( )
  DanielSTJ | Feb 24, 2020 |
Warning: Absolutely don't consider this book if you are interested in the Art of Memory (the actual art, not the book) but didn't read other, modern books or learned at least basic memory techniques or you will be let down. The book is a historical inquiry of how those techniques evolved and how they affected population, art, etc., but it is a very blurry since there is not much material and the book that were actually preserved are quite hard to understand and lack examples, therefore absolutely impenetrable for a beginner. What also does not help is the very dry style in which the book is written in - author focuses heavily on names, dates, historical facts which makes some parts quite hard to read.

Warning2: Main focus is on the 14-16 century where Art of Memory got mixed with magic and occult stuff and the result is quite uninteresting from the viewpoint of the modern practitioner.

Nevertheless it is still quite interesting reading and provides many valuable historical insights, but because the insights are purely historical and very remote from modern Art of Memory I can recommend it only to those who already know the practical side of this matter.

BTW: The author confesses that she has no practical skills or knowledge of memory techniques and I feel like it really made the book much less useful for me. ( )
1 vote fm4d | Oct 24, 2019 |
This is not quite what I expected, but it was still pretty interesting. The book starts out with the story of Simonides, and his theories of memory. The use of images and loci is put forth in some books that are referenced by the author. Ad Herennium is the biggest one that is mentioned early on, and was a textbook. It then follows the art of memory as it goes through the ages, eventually becoming some kind of mystic, magical technique.

Basically they go and take the idea of the loci and make it so it uses the Signs of the Zodiac. It also combines the system of the Kaballah and the Sephirot into the art and makes it even weirder. Yates argues that this was meant to connect with reality on a deeper level and give them mystic powers or something, and I can only suppose that this is correct. This mostly happens in the Renaissance Era. Through the Middle Ages, the art of memory is supported by such superstars as St. Thomas Aquinas and the Dominican Order. So, the art is used in the Middle Ages to remember the places of Hell and the Virtues to follow to avoid it. By the time of the Renaissance, there are a few people that are accused of Witchcraft through this, with the most grievous case being that of Giordano Bruno. The man was burned at the stake; a really tragic end to an interesting person.

The book seems to go on a few tangents, but the author is pretty good at reining in the story. The biggest jump is in the last chapters where she discusses memory theaters and the Globe theater of Shakespeare. She admits to her going off on a tangent, but includes it since it is important to what she is trying to prove in the book. Something about connecting the ideas of God in Man contained in a building or something.

For the final chapter, Yates talks a bit about Memory techniques in the Seventeenth Century with Sir Francis Bacon and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. These two seem to lend scientific support to the theory of memory.

In any case, the book was interesting, but I don't think I will be reading it again. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
A great book. Introduced me to concept of the "Memory Palace" ( )
  BoyntonLodgeNo236 | May 1, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Yates was the author of The Art of Memory, a 1966 title that remains oddly obscure despite having been named by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books published in the 20th century. Many well-read people have never even heard of it, yet tendrils of Yates’ ideas are entwined through contemporary culture—not just wrapped around Hannibal Lecter and Sherlock. Those who have read The Art of Memory tend to become obsessed with it, and the list of contemporary authors inspired by the book is impressive: Italo Calvino, Carlos Fuentes, Hilary Mantel, Philip Pullman, Penelope Lively, Harold Bloom, and Madison Smartt Bell, to name just a few. John Crowley wrote a four-novel series, Aegypt, based on The Art of Memory.
added by elenchus | editslate.com, Laura Miller (Nov 23, 2015)
 

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yates, Frances A.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Groot, JacobTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hadders, GerardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Pimlico (64)
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This unique and brilliant book is a history of human knowledge. Before the invention of printing, a trained memory was of vital importance. Based on a technique of impressing 'places' and 'images' on the mind, the ancient Greeks created an elaborate memory system which in turn was inherited by the Romans and passed into the European tradition, to be revived, in occult form, during the Renaissance. Frances Yates sheds light on Dante's Divine Comedy, the form of the Shakespearian theatre and the history of ancient architecture; The Art of Memoryis an invaluable contribution to aesthetics and psychology, and to the history of philosophy, of science and of literature.

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A revolutionary book about mnemonic techniques, and their relation to the history of philosophy, science, and literature

The ancient Greeks, to whom a trained memory was of vital importance—as it was to everyone before the invention of printing—created an elaborate memory system, based on a technique of impressing "places" and "images" on the mind. Inherited and recorded by the Romans, this art of memory passed into the European tradition, to be revived, in occult form, at the Renaissance, and particularly by the strange and remarkable genius, Giordano Bruno. Such is the main theme of Frances Yates's unique and distinctive book, in the course of which she sheds light on such diverse subjects as Dante's Divine Comedy, the form of the Shakespearian theater, and the history of ancient architecture. Aside from its intrinsic fascination, this book is an invaluable contribution to aesthetics and psychology, and to the history of philosophy, of science, and of literature.
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