In ancient Greece, prior to being written down, stories were recounted orally. Due to that, memory played an important part in the life of an ancient Greek storyteller. The Odyssey for instance, had 12,110 lines – and each one of those had to be recited by memory – a seemingly impossible task today.
Did the Greeks simply have better memory than we do now? Probably not… but what they did have was methods to improve their memory. These were helpful to recall the epic poems or narration… today the techniques are useful for tests, orations, and just as importantly, exercising your brain to avoid age related memory loss.
One of the methods invented by the ancient Greeks to improve their memories was the Method of Loci. This technique is known alternatively as the Memory Journey, the Memory Palace, or the Mind Palace Technique.
According to the Roman orator Cicero, this technique was discovered by a Greek lyric poet by the name of Simonides of Ceos. Cicero goes on to relate a story in which the sophist was invited to present a lyric poem at a banquet in Thessaly. Shortly after he presented the poem, Simonides was called outside, during which the roof of the banqueting hall suddenly collapsed. The other guests were crushed to death, many of their bodies mangled beyond recognition.
This made it difficult for the identification of the dead, which was required for their proper burial. By consulting his visual memory of where the guests had been seated around the banquet table, Simonides was able to identify the dead. It was from this experience that Simonides realized that it would be possible to remember anything by associating it with a mental image of a location, thereby developing the Method of Loci.
Visualization to Enhance Memorization
The Method of Loci relies on mentally visualizing the things that one intends to remember. These objects are placed in a particular order in various locations along a familiar route through a place, e.g. a city, house, workplace, etc. A mental journey with a starting and an ending point is made. Therefore, when you wish to remember, for example, a shopping list, or the points of a speech, you only need to go on this mental journey in order to remember each element. This memorization technique may be further enhanced by making the images more vivid. For instance, the mental images may be accompanied by mental smells and sounds.
The Method of Loci memorization technique was popular in the ancient world and was used up until the middle of the 17th century. It was eventually superseded by phonetic and peg systems. However, recent research has shown that the memory palace technique can be very effective.
So, take on the challenge… next time you go grocery shopping, for instance, attempt this technique to memorize your shopping list. It will be a good way to improve your memory and keep the brain in tip-top shape.