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Title: An Historical Sketch of the Conceptions of Memory among the Ancients
Author: Burnham, William H.
Language: English
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                           Historical Sketch
             The Conceptions of Memory among the Ancients.

                         Submitted as a Thesis
                          William A. Burnham,
            Candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
                       Johns Hopkins University,

                           Table of Contents.


 Conceptions of Memory before Aristotle,                       pp.  1–11


 Aristotle’s Conceptions of Memory,                            pp. 12–40


 Conceptions of Memory among the Stoics and Epicureans, and in
   Cicero and Quintilian,                                      pp. 41–46


 Conceptions of Plotinus and St. Augustine,                    pp. 47–70


 Diseases of Memory mentioned by ancient writers,              pp. 71–73


 Ancient Systems of Mnemonics,                                 pp. 74–76



Mnemosyne, Hesiod tells us, was the mother of the Muses. Without
speculating as some have done about the reasons for this myth it is
interesting as showing an appreciation of the fundamental nature of
memory and some sort of crude introspective psychology dating back
possibly to pre-historic times.

Before the art of writing was in common use men had to depend more
largely than to-day upon their memories for preserving and transmitting
their knowledge. It is not surprising, therefore, that the ancients put
a high estimate upon memory before they began to theorize about its
nature. There are, of course, allusions to memory in Homer and in the
Hebrew Scriptures.[1] And occasionally one of the early Greek
philosophers tries to explain some phenomenon of memory. But we find no
scientific study of the subject before Aristotle.

The psychology of the Ionian school of philosophers, as far as they can
be said to have had any at all, was sensationalism. Their views of
memory must be conjectured from the fundamental principles of their

The doctrine of transmigration as held in the Pythagoreans is an
anticipation of Plato’s doctrine of reminiscence, but there is little
psychology in it. Theophrastus tells us that Diogenes of Appollonia was
puzzled by the phenomenon of forgetting things.[2] But he explained it
in accordance with the principles of his philosophy by supposing that
the cause of forgetting was an arrest of the equal distribution of air
throughout the body. A corroboration of this explanation he found in the
easier breathing that follows the recalling of what was forgotten.

Among the Eleatics, Parmenides is reported to have held that not only
thought, but recollecting and forgetting depended upon the way the light
or heat and the dark or cold are mixed in the body. If we may trust
Theophrastus,[3] it may be assumed that, according to Parmenides, every
presentation corresponded to a definite mixture or relation of these
qualities, and with the destruction of that relation the presentation
disappeared, that is, was forgotten.

Heraclitus, one might suppose, would study memory carefully, but in the
fragments of his philosophy that have come down to us nothing is said
upon the subject.

In Plato we find a more modern psychology. According to him the thinking
power of the mind, the understanding, is above the mere power of sense
perceptions. It is this power which compares and considers, notes
similarities and contrasts, unity and plurality, and forms ideas of
relation between Being and Non-Being as well as relations of number and
proportions. Among the elements of this power, recollections (αναμνησις)
is of prime importance. This rests upon the association by similarity
and simultaneity.[4]

Plato distinguishes the passive retention (μνημη) of perceptions from
active memory (αναμνησις),[5] and suggests as a definition of memory,
“the power which the soul has of recovering, when by itself, some
feeling which it experienced when in company with the body.” He attempts
no explanation of ¬memory¬; but in the Theaetetus puts the
following words into the mouth of Socrates:

“I would have you imagine, then, that there exists in the mind of man a
block of wax, which is of different sizes in different men; harder,
moister, and having more or less of purity in one than in another, and
in some of an intermediate quality.... Let us say that this tablet is a
gift of memory, the mother of the muses, and that when we wish to
remember anything which we have seen or heard, or thought in our own
minds, we hold the wax to the perceptions and thoughts, and in that
receive the impressions from them as from the seal of a ring; and that
we remember and know what is imprinted as long as the image lasts; but
when the image is effaced, or cannot be taken, then we forget and do not

Plato carries out the same figure to explain different degrees of
memory. “When the wax in one’s soul is deep, abundant, smooth, and of
the right quality, the impressions are lasting. Such minds can easily
retain and are not liable to confusion. But, on the other hand, when the
wax is very soft, one learns easily and forgets as easily; if the wax is
hard, the reverse is true; again, if the wax is hard or impure, the
impressions are indistinct; and still more indistinct are they when
jostled together in a little soul.”[6]

This illustration must not be taken too seriously; for later on in the
same dialogue Socrates calls it a “waxen figment” and substitutes for it
the figure of the aviary of all kinds of birds—“some flocking together
apart from the rest, others in small groups, others solitary, flying
anywhere and everywhere.”

The receptacle is empty when we are young. The birds are kinds of
knowledge. Learning is the process of capturing the birds and of
detaining them in this enclosure. In acts of memory we re-catch them and
take them out of the aviary.

Plato’s views upon memory have a special interest on account of their
connection with his metaphysical doctrines. Perception and recollection
are the occasion of the minds turning away from the world of sense to
the inner world of innate and universal ideas. These ideas we could
never get from sense-perception. That gives us only the immediate and
the individual. The ideas are of the essential and the universal. We
could not conceive them if we did not already know them. Hence the power
to know the universal in the individual proves a previous existence in
which we had the intuitions of universal truths; and, accordingly,
learning is but recollection.[7] The metaphysical aspects of memory,
however, let us avoid as much as possible. They would soon lead far from
a psychological study. But this doctrine of recollection lies at the
heart of the Platonic philosophy, and it is necessary to note carefully
the distinctions between this and ordinary memory. The latter, as
defined by Plato in the passage quoted above is the memory or
recollection of what has been learned through the body, that is, through
sense-perception, belongs to the world of appearances, and is liable to
many errors. The former, on the other hand, is not concerned with things
of sense. It is recollection of that higher world where we had an
antenatal vision of intelligible realities. Its highest manifestation is
the insight of the philosopher who sees the divine goodness, truth, and


The difference in philosophic method between Plato and Aristotle is well
illustrated by their treatment of memory. What Plato says of memory is
incidental to the discussion of such profound matters as the nature of
the soul and the theory of knowledge. Memory, according to him, is one
of the higher faculties and partakes of the eternal nature of the soul.
Aristotle makes a special study of memory in a less transcendental way.
With him it is no longer a function of the eternal _Nous_; but it has
its seat in the passive Reason, is dependent upon a physiological
process, and perishes with the body.

Aristotle seems to have been the first of ancient philosophers to write
a systematic treatise on psychology. But, rather curiously, in this work
on psychology there is no special treatment of memory. A special tract,
however, was devoted to the special tract, however, was devoted to the
subject.[9] This, so far as we know, was the first scientific study of
memory; and for this reason, as well as for its intrinsic merits, the
tract deserves special attention. But before passing to his doctrine of
memory, it is well to notice briefly his Theory of sense-perceptions. On
occasion of appropriate stimuli movements take place in the
sense-organs. These movements, however, are not sense perceptions. In
perceptions the mind must compare and distinguish disparate sensations;
it must unite the sensations presented simultaneously by our double
sense organs as of sight and hearing, and it must be conscious of
sensations. This work of comparisons, of psychic synthesis, and of
self-conscious perception is performed by a central sense. The physical
basis of this sense is the heart. Through it the mind performs the act
of sense perception. The functions now attributed to nervous substance
are referred by Aristotle to the _pneuma_ connected with the blood. This
is the medium by which the movements arising in the sense organs are
transmitted to the heart, and in this _pneuma_ the movements persist
long after the external stimuli have ceased to act. Incidentally, it is
interesting to note, that according to Aristotle’s psychology, the brain
has very little to do with mental activity. To borrow a phrase from
Wallace, it serves simply as “a cooling apparatus to counteract the
excessive warmth of the heart.” When the movement occasioned in the
sense organ by an external stimulus is propagated to the heart,[10] it
becomes a perception of the soul. Sense perception, then, is an act of
the soul by means of a physiological process. In the words of Aristotle
it is “a movement of the soul through the body.”[11] Now this movement
sometimes continues after the stimulus, which was the occasion of it,
has ceased to act. The extreme case is the well known phenomenon of a
visual after-image. The images of the imagination are such
after-sensations. Imagination is weak sensation, or in the words of
Hobbes, “decaying sense”. So too, dreaming is the result of a movement
in our bodily organs, caused either from without or from within. Again,
these persisting movements are the elements of memory.

At first, one wonders how Aristotle will distinguish those movements
which constitute memory from those which are the basis of imagination.
He is not entirely satisfactory on this point; but he makes the
following distinction. The picture of the imagination, or the
corresponding movement does not refer to an external object, and is not
located in the past. The memory picture, on the other hand, does refer
to an object and carries with it the consciousness of a time in the
past, when the perception remembered took place.[12] Memory, then,
involves time, and both this and the sense of time are _dependent_ upon
the central sense. Memory, as we have seen, is dependent upon the
residua of sensations. The subjective side of a sensation is an image.
Thus memory belongs to the same part of the soul as the imagination, and
the proper objects @of memory@ are images (φανταστα). The image
is a condition (παθος) of the central sense. Memory _per se_ is of the
original image or perception, and only in an accidental manner does it
relate to matters of thought.[13]

In his special tract on memory, Aristotle in part repeats Plato’s views,
in part discusses the obvious facts of memory, which, having been
continually repeated since his time, have become mere platitudes, and in
part he tries to explain the phenomena of memory in accordance with his
general system of psychology. The essay, however, is of special
interest, because in it Aristotle sets forth very clearly the famous
doctrine of association of ideas. Some of the other points in the
treatise may be briefly mentioned and special consideration given to the
portion relating to recollection and association. ¶ First Aristotle
takes considerable space to show what would seem to be apparent enough
to everybody, that memory is of the past, as perception is of the
present, and hope and opinion of the future.

The central sense or sensorium must be in a condition suitable to
receive and retain impressions. If the sensorium is too hard, no
impression is made. If it is greatly agitated, the new movement is
ineffectual: on somewhat the same principles, one may suppose, as one
may in modern psychology, that a weak stimulus is washed out by a strong
one. Hence the very young and the very old have poor memories; for the
former are in the movement of growth, the latter in that of decay.
Again, the question arises: How is it that in recollection we recognize
the memory image as a picture of the absent object? A scholastic answer
is given. “An animal painted in a picture, he says, is both an animal
and a copy, and while being thus one and the same, it is nevertheless
two things at once. The animal and the copy are not identical, and we
may think of the picture either as animal or as a representation. This
is also true of the image within us; and the idea which the mind
contemplates is something, although it is also the image of something

The second chapter of the treatise on memory is devoted chiefly to
recollection and the association of ideas. Aristotle distinguishes
carefully ¬between¬ the mere persistence and reproduction of a
presentation (μνημη) from voluntary recollection (αναμνησις). The latter
is indirect reproduction. It is possible only by the association of
ideas. The former is an attribute of animals, while the latter is
peculiar to man. Recollection occurs according to the sequence of
ideas.[15] What and how necessary the sequence shall be depends upon our
past experience. “If the sequence be necessary”, Aristotle continues,
“then, when this movement occurs, that one will follow. If it is not
necessary, but a matter of habit, the latter movement will generally
follow.” Sir W^m. Hamilton understands the word translated _movement_
(κινησις) to mean merely _change in quality_. The word, then, he thinks
may be fairly translated into modern nomenclature by his famous term
_modification_. One hesitates to criticise such a profound scholar and
such a diligent student of Aristotle as Sir W^m. Hamilton; but in the
light of what has been said it seems much simpler and more in accordance
with the psychology of Aristotle to understand his doctrine of
recollection as follows: The physiological movements originally
connected with a series of perceptions must occur again in the same
order when we recall a true memory-picture.[16] Man is so constituted
that when one movement and the mental image connected with it occur,
another movement with its appropriate mental image is likely to follow.
When we would recall anything, therefore, we must call up idea after
idea until we arrive at one upon which the one we are in search of has
often been sequent in our experience. Or in terms of physiology,
movement after movement must recur until we arrive at a movement upon
which the movement corresponding to the idea desired has often been

This sequence or association of ideas is subject to certain laws. The
remarkable passage in which Aristotle states these laws is translated by
Sir W^m. Hamilton as follows:

“When, therefore, we accomplish an act of Reminiscence we pass through a
certain series of precursive movements until we arrive at a movement, on
which the one we are in quest of is habitually consequent. Hence, too,
it is that we hunt through the mental train, excogitating [what we seek]
from [its concomitant in] _the present_, _or some other time_ and from
its _Similar_ or _Contrary_ or _Coadjacent_. Through this process
Reminiscence is effected. For the movements, [which and by which we
recollect] are, in these cases, ¬and¬ sometimes the _same_,
sometimes at _the same time_, sometimes _parts of the same whole_: so
that [having obtained from one or the other of these a commencement],
the subsequent movement is already more than half accomplished.”[17]

Wallace quotes the same passage in the introduction to his Psychology of
Aristotle,[18] and gives the following somewhat different and probably
more accurate translation:—

“When engaged in recollection we seek to excite some of our previous
movements until one came to that which the movement or impression of
which we are in search was wont to follow. And hence we seek to reach
this preceding impression by starting in our thought from an object
present to us or something else whether it be similar, contrary, or
contiguous to that of which we are in search; recollection taking place
in this manner because the movements are in one case identical, in
another case coincident and in the last case partly overlap.”[19]

Whichever translation we adopt it seems plain enough that Aristotle
maintained that voluntary recollection depended upon the laws of
association by _similarity_, _contrast_ or _contrariety_, and
_contiguity_. Very likely he meant to include simultaneity and sequence;
but any proof of this should rest upon the general import of the passage
rather than upon any doubtful emendation like Hamilton’s.[20]

A more important question is whether Aristotle meant to limit the
applications of these laws to voluntary recollection (αναμνυσις), or
whether he intended to include spontaneous reproduction (μνημη) as well.

The opinion commonly held by students of Aristotle, from Themistius
down, has been that he applied the law of association only to voluntary
recollection. Hamilton, however, argues forcibly that Aristotle taught
the universality of the law of association. It seems natural enough to
suppose that one who saw so clearly that in the voluntary train of
thought the sequence conforms to the law of association, would have seen
that the same laws apply to the spontaneous activity of the mind. But
while Aristotle states the law of association clearly for the former, he
at most merely alludes to the latter, and obscurely enough at that.
Later in the same treatise Aristotle gives an illustration that may
serve to elucidate the principles of association that have just been
stated. In recollection there are certain movements which serve as
standpoints or clues. Milk suggests whiteness, whiteness the clear
atmosphere, @the atmosphere moisture,@ this the rainy season.
So too, Themistius in commenting upon the passage quoted above, uses an
illustration somewhat similar. “I see a painted lyre, and moved by this,
as the prior and leading image, I have the reminiscence of a _real
lyre_; this suggests the _musician_, and the musician, the song I heard
him play.”[21] Again, Aristotle uses an illustration somewhat as
follows: Let A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, represent a series of ideas, one of
which we will need to recall. From D E, as a starting point we may be
moved forward by E or backward by D, by the association of ideas. If,
then, on the suggestion of D E, we do not find what we would recall, we
may find it by running over the series E ... H; if not, we shall at any
rate find the desired idea by running over the series backward from D to
A. Not much stress, however, should be put upon this last illustration;
for the text is so obscure that many different interpretations have been
given by commentators. Perhaps Aristotle meant to illustrate something
more profound than the mere linkings of presentations in a series, and
the process of recollecting the mental train. But the illustration of
such a simple matter as this was not unimportant in the first scientific
study of memory.

The place of memory in the Aristotelian psychology in relation to the
lower psychic activities is plain from what has been said. The relation
of memory, as voluntary recollection, to the higher activity of the Nous
is indicated by Aristotle when he says that recollection is a
syllogistic process. Thus it is that, while many animals have the lower
kind of memory, man alone has the higher form. “The reason is”, says
Aristotle, “that Reminiscence is, as it were, a kind of syllogism, or
mental discourse. For he who is reminiscent, that he has formerly seen
or heard, or otherwise perceived, anything virtually performs an act of
syllogism.”[22] With Aristotle the higher functions of the soul are
based upon the lower. “Without nutrition, there is no sense; without
sense there is no phantasy; without phantasy there is no cogitation or
intelligence.”[23] The place of memory among the soul’s functions is,
with the phantasy or imagination, mediate between sensation and

In connection with Aristotle’s @doctrine@ of recollections, one
passage in his Psychology is interesting, although its importance has,
perhaps, been exaggerated. “Recollection,” he says, “starts from the
soul and terminates in the movements or impressions which are stored up
in the organs of sense.”[24] Siebeck interprets this passage as meaning
that the soul has the power by means of the heart to effect a sort of
efferent movement towards the sense organs and thus to arouse anew the
persisting residua of former motions. Recollection, then, with Aristotle
as in modern psychology, is an excitation of the sense organs,
reproduced in a less degree; and the same organs are excited and the
same movements repeated as in the original sensation.[25] This passage
is certainly a remarkable anticipation of Bain’s famous doctrine that a
reproduced impression “occupies the very same parts and in the same
manner” as the original impression.[26]

In the foregoing sketch of Aristotle’s view of memory the attempt has
been made to give only what can fairly be found in Aristotle’s text.
Much of his tract upon memory is obscure. Commentators have held very
conflicting opinions in regard to the importance of what he wrote upon
association and recollection. Sir W^m. Hamilton calls him “the founder
and finisher of the theory of Association,” looks upon the commentators
as marvellously stupid in their interpretations, and deems it a proof of
Aristotle’s genius that it took the world 2000 years to become
intelligent enough to understand him. Indeed, in reading Hamilton’s
erudite discussion one may be led almost to believing that Aristotle was
the first Scottish philosopher. But while Hamilton’s Scottish
apperception probably found too much in Aristotle’s treatise, and while,
on the other hand, Lewes may be right in saying that “here as in so many
other cases modern knowledge supplies the telescope with its lenses”,
nevertheless Aristotle’s doctrine of association was a valuable
contribution to science. And it is manifestly unfair to charge him with
ignorance of its importance, because he did not spin out as many volumes
upon the subject as the English associationalists have done.[27]


The Stoics took Plato’s figure of the wax almost literally! They held
that the mind is originally a _tabula rasa_. Sensations are the first
writing upon this tablet. The object of sensation makes an impression
upon the perceiving subject, as the seal impresses the wax. Memory
depends upon this impression. This was the view of Zeno. Chrysippus
found difficulties in such a crude materialistic theory. How could the
mind receive and retain at the same time a number of different and
partly incompatible impressions? Accordingly he replaced this view by
the theory that the sense impression consists in @a@
qualitative change (αλλοιωσις) of the passively receiving organ, the
soul.[28] The presentation (φαντασια) is a state of the soul. The
relation of memory to the general theory of knowledge with the Stoics
was briefly as follows:—The lowest act of the soul is mere perception
(αισθησις); the next is presentation (φαντασια), which adds conscious
observation, its functions being to make a first test of the truth of
the material furnished by sense. If perception has offered a true
picture of the external object, this presenting activity of the mind
becomes so intensive that the understanding is brought into action. The
understanding or judgment approves or disapproves the presentations. If
it approves, there arises the empirical fact, which bears upon it the
mark of truth. These facts memory stores up. By combination of the
separate facts empirical concepts are formed which make up the treasure
of memory or experience.[29]

The psychology of Epicurus and the other atomists was a simple kind of
mechanical sensationalism. _Eidola_ or images from external objects
enter the soul through the sense organs. The mind stores up a great
multitude of these eidola. Whenever we call up a picture of memory or of
the imagination, we turn the attention to one of these images. Thus the
mind sees in the same way that the eye does, with this difference, that
it perceives much thinner eidola.[30]

Cicero and Quintilian both dwell upon the importance of memory; and both
seem to adopt the common theory of the time, that impressions are
stamped on the mind as the signets are marked on wax. They are
especially concerned, however, with principles relating to the exercise
of memory; and they give instructions for mnemonic aids in oratory.
Cicero lays special stress upon order as an aid to memory; and as sight
is the most acute of the senses, those things are best remembered which
are visualized by the imagination. In accordance with the ancient
mnemonic systems he would have these imagined forms localized. The
advice of Quintilian in respect to memory is especially sensible.
According to him, nothing can take the place of exercise and labor. Next
in importance is the division and arrangement of one’s subject. He
notices also the importance of good health; and says that for slow minds
an interval of rest is a good thing, though he seems to be uncertain
whether the advantage is due to the rest, or whether it gives
reminiscence time to mature.[31]


The Neo-Platonic psychology of memory is represented by Plotinus.[32] He
discusses the subject at considerable length, and presents a somewhat
original doctrine. Memory does not belong to God nor to the divine
immutable intelligence in man, which knows by direct intellectual
perceptions. It is a function of the soul and first appears when the
world soul is individualized in bodies. Memory, however, has no basis in
the physical organism, nor does the soul impress the sensations upon the
body. The effects of sensations are not like impressions made by a seal,
nor are they reactions (αντερεισεις), or configurations (τυπωσεις), but
in sense-perception as in thought the soul is active. In memory, too,
the soul is active, not passive. The influence of the body proves
nothing against this. The changeable nature of the body may cause us to
forget, but it cannot condition positive recollection. The body is the
river of Lethe, but memory belongs to the soul. The part of the soul to
which memory belongs is the image-forming faculty. This holds sense
impressions as well as thought. Two souls, the higher and the lower, are
concerned in memory. When the soul leaves the body, the recollections of
the lower soul are soon forgotten in proportion as the higher soul rises
toward the intelligible world.[33]

St. Augustine developed the views of the Neo-Platonists in regard to
memory. With him memory is a faculty of animals, men, and angels. God,
whose immutable essence is above the sphere of movement and change, does
not remember. Everything is seen by him in one indivisible and
unchangeable present.

Augustine does not agree with Aristotle that some animals are devoid of
memory. He attributes memory even to fishes, and relates in confirmation
of this opinion an incident that he had observed. There was a large
fountain filled with fishes. People came daily to see them and often fed
them. The fishes remembered what they received; and as soon as any one
came to the fountain they crowded together expecting their accustomed
food. But Augustine does not suppose that animals have that higher
memory which is purely intellectual, although he probably failed to see
how purely mechanical and involuntary their so-called acts of memory
are. Memory with St. Augustine, as in the psychology of Plotinus, is a
function of the soul, not of the body. But @with@ Aristotle
@he@ refers it to the central sense.[34]

What is memory? It is thinking of what one knows. All the various
modifications of the soul cannot all be present to us at once. There is
a difference between knowing a thing and thinking of it. The musician,
says Augustine, knows music, but he does not think of it when he is
talking about Geometry.[35] The ideas relating to music are in the mind
in a latent state. Augustine anticipates Leibnitz in discussing the
unconscious modifications of our ¬own¬ ideas; but he speaks
especially of their gradual decay, while Leibnitz considers the
unconscious growth of them. “Many numbers”,[36] Augustine says, “are
gradually effaced from memory; for they remain not an instant unaltered.
Indeed what is not found in memory after a year is somewhat diminished
even after one day. But this diminution is imperceptible; yet it is not
wrongly inferred; for it does not suddenly all vanish the day before the
year is up. Hence we may conclude that from the moment it was engraved
in memory it began to slip away.”[37] This doctrine of unconscious
mental changes and unconscious mental states is one of the most
remarkable features of Augustine’s psychology. With irresistible logic
he demonstrates the existence of such states in the following passage
from another place:—

“But what when the memory itself loses anything, as falls out when we
forget and seek that we may recollect? Where, in the end, do we search,
but in the memory itself? And there, if one thing be, perchance, offered
instead of another, we reject it, until what we seek meets us; and when
it doth we say ‘This is it’; which we should not unless we recognized
it, nor recognize it, unless we remembered it——For we do not believe it
as something new, but upon recollection, allow what was named to be
right. But were it utterly blotted out of the mind, we should not
remember it, even when reminded. For we have not as yet utterly
forgotten that which we remember ourselves to have forgotten. What,
then, we have utterly forgotten, though lost, we cannot even seek
after.”[38] It would not be difficult to find passages in modern
psychologies that read almost like translations of this chapter of
Augustine’s Confessions.

Two kinds of memory—sense memory and intellectual memory are
distinguished in the Augustinian psychology. The former preserves and
reproduces not only the images of visible objects, but also the
impressions of sounds, odors and other objects which strike our
senses.[39] The images are not like the _eidola_ of Democritus, but are
ideal, formed by the mind from its own essence. Intellectual memory
contains our knowledge of the sciences, of literature, and dialectic,
and of the questions relating to these subjects.[40] This memory, unlike
the memory of sense, contains not the images of things, but the things
themselves. These ideas which the intellectual memory stores up are in a
sense innate. They never came to us through the senses. They could never
have been taught to us, unless we had already had them in our memories.
“When I learned them I gave not credit to another man’s mind, but
recognized them in mine.” Thus the memory contains the idea of truth and
of God.

Augustine points out, too, what has been repeated by Locke and others
until it has become a platitude, that we do not remember objects
themselves, but the ideas which we have gained from them. And with his
usual subtlety he shows that much of what is ordinarily attributed to
perception is really the work of memory.

“We see what importance St. Augustine attaches to memory. It is in his
view the faculty which preserves the ideas relating @not@ only
to the body, but to the soul, not only to eternal truths, but to the
Eternal Being himself ——. This memory, which is peculiar to man, and
which animals do not possess—this memory, which in a mysterious manner
contains in it intelligible realities, is, according to the Bishop of
Hippo, one of the three great faculties of man, and the origin of the
other two. It is from it that intelligence arises, and the will proceeds
from the one to the other and unites them. Thus, if it is allowed to
compare things human with things divine, we have in us an image of the
august Trinity. Memory, in which is the matter of knowledge, and which
is as the place of intelligible things, offers some resemblance to the
Father; the intellect, which is derived ¬from¬ and formed from
it, is not without analogy to the Son; and love or will, which unites
the intelligible (or memory) to the intellect has a certain resemblance
to the Holy Spirit.”[41] The phenomena of memory were also important
with Augustine as weapons against materialism. By memory the soul knows
objects of sense when it no longer perceives them, and, moreover,
combines the heterogeneous in ways inexplicable by means of a
phys¬ch¬ical substance. And again the soul can form abstract
conceptions of space and mathematical truths.

The well-known conditions of a good memory, such as acuteness of
sensation, order, and repetition, Augustine notices only incidentally.
More attention is given to the relation of the will to memory and to the
association of ideas.

Whether we remember or not depends upon the will. By an act of will we
avert the memory from sense-perceptions, as, for example, when we hear a
speaker and do not notice what he says, or read a page and do not know
what we have read, or walk with our attention upon something else. In
all these cases we perceive, but do not remember our perceptions. So,
too, recollection depends upon the will: “As the will applies @sense
to the@ body (or external object), so it applies the memory to the
sense, and the eye of the mind of the thinker to the memory.”[42]

This power of the will over memory is, however, limited by the
association of ideas. In order to recall anything by a voluntary effort
we must remember the general notion of the thing or some associated
idea. “For example, if I wish to remember what I supped on yesterday,
either I have already remembered that I did sup, or if not yet this, at
least, I have remembered something about that time itself, if nothing
else; at all events, I have remembered yesterday and that part of
yesterday in which people usually sup, and what supping is.”[43] In
another place he says that, of a series of ideas the lost part is
recovered “by the part whereof we had hold.”

Many since Augustine have marvelled at the miracle of memory. None have
expressed their admiration more eloquently. “Great is this force of
memory”, he exclaims, “excessive great, O my God; a large and boundless
chamber; who ever sounded the bottom thereof? Yet is this a power of
mine, and belongs unto my nature; nor do I myself comprehend all that I
am. Therefore is the mind too strait to contain itself. And where should
that be which it containeth, not of itself? Is it without and not
within? How then doth it not comprehend itself. A wonderful admiration
surprises me, amazement seizes me upon this. And men go abroad to admire
the heights of mountains, the mighty billows of the sea, the broad tides
of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, and
pass themselves by; nor wonder that when I spake of all these things, I
did not see them with my eyes, yet could not have spoken of them, unless
I then actually saw the mountains, billows, rivers, stars, which I had
seen, and that ocean which I believe to be inwardly in my memory, and
that, with the vast spaces between, as if I saw them abroad. Yet did not
I by seeing draw them into myself, when with mine eyes I beheld them;
nor are they themselves with me, but their images only. And I know by
what sense of the body, each was impressed upon me.”

It is an interesting fact that Augustine noticed the possibility of
illusions of memory. Certain rare phenomena—the so-called recollections
of Pythagoras and others who were said to have remembered objects
perceived in a former state of existence—he explains in a very modern
fashion, except that he attributes @these@ beliefs to the
agency of evil spirits. “For we must not”, he says, “acquiesce in their
story who assert that the Samian Pythagoras recollected some things of
this kind, which he had experienced when he was previously here in
another body; and others @tell@ yet of others, that they
experienced something of the same sort in their minds. But it may be
conjectured that these were untrue recollections, such as we commonly
experience in sleep, when we fancy we remember, as though we had done or
seen it, when we never did or saw at all; and that the minds of these
persons, even though awake, were affected in this way at the suggestion
of malicious and deceitful spirits, whose care it is to confirm, or to
sow some false belief concerning the changes of souls, in order to
deceive men.”[44] If they truly remembered such things, he argues, such
phenomena would not be as rare; but many persons would experience the

Perhaps the most serious criticism of Augustine’s psychology of memory
is that he entirely neglects the physiological side of the subject. He
does not even notice the relations of memory to states of health or
disease, and of youth or age. In one place, however, he states that
memory has its seat in one of the three ventricles of the brain, which
is situated between that which is the seat of sensation and that which
presides @over@ ¬of¬ locomotion, so that our movements
may be coordinated.[45]

The criticism has also been made that Augustine seems to waver in his
conception of memory, that he sometimes represents it as the source of
all our intellectual activity comparing it among the other faculties to
the Father in the Trinity; that again he seems to limit this faculty to
the work of preserving knowledge acquired empirically. Certainly in some
passages he seems to make memory contain a kind of innate ideas that may
be drawn forth by suggestion.[46]

But if Augustine is unsatisfactory in this, it must be remembered that
he is not writing a psychology and that he was, as Ferraz calls him, a
philosopher of transitions. “He combats Plato’s doctrine of
reminiscence, and prepares the way for the innate ideas of Descartes,
without positively enough rejecting the former, and without clearly
enough admitting the latter.”[47]


The pathological side of memory seems to have been little studied by the
ancients. Augustine referred to the possibility of illusions of memory
in the way already mentioned. Senaca tells of a certain Sabinus who had
so bad a memory that he forgot the name of Ulysses, and again of
Achilles, and sometimes of Priam, though he knew them as well as we
remember our schoolmasters.[48] Some remarkable cases of amnesia were
reported to the Elder Pliny. “Nothing whatever in man,” he says, “is of
so frail a nature as the memory; for it is affected by disease, by
injuries, and even by fright; being sometimes partially lost and at
@other@ times entirely so. A man who received a blow from a
stone forgot the names of the letters (of the alphabet) only; while, on
the other hand, another person, who fell from a very high roof could not
so much as recollect his mother or his relations and neighbors. Another
person in consequence of some disease forgot his own servants even; and
Messala Corvinus, the orator, lost all recollection of his own
name.”[49] While these cases are good illustrations of certain diseases
of memory, they are not reported with sufficient accuracy and detail to
render them of much scientific value. Ancient thinkers appear not to
have seen the importance of studying the pathological conditions of


No historical sketch of memory among the ancient Greeks and Romans is
complete without some mention of their mnemonic systems. The art of
mnemonics seems to have been much in vogue among them. There are
frequent allusions to this art in the works of Aristotle, Plato, and
other classic writers. Aristotle is reported by some to have written a
work upon mnemonics. Every scholar of the classics is familiar with the
story that ascribes the invention of the art to Simonides.

The main principles of the ancient mnemonic systems according to Cicero
and Quintilian were as follows. The thing to be remembered was localized
by the imagination in some definite place—say in a room of a real or
imaginary house; and, if necessary, a concrete symbol as vivid as
possible was associated with it. This method was used by the Romans as
an aid in oratory; and it has been said that the phrases, “_in the first
place_,” “_in the second place_,” and the like, originated in this
ancient practice.

The ancient systems of mnemonics are inferior to the best modern
systems, that, @since@ the days of Pick[50] have been based
upon sound psychological principles. But the ancient systems were
probably very helpful @to@ eye-minded people. The men with
remarkable memories, mentioned by Cicero and other ancient writers very
likely owed much to mnemonic aids. It is of special psychological
interest to consider the ancient mnemonic devices in the light of such
studies as those of Galton upon mental imagery, number forms, and the
like.[51] The high estimate that many of the ancients placed upon the
mnemonic art, may, perhaps, fairly be taken as evidence that what Galton
calls the faculty of visualisation was developed among them. Especially
some of the Roman orators seem to have possessed this faculty in a high

                    Biographical Note of the Author.

I was born at Dunbarton, N.H. on the 3d of Dec. 1855, and am the
youngest son of Samuel and Hannah Dane Burnham. I graduated at the High
School at Manchester, N.H. in 1875. The next three years I spent in
teaching and in study. In 1878 I entered Harvard College, and graduated
in the Class of ’82. The following year was spent in teaching in the
Preparatory Department of Wittenberg College. The next two years were
spent at the State Normal School at Potsdam, N.Y., where my work was the
teaching of Latin and Rhetoric. In 1885 I entered the Johns Hopkins
University. In this university I have held the position of Fellow in
Philosophy and Fellow by Courtesy. My work has been chiefly under the
direction of Prof. G. Stanley Hall and Dr. Richard T. Ely.

                         William Henry Burnham.



Footnote 1:

  For reference see Carus: Geschichte der Psychologie, pp. 150 & 169.

Footnote 2:

  Theophrastus, 45.

Footnote 3:

  Theophrastus, 4. Cf. Siebeck: Geschichte der Psychologie. Erste
  Abtheilung, p. 150.

Footnote 4:

  Phaedrus, 73.

Footnote 5:

  Philebus, 34.

Footnote 6:

  Jowett’s Translation.

Footnote 7:

  For references see Zeller’s Plato and the Older Academy, pp. 126 and
  407. Cf. also Siebeck: Geschichte der Psychologie.

Footnote 8:

  For the many passages in which the words μνημη, μνημονευω, μνημονικος,
  μημων«μνημων» occur in Plato, ¬conf¬ see _Art. Lexicon
  Platonicum_, II. pp. 356–357. For αναμιμνησκω and αναμνησις cf. the
  same, Vol. I. pp. 151–152.

Footnote 9:

  De Memoria et Reminiscentia. For a list of commentaries, see
  Hamilton’s edition of Reid’s Works, p. 891.

Footnote 10:

  Touch and Taste according to A. reside in the heart. Sight, Sound, and
  Smell in the brain, but they are indirectly connected with the heart.

Footnote 11:

  De Somno. l. 454.

  ἡ δε λεγομενη αισθησις ὡς ενεργεια κινησις τις δια του γωματος της
  ψυχης εστιν.

Footnote 12:

  See Wallace; Aristotle’s Psychology, Introduction, pp. 93 & 94.

Footnote 13:

  In other words, abstract ideas and the like are reproducible only so
  far as they imply images.

Footnote 14:

  Quoted from G. H. Lewis’s work on Aristotle, p. 257.

Footnote 15:

  Συμβαινουσι δ’ ἁι αναμνησεις, επειδη πεφυκεν ἡ κινησις ἡδε νενεσθαι
  μετα τηνδε.

  This passage is obscure, but it is generally understood it refers to
  the sequence of notions or the corresponding ideas, and this
  interpretation agrees with the context. See Hamilton’s Edition of
  Reid, pp. 892–893, and Themistius’ paraphrase of De Memoria, quoted by
  Hamilton, p. 893–894; also Siebeck, Geschichte der Psychologie, Zweite
  Abtheilung, p. 77; Grote’s Aristotle, p. 215; Grant’s Aristotle, p.
  170; Wallace’s Aristotle’s Psychology, Introduction, p. 95.

Footnote 16:

  Cf. Siebeck, Geschichte der Psychologie, Zweite Abtheilung, p. 77.

Footnote 17:

  The Greek is as follows:

  διο και το εφεξης θηρευομεν νοησαντες απο του νυν η αλλου τινος. και
  αφ ὁμοιου, η αναντιου, η του συνεγγυς δια τουτο γινεται ἡ αναμνησις.
  ἁι γαρ κινησεις τουτων των μεν ἁι αυται, των δ’ ἁμα, των δι μερος
  εχουσιν ὡστε το λυσπον μικρον δ’ εκινηθη μετ’ εκεινο.

Footnote 18:

  p. 95.

Footnote 19:

  @See also@ Grote, Grant, Siebeck, and Zeller: ¬see¬
  opp. cit.

Footnote 20:

  Hamilton’s emendation is as follows:

  After η αλλου τινος in the passage cited he would supply χρονου or

Footnote 21:

  Quoted by Hamilton in his edition of Reid’s Works, p. 901.

Footnote 22:

  Hamilton’s translation. Edition of Reid’s Works, Vol. II. p. 909.

Footnote 23:

  Grote, op. cit. p.

Footnote 24:

  Wallace: Aristotle’s Psychology, p. 41.

Footnote 25:

  Siebeck: op. cit., pp. 78–79.

Footnote 26:

  Bain: Senses and Intellect, p. 338. 3d American ed.

Footnote 27:

  For passages where the words μνημη, αναμνησις, etc., occur in
  Aristotle see the Index in the Berlin edition of Aristotle’s works,
  Vol. V. In addition to the works cited see also Waddington-Kastus; De
  la psychologie d’Aristote, Chap. XIII.

Footnote 28:

  For reference see Siebeck’s Geschichte der Psychologie, p. 209. See
  also Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, Vol. I. p. 193.

Footnote 29:

  Cf. Stein; Die Erkenntnisstheorie der Stoa: Zeller; Stoics,
  Epicureans, and Sceptics: and Ueberweg; Hist. of Philos. loc. cit.

Footnote 30:

  Lucretius, IV. 75 seqq.

Footnote 31:

  Cicero, De Oratore, II. 86 seq.; Quintilian, Instit. orat. XI. 2 seq.

Footnote 32:

  Cf. Enn. IV. L. III. C. XXV. XXX and L. VI.

Footnote 33:

  Cf. Siebeck: Geschichte der Psychologie, II. p. 314 seq.

Footnote 34:

  The central sense or sensorium, however, according to Augustine is
  located in the brain, not in the heart as in Aristotle’s psychology.

Footnote 35:

  De Trin. L. XIV. C. VII. See also Ferraz,—Psych. de St. Augustin,
  2^{nd} ed.

Footnote 36:

  Augustine does not mean to limit what follows to mathematical truths,
  but according to @his@ psychology the same would be true of
  anything that we are liable to forget.

Footnote 37:

  De Munia, L. VI. C. IV.

Footnote 38:

  Conf. L. X. C. XIX. Pusey’s translation.

Footnote 39:

  Conf. L. X. C. VIII.

Footnote 40:

  Conf. L. X. C. IX. sqq.

Footnote 41:

  Ferraz.—Psych. de St. Augustin, p. 178. Cf. also De Trin. L. XI. C.
  XXI. XXII. XXIII. and L. XI. C. VII. and VIII.

Footnote 42:

  De Trin. L. XI. C. VIII. Pusey’s translation.

Footnote 43:

  De Trin. L. XI. C. VII. Pusey’s translation.

Footnote 44:

  De Trin., L. XII. 15.

Footnote 45:

  De Gen. ad Litt., L. VII. C. XVIII.

Footnote 46:

  Conf., L. X. C. X. and XI.

Footnote 47:

  Ferraz, op. cit., p. 192.

Footnote 48:

  Epistolae, 27.

Footnote 49:

  Nat. Hist., L. VII. C. 24.

Footnote 50:

  Cf. his work “On Memory and the Rational Means of Improving it.”
  London, 1862.

Footnote 51:

  Galton, Enquiry into Human Faculty, p. 83 seq.


                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES

 1. P. 5, changed “αναμησις” to “αναμνησις”.
 2. P. 33, changed “will to recall” to “will need to recall”.
 3. P. 68, added a footnote anchor.
 4. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.
 5. Retained anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as
 6. Footnotes have been re-indexed using numbers and collected together
      at the end of the last chapter.
 7. Enclosed underlined font in _underscores_.
 8. Enclosed inserted text in @at signs@.
 9. Enclosed deleted text in ¬not signs¬.
10. Superscripts are denoted by a caret before a single superscript
      character or a series of superscripted characters enclosed in
      curly braces, e.g. M^r. or M^{ister}.

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