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Art of Memory
Frances A. Yates
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Art of Memory

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  947 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
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 Renaissanc ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 1st 1974 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1966)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Aug 24, 2015 g rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is a fascinating history of the "art of memory"--an imaginary, spatio-visual technique for storing vast amounts of information before the printed page. Imagine a building with which you are intimately familiar, with plenty of space and a logical sequence to the rooms. Now put vivid, lurid statues (preferably "corporeal similitudes" but objects also work) representing the concepts (or specifics) you want to remember in the rooms at appropriate intervals. When you want to remember something, ...more
Jan 13, 2013 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*Note: After re-reading this review, I am thoroughly unsatisfied with it. Try as I may, I cannot convey just how amazing this book is. Before reading it, I had no idea the depth and breadth of what I didn't know. It has changed the way I read classical and medieval history.

This book opened up to me an understanding of an entire discipline dedicated to memory, which I had never discovered previously. I had to re-read the first three chapters after going over them once because it took awhile to ad
Jan 15, 2009 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was surprised at the readability of this. But, truthfully, I read it a few months ago and forgot most of what I think about it.
A. J. McMahon
Aug 23, 2015 A. J. McMahon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favourite books of all time, which I have read three times by now. It tells the story of the now forgotten art of memory which was practised in ancient times from its beginnings in Ancient Greece up until round about the Enlightenment, when it fell into disuse amongst the educated elite, along with so much else of the wit and wisdom of times past. It is a great pity that we are not all taught this art of memory at school. This art of memory still forms the foundation of modern ...more
Aug 30, 2009 Carrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really cool subject matter, I would never have thought about this subject matter as a subject matter, and even cooler is at the center of the subject matter is a mystery, and so you aren't even sure what you are reading about exactly. The beginning of a study, so much untapped into, although also, rather anglo-centric. Maybe some new academic will expand (or maybe has?)this study to include african or asian systems of memory...
Tony Gualtieri
Oct 05, 2014 Tony Gualtieri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are enough reviews here describing the contents and quality of this book. For me, the best part was the palpable sense of discovery the author conveyed as she began to see how Simonides's artificial memory permeated Renaissance culture and became a hidden strand connecting Thomas Aquinas's Method to Raymond Llull's Art to Giordano Bruno's enigmatic Shadows and Seals and on to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz's invention of infinitesimal calculus.
Jacob Aitken
Dame France Yates' treatise starts off innocently enough: “Orderly arrangement is essential for good memory” (Yates 17). So the ancients thought. The ars memoria by itself is neutral. Yates advances the thesis that Renaissance thinkers used it as a vehicle for the Hermetic tradition. While the medieval tradition did little to develop the art of memory, it did set the stage for Renaissance Neoplatonism, which transformed the art of memory into a hermetic and occultic doctrine (134).

The memory sys
Mar 24, 2008 Orion rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pretty awesome book. It's not a how-to book, but a history of people who were quite memorious and how the techniques of memory changed over time. Before the printed word, people were valued for how much they could remember. So since the Greeks, they devised ever more clever ways to remember important things. I've always been fascinated by "Renaisance Men", polymaths, and encyclopedists, but I never understood how someone could hold such vast amounts of information in their heads. Now I know. If ...more
Jul 13, 2016 Avery rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good introduction to the subject and how widespread the art of memory was up until Leibniz. I felt it lacked a certain context linking the pre-Enlightenment world to our world. For that missing context, try Paolo Rossi's Logic and the Art of Memory: The Quest for a Universal Language.

Feels kind of dumb to award it 4 stars, since the writing is far superior to most 21st century academic publications, but star ratings are always going to be a little arbitrary.
Feb 13, 2010 DoctorM rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book a while ago--- through the bibliography in Jonathan Spence's "The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci", a book I loved (and used to assign to intro World History classes). Dame Frances Yates is a fine writer about the more esoteric side of late-Renaissance and Early Modern Europe (see her "The Rosicrucian Enlightenment"), and "The Art of Memory" is an intriguing account of both the mnemonic arts in 16th-c. Europe and of the way the era imagined ways to describe the world. A fascinati ...more
Oct 12, 2016 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I discovered this book when I was at university years ago and it captured my imagination completely. I loved the descriptions of the Memory Theatres in particular and I found it really well written.
Jan 01, 2017 Vadim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Книга посвящена историю мнемотехники, четвертого раздела классической риторики, от древнейших времен до Лейбница. Книга совсем немного дает тому, кто желает научиться искусству запоминания, однако дает панораму исторических взглядов на ценность памяти (а она может быть и практическим помощником оратора и одной из трех составляющих добродетели благоразумия) и неожиданным образом связывает древних теоретиков риторики вроде Цицерона, магов-герметиков, Джордано Бруно и Шекспира.
William Schram
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
Peter Mcloughlin
a book on the lost art of memory. Before computers and storing everything on the cloud. At a time where a scrap of papyrus or sheepskin (the only things to write upon before printing and paper) cost around the equivalent of 20 dollars and a book cost about as much as a new car today memory was the main medium of everyday knowledge. The art of memory goes back to Simonides although it has also been attributed to other Presocratic philosophers. Quintilian and Cicero are main sources of knowledge ...more
Ricordare per immagini passeggiando nei luoghi ...
L'argomento trattato dal libro e' abbastanza particolare in quanto riferisce dei metodi utilizzati nel passato per poter memorizzare grandi quantita' di informazioni in modo da permettere ai grandi oratori di stupire gli ascoltatori con discorsi che potevano durare ore e che erano in grado di citare nomi, nozioni e avvenimenti senza apparente fatica. Il metodo utilizzato permetteva di percorrere le informazioni esposte in "avanti e indietro" senz
Sep 06, 2008 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm not sure why I ended up trying to read this... I think possibly a comment about it in The New Media Reader piqued my interest. It's a scholarly investigation of the "art of memory," a technique dating from ancient times in which one memorizes a speech or a series of facts by "placing" the information on various locations in the memory. For example, you would walk through a building and stop at a pillar here, a shield resting there, and fix the locations in your memory. Then, you associate w ...more
Jul 09, 2016 Lysergius rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Frances A. Yates, in this study of how people learned to retain vast stores of knowledge before the invention of the printed page, traces the art of memory from its treatment by Greek orators, through its Gothic transformations in the Middle Ages, to the occult forms it took in the Renaissance, and finally to its use in the seventeenth century.

The ancient Greeks, to whom a trained memory was of vital importance, created an elaborate memory system, based on a technique of impressing "locations"
Dec 08, 2015 Leif rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-best
A classic of its field. Sponsored by the Warburg Institute, Yates takes a wide-ranging exploration into grounds bewildering to me, and I admit to skipping a chapter on Lullism and another on Bruno, having lost the thread of sense in Yates' intricate scholarship to the wilds of a Starbucks cacophony. Still, the section running through Simonides andCicero up to Thomas Aquinas left me well-served: Yates is careful, thorough, and not without a sense of humour when she needs one (such as the changing ...more
Mar 21, 2010 Larry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fascinating work. Groundbreaking history told with a lively voice. Yates pioneered work on the history of mnemonic techniques which were far more influential than was commonly supposed. Essentially a whole area of intellectual history had been ignored for the last three hundred years because its occult connections made it "disreputable" (it's interesting the blinders academics can wear, and always worth remembering).

This book has influenced several important writers of fiction in the deca
Apr 13, 2012 Davinici rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Small disclaimer, I'm not a history buff and had hoped to pick up tidbits of wisdom about memory management from these pages.

Unfortunately the detail and scrutiny with which the author focuses on the relationships, public opinion and culture of memory made this a very boring read for me. The writing style in general read more like a dissertation than a book.

It is a very complete work, and I think a great piece of historical literature, but I didn't finish it. For my expectations it really fell b
May 12, 2013 Bethany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
3.5 stars. The first half of the book is an absolutely fascinating history of mnemonic art from ancient Greece through the Middle Ages. Once it turned into a study of Giordano Bruno's hermetic writings, I found myself a bit lost (having never heard of him until this book). I'd recommend some background on Renaissance occult stuff before tackling these chapters (the author says as much and refers us to her book on Bruno). The last part discusses memory arts in the early modern period, and gets in ...more
Jul 11, 2016 Tim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The invention of the memory palace or method of loci in antiquity is the reigning mnemonic device for so-called artificial memory. Medieval scholars elaborated upon it in the service of retaining theological precepts and scripture and later renaissance writers developed elaborate systems wrapped in the occultism of the time. As a cultural history of memory, Yates leaves no stone unturned and if you are really into this sort of thing, you will enjoy the book. Personally, I tired of the passionate ...more
Nov 20, 2012 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the how first the ancients and then the men of the early modern era up to the Renaissance developed the "house of memory" - the devlopment of memory using place and image. Yates concentrates a fair bit on the occultic methods of Giordino Bruno. There are some interesting sections on the Puritans and Ramist logic, as well as Williams Perkins, and the wrestling match between the occultists and the Ramists/Puritans.
Jun 28, 2012 Ruck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yates has become one of my favorite academic writers. Her topics (and teachings) skirt the fringe, and this book is no different. People familiar with her work on Giordano Bruno will recognize him in this book as well, as well as the (perhaps over)important role he played in developing The Art of Memory. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Renaissance history.
Aug 03, 2009 Carolyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love books about things I not only know nothing about, but things I had not only never heard of but impinge on things I do know about. This book traces the history of the idea of the 'memory palace' from classical times to the 17th century, concluding with the hypothesis that the Globe Theatre was in fact designed using the traditional 'memory palace' as a template.
Jun 02, 2008 Rob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This amazing history of the Art of Memory, dating back into the Roman writings of an unknown writer most often associated with Cicero, was absolutely fascinating, and started me down the long and winding road of my love of Giordano Bruno (that John Crowley helped me with). This book has also led me to the wonderful works of Mary Carruthers on medieval memory.
Feb 15, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good history of the art of memory, especially on its more occult renaissance form. Of course, I wasn't aware that that was going to be the main focus of the book when I started reading it, so I wasn't thrilled, but it was still interesting in and of itself. I'd say it was also very helpful for simply learning non-occult mnemonics anyway.
Apr 08, 2011 Ke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found it really interesting. At times, it felt like it got on a tangent, but I learned a lot about how religion and knowledge are linked.

I wonder if many female characters are represented because they are supposed to be virtuous.

Maybe the book is also telling about the way that the brain is shaped. Or how art and science are related.
Nov 04, 2012 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have found this book a valuable window into how memory was cultivated in the pre-modern period, and this window as served me well when reading primary sources or looking at artwork from that period.
Steve Carpenter
Jun 30, 2007 Steve Carpenter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those with CRS
Shelves: heavierstuff
An excellent book on the science and technique behind the mind and memory. Heavy reading, but well worth it for anyone looking to improve their memory. This is not a "how to" book, but an excellent scholarly work about the history of memory.
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Dame Frances Amelia Yates DBE FBA was an English historian who focused on the study of the Renaissance. In an academic capacity, she taught at the Warburg Institute of the University of London for many years, and also wrote a number of seminal books on the subject of esoteric history.

Yates was born to a middle-class family in Portsmouth, and was largely self-educated, before attaining a BA and MA
More about Frances A. Yates...

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