Is Ars Memoria included in CLAA?

Is Ars Memoria included in CLAA?

My recent foray into a classical liberal arts education has had me stumble upon an ancient mnemonic device known today as a memory palace. Seemingly due to its relation to Hermeticism in the Medieval period, this mnemonic was rejected by puritans and empiricists, like Frances Bacon, and, I suspect based on some of my reading, may be why other CCE espouse chants, songs, and rote as an integral part memorizing during their version of Grammar, but make no mention of this mnemonic. But, being a bit of a purist for a classical Catholic education, I hope Mr. Michael might chime in with his opinion on the subject--hopefully with links to resources about where and how this art of memory comes into play or should be rejected in a truly classical liberal arts education.


What follows is a brief summary of what I have seen and read about the topic. I am not an expert but a curious student hoping to see whether and how to rightly fit this component into a classical education for my kids.


A memory palace is a way of imagining representations of things-you-want-to-remember as being placed within locations with which you are already familiar. For example, while listening to an audiobook on the technique, I just memorized a list of 10 seas in a particular order by placing items around my apartment complex in my imagination and, in my mind, walking through the campus. I placed a pack of cards messily spread on the stairs outside my apartment representing the “Pac”-ific ocean, a dirty globe by the trash bin representing an Atlas for the Atlantic, an Arabian assassin in full dress swimming in our community pool for the Arabian Sea, etc. It was a fun introductory exercise that many claim can be used to remember entire poems, speeches, and even books verbatim.


Though there seem to be some medieval writers who attribute this mnemonic device to a version of Hermes in ancient Egypt, the pre-Socratic Simonides of Ceos’ seems to be most plausible source of this method of loci (look up the story, it’s interesting). His method became a staple of Greek learning. In chapter 2 of Frances Yates’s, Art of Memory, she points out several Greek sources alluding to the technique and its origin (I plan to read criticisms of Yate’s work soon).


I have also seen that memoria is the 4th Cannon of Cicero's De Inventione, and Quintilian included practical descriptions of the practice in Institutio Oratoria—each working from the unknown authorship of Rhetorica Ad Herenium, our oldest surviving long-form introduction to this practice.


This art of memory had moved from rhetoric to moral theology, from St. Ambrose, to St. Augustine, and through St. Aquinas in Summa Theologica II-II, q. 49, a. 1, ad 2: who, while incorrectly attributing Ad Herenium to Cicero, summarizes again the method of loci. 


This method is picked up again by a 16th century occultist, Giordano Bruno, and is rejected by reformers, puritans, and modern sciences.

  1. Being new here, so far as I have found in my short time browsing the CLAA, the only course on Rhetoric offered covers Aristotle's Rhetoric, books I-III. Are Cicero or Quintilian's works on Rhetoric or Rhetorica Ad Herenium found elsewhere in the CLAA that I’ve simply missed?
  2. Noting its rejection by the puritans, reformers, and empiricists, was there also a rejection by the Catholic Church at any time after Summa Theologica?
  3. If it was not rejected, does this mnemonic fit as part of some pre-Grammar petty course?
  4. Is this currently, or could it soon be included in CLAA?