Remembering the past

Nita Krevans, Ruth Scodel

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Throughout Greek and Roman antiquity, literary texts (especially but not exclusively poetry) were profoundly associated with memory. Indeed, the Muses, who inspire poetry, are the daughters of the goddess Memory. This chapter explores the ancient poet’s most fundamental task: to preserve memory and make it immortal, immune to the destructive forces of time and chance. Poets celebrate their ability to preserve memory, both of those they name in their poems and their own. Because literature served this purpose, it was always deeply influenced by the developing technologies and institutions of memory (inscriptions, books, libraries). In early Greek poetry, the transmitter of memory is the voice but later authors frequently refer to the material embodiments of their words, in books or on inscribed stones. During the Hellenistic period (323-31 bce), many creators of new literature were also scholars of older texts, now collected in libraries. Literature itself became an object of memory, both a source of inspiration and an obstacle for new composition. Literature was also associated with techniques for memorization, and ancient authors often reflect on both the practical and philosophical aspects of memory as a human achievement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEuropean Literary History
Subtitle of host publicationAn Introduction
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781317501565
ISBN (Print)9781138886728
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 selection and editorial matter, Maarten De Pourcq and Sophie Levie; individual chapters, the contributors.


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