Dante and Memory.

I’m an obsessive person.  I’m not a stalker-type obsessive;  but I do go through phases of being hung up on specific ideas and thoughts. A couple of years ago, my obsessive thoughts centred on the notion of memories: specifically, what are they?? and where and how do we store them? I’m not a stupid person; I understand that memories are recollections of past events and that they’re stored in our brains, but I was worried that brains might be like hard-drives, with a limited amount of data storage, and I started to worry that if I remembered really banal things from my childhood then there might not be enough space in my brain to remember important things like my PIN number or my dog’s name.

In order to quell these anxieties, I started reading about memory (since reading is  the best way to process any difficult thoughts). Reading was helpful, in that I got to grips with basic memory techniques and I started remembering even more banal facts, but it was also quite a hindrance. A hindrance because, all the while I had been voraciously consuming book after book about memory processes and brain synapses, I had been neglecting my MA. I was supposed to be in the Middle Ages, but instead I was forever on Amazon, spending money I didn’t have on books I *desperately* needed. Luckily, my supervisors were understanding people and suggested that I channel this crazy obsessive energy into my essays by looking at medieval memory work. I was pretty stunned by this idea, since I evidently thought memories were a 21st-century invention. But when I started looking into it in more detail, I found that memory was a pretty huge thing in the Middle Ages, probably because people had to actually REMEMBER things, instead of their iPhones giving them seventeen reminders a day.

Anyway, so I wrote a good essay and got a good mark. The end. That was the gist of my story.

But what this post is *really* about is that this Friday, Dr. Anna Pegoretti is hosting her final seminar in her series ‘Mendicant Orders and Literature in Italy’. Among the guest speakers this week is Lina Bolzoni (Pisa), who is giving a paper entitled ‘The “Divine Comedy” and the Art of Memory’. If you’ve never read anything about memory before, or even if you have, I implore you to attend this seminar. It is one of the most fascinating subjects ever. I know that probably doesn’t carry much weight coming from a girl who has just openly declared on the Internet that she put her life on hold for a couple of weeks to read everything and anything ever written about memory, just so she wouldn’t forget her dog’s name (Alfie, if you’re interested), but just give it a try, yeah?


26th October 2012, 5pm, Parkinson Building Council Chamber:

– Nicolò Maldina (University of Leeds): ‘Preaching and Dante’
– Lina Bolzoni (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa): ‘The “Divine Comedy” and the Art of Memory’.



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2 responses to “Dante and Memory.

  1. Mike Unher

    Hello from Japan. I would very much like to get hold of an English-language text of the seminar given by Lina Bolzoni, on Dante and the Art of Memory. Do you have access to such a thing, if such a thing exists? I would be very grateful for any illumination you can offer. By the way, I enjoyed reading your essay on this page, and would recommend to you Francis Yates’ The Art of Memory. Thank you! Mike Unher

    • Dear Mike,

      Thanks for your comments. We’re glad you enjoyed the post!

      Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be any English-language translations of Prof. Bolzoni’s conference papers online. I’ve had a little look through our library catalogue here at Leeds, but that looks pretty fruitless too. Sorry not to have been of more use to you, but do visit again!

      Best wishes,

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