Memnosyne

Memory is the mother of the Muses. The ancient world bequeathed to the Middle Ages the legacy of mnemotechnic. These methods seem arid and laborious to us; it must have been the printing press that did for them. When you learn something by heart, you make it your own. But there are vestiges: times tables, amo amas amat. Music would be quite inconceivable without impregnating the fingers with memory. The Chinese must still learn characters by their thousands. On that base stands literature and civilisation.

The Person from Porlock interrupted — was it Coleridge? I can’t remember — writing about Kubla Khan, and by the time his tedious business was done, inspiration was banished. I think there’s a poem by Browning about it. Porlock is the evil twin of serendipity. The muse will not come out when bidden, but can be tamed with regularity, like a cat with saucers of milk. You must give her good store.

The Person from Porlock yesterday was a meteorogical interruption to regularity. Because of the rain yesterday afternoon, I did not go to the library and my books; therefore, I put off posting here till after lunch. And it was gone. It would have been good, I promise.

There is a silver lining, perhaps. If I can work those rough thoughts up into something, it may be more substantial. They are intriguing, like the fragments of Stesichorus. For example: “medicine — doesn’t work”. Indeed not, but I don’t think that was what I meant.

Showing my working: the spur of this post was in the notes on this bit of Theocritus:

... αἴ κά μοι τὺ φίλος τὸν ἐφίμερον ὕμνον ἀείσῃς.
κοὔτί τυ κερτομέω. πόταγ᾽ ὦγαθέ: τὰν γὰρ ἀοιδὰν
οὔτί πη εἰς ᾿Αίδαν γε τὸν ἐκλελάθοντα φυλαξεῖς.

The shepherd will give Thyrsis the fine cup he has just described, if (ai ka) he sings his fine song about Daphnis. Don’t mess me about, come on; you can’t take the song with you to Hades, who drives out memory. The loss of memory would be a particularly apt, or cruel, punishment for a singer or poet.

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