Mnemosyne (// or //; Greek: Μνημοσύνη, pronounced [mnɛːmosýːnɛː]), source of the word mnemonic, was the personification of memory in Greek mythology. A Titanide, or Titaness, she was the daughter of the Titans Uranus and Gaia. Mnemosyne was the mother of the nine Muses, fathered by her nephew, Zeus:
- Calliope (epic poetry)
- Clio (history)
- Euterpe (music)
- Erato (lyric poetry)
- Melpomene (tragedy)
- Polyhymnia (hymns)
- Terpsichore (dance)
- Thalia (comedy)
- Urania (astronomy)
Zeus and Mnemosyne slept together for nine consecutive nights, thus birthing the nine Muses. Mnemosyne also presided over a pool in Hades, counterpart to the river Lethe, according to a series of 4th century BC Greek funerary inscriptions in dactylic hexameter. Dead souls drank from Lethe so they would not remember their past lives when reincarnated. In Orphism,the initiated were taught to instead drink from the Mnemosyne, the river of memory, which would stop the transmigration of the soul. For more about the incriptions' connection with Orphic poetry, see Zuntz, 1971.
Appearance in Oral Literature
Although she was categorized as one of the Titans in the Theogony, Mnemosyne didn’t quite fit that distinction. Titans were hardly worshiped in Ancient Greece, and were thought of as so archaic as to belong to the ancient past. They resembled historical figures more than anything else. Mnemosyne, on the other hand, traditionally appeared in the first few lines of many oral epic poems—she appears in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, among others—as the speaker called upon her aid in accurately remembering and performing the poem he was about to recite. Mnemosyne is thought to have been given the distinction of “Titan” because memory was so important and basic to the oral culture of the Greeks that they deemed her one of the essential building blocks of civilization in their creation myth.
Later, once written literature overtook the oral recitation of epics, Plato made reference in his Euthydemus to the older tradition of invoking Mnemosyne. The character Socrates prepares to recount a story and says “ὥστ᾽ ἔγωγε, καθάπερ οἱ (275d) ποιηταί, δέομαι ἀρχόμενος τῆς διηγήσεως Μούσας τε καὶ Μνημοσύνην ἐπικαλεῖσθαι.” which translates to “Consequently, like the poets, I must needs begin my narrative with an invocation of the Muses and Memory” (emphasis added). Aristophanes also harked back to the tradition in his play Lysistrata when a drunken Spartan ambassador invokes her name while prancing around pretending to be a bard from times of yore.
Cult of Asclepius
Mnemosyne was one of the deities worshiped in the cult of Asclepius that formed in Ancient Greece around the 5th century BC. Asclepius, a Greek hero and god of medicine, was said to have been able to cure maladies, and the cult incorporated a multitude of other Greek heroes and gods in its process of healing. The exact order of the offerings and prayers varied by location, and the supplicant often made an offering to Mnemosyne. After making an offering to Asclepius himself, in some locations, one last prayer was said to Mnemosyne as the supplicant moved to the holiest portion of the asclepeion to incubate. The hope was that a prayer to Mnemosyne would help the supplicant remember any visions had while sleeping there.
|Mnemosyne's family tree |
- Collection of the Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, the painting's page at the Rossetti Archive.
- Memory and the name Memnon, as in "Memnon of Rhodes" are etymologically related. Mnemosyne is sometimes confused with Mneme or compared with Memoria.
- Richard Janko, "Forgetfulness in the Golden Tablets of Memory", Classical Quarterly 34 (1984) 89–100; see article "Totenpass" for the reconstructed devotional which instructs the initiated soul through the landscape of Hades, including the pool of Memory.
- Rose, H.J. (1991). A Handbook of Greek Mythology : including its extension to Rome (6th ed.). London: Taylor and Francis, Inc. ISBN 9780415046015.
- Notopoulos, James A. (1938). "Mnemosyne in Oral Literature". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. 69: 466. doi:10.2307/283194.
- Plato; Burnet, James (1903). Platonis Opera. Oxford University Press.
- "Aristophanes, Lysistrata,line 1247". www.perseus.tufts.edu.
- Ahearne-Kroll, Stephen P. (April 2014). "Mnemosyne at the Asklepieia". Classical Philology. 109 (2): 99–118. doi:10.1086/675272.
- von Ehrenheim, Hedvig (2011). Greek incubation rituals in Classical and Hellenistic times. Stockholm: Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University. ISBN 978-91-7447-335-3.
- Hesiod, Theogony 132–138, 337–411, 453–520, 901–906, 915–920; Caldwell, pp. 8–11, tables 11–14.
- Although usually the daughter of Hyperion and Theia, as in Hesiod, Theogony 371–374, in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (4), 99–100, Selene is instead made the daughter of Pallas the son of Megamedes.
- According to Hesiod, Theogony 507–511, Clymene, one of the Oceanids, the daughters of Oceanus and Tethys, at Hesiod, Theogony 351, was the mother by Iapetus of Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus, while according to Apollodorus, 1.2.3, another Oceanid, Asia was their mother by Iapetus.
- According to Plato, Critias, 113d–114a, Atlas was the son of Poseidon and the mortal Cleito.
- In Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 18, 211, 873 (Sommerstein, pp. 444–445 n. 2, 446–447 n. 24, 538–539 n. 113) Prometheus is made to be the son of Themis.
- Aeschylus, Persians. Seven against Thebes. Suppliants. Prometheus Bound. Edited and translated by Alan H. Sommerstein. Loeb Classical Library No. 145. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-674-99627-4. Online version at Harvard University Press.
- Apollodorus, Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
- Caldwell, Richard, Hesiod's Theogony, Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Company (June 1, 1987). ISBN 978-0-941051-00-2.
- Hesiod, Theogony, in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
- Hymn to Hermes (4), in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914. Online version at the Perseus Digital Library.
- Zuntz, Günther (1971). Persephone: Three Essays on Religion and Thought in Magna Graecia. Cambridge: Clarendon Press. ISBN 9780198142867. OCLC 303807.
- Media related to Mnemosyne at Wikimedia Commons