100 Days of Homer – An Experiment in Memorizing Literature

The book I’m reading at the moment is a translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. I thought that I would try using memory techniques to store the main elements, details, and characters of the story.

I’m adding this project to Mnemotechnics.org as a memory challenge in case anyone would like to join me. I’m going to go through the books over about 100 days, which allows about two days to read each of the 48 short books within the Iliad and Odyssey.

Which Translation?

Homer

Homer

The translation that I’m reading is by George Chapman. I discovered it through the John Keats’ poem, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.

Chapman’s translation was begun in the 16th Century, around the same period as Shakespeare and the King James Bible, so it is in an early style of Modern English. Chapman may have even been the “rival poet” that Shakespeare wrote about in some of his sonnets.

The Greek poems were originally in dactylic hexameter. Chapman translated the Iliad into iambic heptameter, and the Odyssey into iambic pentameter. The Chapman translation also provides an opportunity to memorize snippets of great poetry.

If anyone would like to join this memory challenge, feel free to use any translation of Homer in any language. The main point is to memorize the structure of the stories and the characters, and see what memory techniques can offer.

There is a Wikipedia page that compares English translations of Homer.

Ulysses and the Sirens

Ulysses and the Sirens

Time Frame

The Iliad and the Odyssey are each divided into 24 books. If one book is read every two days, it would take about 100 days. The books are about 15 pages each, so it isn’t much reading. If anyone wants to read it faster than that, go for it.

You could memorize just the simple framework of the stories in 48 loci–one per book–or make a separate journey for each of the 48 books.

The journeys might take a little bit of time to create, but we could combine our notes in the memory techniques wiki here:
Memorizing Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey

The Fury or Achilles

The Fury of Achilles

Memorization Method Ideas

The memorization method could be very simple:

  1. Optionally use mind maps for notes.
  2. Create one journey for each book. 48 short journeys.
  3. Plot the main elements of each book along the journey.

If you have other ideas, post a comment below.

I’ve created a wiki page for the project and written out the main points of the first book. Click here to join the memory challenge and feel free to edit the wiki page.

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    7 comments

    • An epic challenge for an epic book(s). I’m a big fan of the project, especially the part where you only memorize a select part of the data. Many times I have seen people attempt a verbatim memorization, and quit on the second page. Choke.

      This sounds excellent, I’ll see if I can get a certain friend to join me, we always enjoy these marathon memory-tasks.

      I hope the project goes well for you, and keep posting on this and other ideas. Your MT-blog is to my knowledge completely singular in scope and activity!

    • I did memorize a large chunk of the first two pages–that’s why I decided to only memorize the main points of the story. 🙂

      I think this memory challenge won’t be much more difficult than just reading through the book and jotting down quick notes. The memorization can be done while away from the book, and can be as simple or complex as people want. I will probably do a 10 or 20 stage journey for each of the 48 books, creating the journeys as I go.

      Hope that you’ll join the challenge. I think it will be fun. 🙂

    • We might consider using the stories themselves for the journeys. I often use movies and video games as journeys and I have been thinking that making a journey out of a book would work especially well. Though have not done much work in this area because I read far more nonfiction then fiction.

    • It would be great if people experimented with different techniques, and then shared results. I might try different techniques for different sections to see what works best. By the end of the project, we will have an idea about the most effective ways to do it… 🙂

    • Josh, small typo: it says Keat’s where it should read Keats’ You know, he’s my favourite poet. Maybe time to start memorizing his poems… I only recall Ode on a grecian urn, and I’ve forgotten my favourite passages from Ode to Psyche. What a shame!

      Ruben

    • Thanks for letting me know about the typo. 🙂

      The only poems by Keats that I’ve memorized are Ode to Autumn, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, and part of Ode to a Nightingale. I often wonder what he would have written if he had lived longer. I put Keats in my mnemonic system as 711.

    • Here is someone doing it in the Greek with a whole playlist of tips on how to do it:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNxAAua5PUE&list=PL5N_cJnaI3c9MwauqPMxXsYeXdfKOUULj

      Looks like a challenge!

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