There have been schemes stretching back to Antiquity for making it easier to retain information in our heads. Many memory practitioners recommended word-image association: conjure up an architectural edifice in your mind and place a nugget of knowledge in each niche.
This memory book, however, is entirely verbal.
Martin del RĂo, Ars biblica, sive herma memorialis sacra, in qua metriceÌ S. PaginĂŠ libri, capita, eorumque medulla memoriae facillimeÌ commendantur ... (Ecija, 1778) RB.23.a 38345
This pocket-sized book, recently acquired, enables the reader (presumably a preacher like the author) to memorise the chapters of the Latin Vulgate Bible using one word (or its abbreviation) to summarise each chapter.
For example, the Epistle to the Ephesians (p. 110).
Ch 1 is summarised by âChristum ad dexteram in coelestibus constituensâ, which is part of verse 20 âquam operatus est in Christo, suscitans illum a mortuis, et constituens ad dexteram suam in cĂŠlestibusâ [Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places].
This is boiled down to âConstituensâ.
Ch 2 is summarised by âEstis sanctorum civesâ, which is part of verse 19â Ergo jam non estis hospites, et advenĂŠ: sed estis cives sanctorum, et domestici Deiâ [Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God].
This is boiled down to âCivesâ.
Ch 3 is summarised by âgenua mea patrem flectoâ which is part of verse 14 âHujus rei gratia flecto genua mea ad Patrem Domini nostri Jesu Christiâ [For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ]
This is boiled down to âFlectoâ.
Ch 4 is summarised by âdona hominibus Deditâ which is part of verse 8 âPropter quod dicit: Ascendens in altum, captivam duxit captivitatem: dedit dona hominibusâ [Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men]
This is boiled down to âDeditâ.
Ch 5 is summarised by âecclesiae Christus est caputâ which is part of verse 23 âquoniam vir caput est mulieris, sicut Christus caput est EcclesiĂŠâ [For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body]
This is boiled down to âEst caputâ.
Ch 6 is summarised by âtenebrarum rectores harumâ which is part of verse 12 âquoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiĂŠ, in cĂŠlestibusâ [For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places]
This is boiled down to âHarumâ.
Put them together and they make an âeasilyâ (he says âmost easilyâ, facillime) memorised hexameter line: âconstituens cives flecto dedit est caput harumâ.
At least thatâs the theory.
Fr MartĂn gives a chronological survey of earlier publications: Bonaventura in 1270, Petrus Rosenbeimensis [von Rosenheim] in 1450, Matthias Martinius, and âIn our centuryâ Leander a S Martino in 1628, et al.
âAlas! No-one cites the first inventor, Alexander de Villadei (of our Order OFM)â, author ca 1240 of some leonine verses, beginning âSex, prohibet, peccant, Abel, Enoch, et arca fit, intrant.â According to Fr MartĂn, he was copied word for word by Leander a S Martino, who suppressed Alexanderâs name and passed the work off as his own. Our old General Catalogue of Printed Books identifies this rotter: âLEANDER, de Sancto Martino [i.e. John Jones]â.
âAlas how many today wish to becloud the names of their predecessors! I freely admit my debt to others: Render under Caesar, etc.â
He has cleaned up the text of Alexander, bringing it into line with the Tridentine Vulgate of Pope Clement VIII (1592).
This is the second edition, the first having been printed in Mexico in 1675.
This sort of memory verse survives almost into our own day: the more elderly among you might remember the Kings and Queens of England in doggerel:
Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry three,
One, two, three Neds, Richard two,
Henries four, five, six â then who?
Edwards four, five, Dick the bad,
Harries twain and Ned the lad,
Mary, Bessie, James the vain,
Charlie, Charlie, James again âŠ
Fr MartĂnâs book takes us back to a time when the Bible was a vital concern, and when education was synonymous with a knowledge of Latin.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Frances A. Yates, The art of memory (London, 1966) X.529/6232.
Mary J. Carruthers, The book of memory (Cambridge, 1990) YC.1990.b.7100
Juan VelĂĄzquez de Acevedo, FĂ©nix de Minerva, o arte de memoria, ed. Fernando RodrĂguez de la Flor (Valencia, 2002) YF.2016.a.22418