Thursday, February 10, 2005


Then Jove said to Apollo, "Go to Hector, for Neptune who holds the earth in his embrace has gone down beneath the sea to avoid the severity of my displeasure. Had he not the gods below with Saturn would have come to hear of our fight. It is better for both of us that he curbed his anger, for I should have had much trouble with him."
Take, therefore, your great weapon, and shake it furiously so as to strike fear into the hearts of the Achaean heroes; take also brave Hector into your care, and rouse him to deeds of daring until the Achaeans are sent flying to their ships. From that point I will think well on how the Achaeans may have a respite from their troubles."

Apollo obeyed his father's saying, and flew from Mount Ida like a falcon, bane of doves and swiftest of all birds. He came upon Hector no longer lying upon the ground, but sitting up, for he had just come to himself. Apollo stood by him and said, "Hector son of Priam, why are you so faint, and why are you here away from the others? Has some mishap befallen you?"

Hector answered in a weak voice, "Which of the gods are you, kind sir, who now asks me thus? Do you not know that Ajax struck me in the chest with a rock as I was killing his comrades at the ships of the Achaeans? I made sure that this very day I would breathe my last and go down into the house of Hades."

King Apollo then said to him, "Take heart, for the sun of Saturn has sent a great helper to you from Ida, even myself, Apollo of the golden sword, who hitherto have been guardian not only of yourself but of your city. Therefore, order your horsemen to drive their chariots to the ships of the Achaeans in great multitude, and I will come before and smooth the way for you, and will turn the Achaeans in flight."

I typed that mostly from memory, with a quick look at my handwritten copy. It's not The Iliad in verse the way it's usually translated, but it is The Iliad nonetheless. I'm supposed to memorize a part of my choosing for class this afternoon. ^_^'

What's the use of memorization? We're doing it in class to illustrate how people passed down oral traditions and works of literature, but I remember in high school how many things I had to remember, and how many I chose to. Shakespeare, four plays: Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Hamlet. I had to memorize Juliet's soliloquy (complete with Romeo's interjection and every mark of punctuation), Macbeth's rant (Out, out brief candle!), and Hamlet's ponderings (To sleep, perchance to dream -). The funny thing is that despite starting my memorization as late as possible while still getting good grades on the tests, I remember most of it now. I also had to memorize the last verse of a poem whose title I never get quite right... The Wedding Guest or something along those (these?) lines:

"Farewell, farewell! But this I tell
To thee, o wedding guest:
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the great god who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."

Forgive me if it's not perfect in punctuation or wording, it's been three years; and yet there's something about those lines that stuck with me even after I forgot most of the short stories and the authors of every book we read in that class. They must serve some purpose, all the things I've learned and not used since are long forgotten, stored in some dusty memory bank whose connections are being rediverted to newer things.

Our Core question in Unit A was "What do we know? What do we believe? What, therefore, should we do?" and my class focused on the question from the perspective of memory. It seems that our memory effects a lot of what we know and believe. If I remember something a certain way, I believe it to exist that way until someone proves me wrong. If enough people remember it that way, then we "know" that it exists that way because we have others to lend support to our theory/belief and make it law/knowledge. I remember that the earth is round; I was taught so by someone who truly believed the earth is round. It's a proven belief, therefore it becomes knowledge. Memory also effects what we decide to believe. We have to take some things as fact, such as the existence of gravity, but other things such as the existence of "God" are belief, they can not be proven nor disproven by a solid theory as of yet. Certain people may not believe in God due to incidents they remember, like losing loved ones for what they see as "no good reason" and blaming God for it, or deciding that there is no God because "he would have saved them!".

I'm thinking about focusing on memory and whether we remember things that are relevant to us in our daily lives as a topic for my thesis paper. Memory fascinates me. There has to be a reason that certain people remember certain things, and an explanation behind my ability to remember poetry and songs from years ago when I have no luck remembering names and dates that I learned last week. Maybe there's some part of our brain devoted to exact, perfect memorization. It would make sense, given that some people claim to have a "photographic memory." If this is so, then all of us might be able to remember anything we wanted.

I also think it's fascinating how fast people forget certain aspects of life. Part of my argument on memory was sparked by a thought on recent history and what people remember about it. Works like the Iliad survive because people remember them and eventually write them down, and since they're remembered we assume that they're "good," but what do we remember about our country? We remember Monica Lewinsky, we can still talk about Enron and we make jokes about OJ, Marilyn Manson and Martha Stewart. Most people couldn't tell you the date that the DOW topped 10,000, but they can describe in minute detail where they were and what they were doing the moment they heard about the Sept. 11 attacks.

Martha Stewart had nothing to do with me. Her crime was irrelevant to my life; I neither gained useful knowledge nor lost anything important (other than the space of the memory) when I heard about the scandal. I still remember it, though. Is this memory just an effect of repetition, because the news media made such a fuss over it, or is it some social survival tactic which allows me to remember things I may need to know to look informed? The latter hardly seems likely. Can you imagine Adam and Eve wandering around going "Hey, did you hear about the wombats? Seems they're being eaten by the wild dogs, we should look into that," or the people of Pompeii chatting on the street corner, "Oh, by the way, did you hear about that volcano?" "Yeah, I'm really worried about getting ashes in my wine."

Either way, it's a fascinating topic. So is whether we actually remember anything except the terrific and the terrible. Think about that one. I know I will.

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