Madness into Memory: Mania and Mnēmē in Greek Culture

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Yulia Ustinova


The faculty of memory, comprising memorization and remembrance, is often viewed as entirely rational. This paper focuses on three phenomena, poetry, mystery initiations, and Plato’s philosophy, in order to demonstrate that in some spheres, mania and mnêmê intertwined. The poet’s memory is only partially his own: he recalls and commemorates in the grip of divine inspiration, when he is out of his mind. Creation of the eternal memory of the life-changing ecstatic experience was the aim of mystery rites, whereas the mnêmê of the ceremony was enhanced by means of mania. Finally, in Plato, the philosopher’s recollection of his soul’s true knowledge is pictured as a seizure of mania. Magic memory and inspired knowledge are present in all these phenomena. The ancient mingling of thinking, alteration of consciousness and remembering, expressed by means of the words deriving from the Indo-European root men-, denoting ‘active mental force,’ did not disappear in Greece.

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