Classic Mnemonics

Classic mnemonics is the first branch of mnemonics ever recognized. It is believed to have existed in Ancient Egypt. Mayan tribes are believed to have taught their children to use mnemonics – a system of inner letters; yet, there are no documents to prove this. The first known works on mnemonics date back to 86 B.C. This date is regarded as the birthdate of classic mnemonics.

Classic mnemonics appeared as a part of rhetoric art and was used as an auxiliary to remember an order in which speeches were performed. The set of techniques in classic mnemonics is limited. The mechanisms of memory were understood intuitively, but correctly. At the time, it was impossible to explain the principles of memory functioning due to the limited knowledge of the surrounding world.

The Cicero method is a perfect example of classic mnemonics: choosing an object in the street or in a familiar surrounding and using it as a "rack" for the data memorized. Other examples of Cicero’s concepts are still in use. Thus, classic mnemonics recommended memorizing information that has been previously transformed into images. The images themselves consisted of two groups: the ones that helped to fix a sequence of images and the ones that encoded the information itself. Classic mnemonics recognized that one could both memorize and erase images.

Classic mnemonics eventually broke into two branches. Some (Cicero) were perfect at memorizing using figurative codes. Others (Quintilian) did not recommend using figurative codes for this purpose. According to historians, people who rejected classic mnemonic techniques were those who had trouble with visual thinking. They could not imagine visual images and manipulate them in their imagination. Due to physiological constraints, classic mnemonic techniques were unacceptable for such people; they were forced to create their own alternative memorization systems which relied less on visual thinking. Even in Quintilian’s works, we can see the first seeds of pedagogical mnemonics, for those people who were incapable of effective visual thinking. Nevertheless, pedagogical mnemonics did not evolve until the 16th century.