How an earthquake begot The Art of Memory

Cicero«The Art of Memory» (excerpt) From Cicero, «De Oratore» (55 BC), translated by F. B. Calvert (1878)

I am not, like Themistocles, of so retentive a genius as to prefer the art of forgetfulness to that of memory; on the contrary, I am grateful to Simonides of Ceos, the reputed originator of the system of artificial memory. It is related that on one occasion, when he was supping with Scopas at Crannon, in Thessaly, and engaged in reciting some verses which he had composed in honour of that very prosperous and noble personage, he introduced, by way of embel­lishment, much poetical allusion to Castor and Pollux [the so-called “heavenly twins” or Gemini.] At the conclusion, Scopas told him, in rather too sordid a spirit, that only half the stipulated sum should be paid him for his poem, for the other moiety, he might look, if he chose, to the Tyndaridae [Castor and Polydeuces or Pollux; also called the Dioscuri], who had engrossed [written] full half of the eulogy. Shortly after, a message was said to have been brought to Simonides, that he was wanted at the door, where two young men were eagerly inquiring for him; he immediately rose and went out, but saw nobody. In the short interval of his absence, however, the hall where Scopas was banqueting with his friends fell in, crushing him and the whole party to death, and burying them in the ruins. When the mangled remains could not by any means be identified by their friends, who came to recover the bodies, Simonides had so distinct a recollection of the exact spot occupied by each individual that he was able to give satisfac­tory directions for their interment.

Taking a hint from this occur­rence, he is said to have discovered that order was the luminous guide to memory, and that those, therefore, who wish to cultivate this faculty should have places portioned off in the mind, fixing in these several compartments certain images to represent the ideas they wished to remember; thus the order of places would preserve the order of ideas, and the symbols would suggest the ideas them­selves – the places standing for the wax and the images for the letters.