The Method of Loci

Simonides leaving the banquet hall.
Simonides leaving the banquet hall.

It was certainly a cause for celebration: the Greek noble had won yet another chariot race. While the usual feast would have sufficed, friends had cared to hire a poetic lyricist to honor their victorious host. But, as Simonides of Ceos begins his oratory performance, the noble becomes irate at the lyricist’s praise of mythological figures, and not his own achievements. Before the meal can be concluded, the host dismisses Simonides, who then departs the banquet hall. As he leaves, the orator hears the heavy sound of crumbling masonry, which soon becomes white noise to the terrifying screams of the dinner party. In moments, the beautiful structure is transformed into unremarkable rubble; the silence that follows is even more piercing than the desperate yells that had rang out during the initial collapse.

Not much time passes before both city officials and a mass of citizenry arrive at the site of the devastation with the intention of retrieving the remains of the deceased. Yet, as fragmented boulders are laboriously shifted to reveal the former dinner party, it becomes evident that the bodies are impossible to identify, leaving a question as to who, exactly, had fallen victim to the unexpected collapse.

Hearing of this complication, Simonides has a profound realization: he can aptly discern the identity of each guest by recalling his position around the banquet table.

Apparently, associating knowledge (the identities of dinner guests) with an image (the seated guests at the dining table) allowed Simonides to more easily retain information. By picturing the singular image of the occupied dinner table, the orator was able to contrive the guest list in his mind.

This use of space (a familiar path or the rooms of a house) and imagery (a certain painting or an obscene representation) to extract relevant information became known as the “method of loci”. As a mnemonic device, the method of loci functions by placing order upon an unorganized confusion of data. When the time comes to recall whatever is required, one can simply travel to a mental location and allow the designated imagery to trigger the memory.


While Simonides showcases this method perfectly, another example follows:

  • Imagine a familiar location (reader, your home may be best to picture at the moment)
  • Create a list of 5-8 items that need to be remembered (be it grocery list, mathematical formulas, what have you)
  • Generate a representation for each item (12 MARCHing soldiers next to a picture of a loved one in order to remember that the loved one’s birthday is on March 12th) and mentally position it in your home
  • Now, attempt to recall the list. In your mind, dear reader, walk through your home and locate each of the images. Once you place your sights on the representation you conceived, the item associated with it should immediately become evident.


By associating something foreign with a familiar location and object, the chances of recall are greatly increased. To discover more on the “method of loci”, consider the following links and book titles:

Method of Loci Example

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Comments 8 comments

Craig Suits profile image

Craig Suits 4 years ago from Florida

Welcome back stranger...

Being of a more modern persuasion of interest, the beginning of your story reminds me more of my batchlor party.

The Loci method works but I believe I explaned another way to you ages ago which also works astoundingly well.

Quickly, lets say you have 30 anything to remember for a test the next day. All you have to do is create an bizzar story in your mind with all the 30 items or answeres included. The more bizzar, the better.

One never forgets a story line, a book, a movie in particular. So lets say your first two words are Cadillac and metimorphasis.

You somple start the story: "This morning I was awakened by a Cadillac crashing through my roof that fell on my bed and immediately morfed into a ....(next word to remember)

It's easy, fun, and impossible to forget the mind movie, hence the key words.

Now if I could just apply that to "spelling", I'd be very happy...

Interesting hub.....

Seeya.....


hush4444 profile image

hush4444 4 years ago from Hawaii

Very interesting hub! I could really use the "method of Ioci" at this stage in my life, and the ancient Greeks are certainly worth remembering.


Lilith Eden profile image

Lilith Eden 4 years ago from Memphis, TN Author

Craig:

That is actually a really great suggestion and I will soon give it a try.

When my students come to me, needing to remember either a speech or some other array of facts, I simply remind them that repetition is the most effective tool. The reason we remember songs and movie lines is because we watch them repeatedly, so why not do the same with information you should be learning? I tell them not to set their sights on "studying", but on reading whatever they are required to remember over and over. It works.

Thanks for your feedback. As always, it is appreciated :)

-Lilith


Lilith Eden profile image

Lilith Eden 4 years ago from Memphis, TN Author

Hi Hush:

Give it a try, Just like anything else, it takes practice. I have been building my "mind palace" (the place where I store my information) for weeks now and am slowly starting to fill it up. Mentally, I hung a painting of some mathematical formulas in a room, and now, whenever I make my mental walk-through, I can choose to look at it and recall the exact formula I need.

It sounds incredibly esoteric almost, lol, but it truly is effective. Let me know if it works for you!

Thank you for reading,

-Lilith


AndreaSWilson profile image

AndreaSWilson 4 years ago from Bel Air, MD

I didn't realize that this method is one that I use on a daily basis! Having fibromyalgia, I often lose my train of thought or forget things... I never knew that this method had a name! Great hub!


Lilith Eden profile image

Lilith Eden 4 years ago from Memphis, TN Author

Ms. Andrea:

I am so pleased that you found the hub useful!

I have never met anyone who has actively used this method, so if you would like to share any details, please, do not hesitate.

Take care,

-Lilith


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 4 years ago

I find that I when I write notes after a group session, I have difficulty remembering what happened when I just look at a list of names, but when I draw the order where everyone sat, I can remember their faces better and then I remember what they said and did in detail. I'm not sure if it's the same exactly but that's what came to mind as I was reading.


Lilith Eden profile image

Lilith Eden 4 years ago from Memphis, TN Author

Kim:

I think that is a perfect example of this process!

Since researching for this hub, I have been using this method more and more and am honestly amazed at the difference it has made.

Happy New Year and Thank You for reading!

-Lilith

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