PSCO Presentation: 13 October, 2011

“Devices and Desires: Remembering to Forget in Late Antique Christianity”

Georgia Frank (Colgate University)


We're taking up an exciting and important topic suggested two years ago by Georgia Frank — namely, "Memory and Forgetting." Much to our delight, Georgia has agreed to speak at the lead-off session of this year's PSCO — scheduled for the evening of Thursday, October 13th.


This seminar explores the relation between ancient techniques of memory training and identity formation in Christian late antiquity. We shall focus on rhetorical handbooks that proposed mental landscapes and other mnemonic devices for storing, retrieving, and recombining texts to meet new situations and navigate life’s uncertainties. The packet of readings includes selections from ancient rhetorical arts of memory as well as more recent research on collective memory and forgetting. The seminar will focus on two case studies: Athanasius’s Letter to Marcellinus, a fourth-century letter of advice on the proper use of the psalter in personal piety, and a sixth-century chanted sermon by Romanos the Melodist, in which Satan (the baptism-crasher) retells the biblical past to newly converted Christians.

Meeting and Dining

All are welcome! Those wishing to dine together before the seminar will meet at 6:00 pm in the Cohen Hall Second-Floor Lounge to go next door to the food court in Houston Hall.

Suggested Reading

Rhetorica ad Herennium, 3.16.28-40 found in [Cicero] Ad C. Herennium, De ratione dicendi (Rhetorica ad Herennium) trans. Harry Caplan; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954, pp. 204-25.

Athanasius, “Epistle to Marcellinus,” Text PG 27.12-45 (=TLG 2035.059). English translation by Robert Gregg in The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus. Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1980. Pp. 101-29. (If pressed for time, please focus on chapters 1-8, 11-14, 30-33).

Romanos the Melodist, “On the Newly Baptized,” Text: #53 in Sancti Romani Melodi Cantica: Cantica Genuina, ed. Paul Maas and C. A. Trypanis. Oxford: Clarendon, 1963. English translation: J. H. Barkhuizen, “Romanos the Melodist: Verse Homily ‘On the Newly Baptised.’” Acta Patristica et Byzantina 11(2000), 1-21.

Recommended Secondary Readings

Carruthers, Mary. The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, 34; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. 7-24.

---------- and Yadin Dudai. ‘The Janus Face of Mnemosyne.” Nature 343 (2005), 567.

Connerton, Paul. “Cultural Memory,” in Handbook of Material Culture, ed. Christopher Tilley et al. London: Sage, 2006. Pp. 315-24.

----------. “Seven Types of Forgetting.” Memory Studies 1 (2008), 59-71.

Frank, Georgia. "Romanos and the Night Vigil in the Sixth Century." In A People's History of Christianity, vol. 3: Byzantine Christianity. Edited by Derek Krueger. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2006. Pp. 59-78.

Kolbet, Paul. “Athanasius, the Psalms, and the Reformation of the Self,” Harvard Theological Review 99 (2006): 85-101.

Papalexandrou, Amy. ‘The Memory Culture of Byzantium.” In A Companion to Byzantium. Ed. by Liz James. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Pp. 108-22.

Stewart, Columba. “The Use of Biblical Texts in Prayer and the Formation of Early Monastic Culture.” American Benedictine Review 62:2 (June 2011), 188-201.