Sherlock Holmes’ power comes from ancient Greece

The Secrets of Sherlock’s Mind Palace

The BBC/Masterpiece sleuth employs a memory technique invented by the ancient Greeks

By Sarah Zielinski ,smithsonianmag.com
February 3, 2014

Sherlock Holmes, in any incarnation, packs a lot of information into his head, and he has to be ready to draw out those details as he makes his deductions and solves the most mysterious of mysteries. The Holmes of Sherlock, the BBC/Masterpiece program that aired its season finale Sunday night on PBS, is no exception. This time, though, his creators have gifted him with a talent for a mnemonic device straight out of ancient Greece—the mind palace. Of course, this being Holmes (and television), his version was somewhat more advanced than that of the average rememberer.

According to myth, the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos invented the technique after attending a banquet gone wrong. Simonides stepped outside to meet with two young men. But when he arrived outside, the young men were not there and the hall was collapsing behind him. Though his fellow banqueters were too badly crushed by the collapse for their remains to be identified, Simonides was supposedly able to put a name with each body based on where they had been sitting in the hall. That ability to remember based on location became the method of loci, also known as memory theater, the art of memory, the memory palace and mind palace….

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