Divina Commedia


Status report on my Divina Commedia’s Hell memorization attempt…

I just finished with 2nd canto, so it took me 6 weeks to memorize two of them: not too bad since I started practising memory just a couple weeks earlier. Of course professionals in the field will find my rate rather low. In fact, I also think it is too low, and I’m trying to increase my daily memorization rate.

Some random thoughts:

the use in the Commedia of “terzine incatenate” (chained triplets? is this the right translation?) is wonderful for memorization: it gives a beautiful rhytm to the verse, while the central verse of the triplet helps you remember the rhyme in the following triplet. It also helps to locate as many repetitions and allitterations as possible: there is a lot of them, and they are all useful. I fear I’d never be able to memorize something so big translated in a different language.

My first impulse is always to try to rote memorize my daily triplets, then after many repetitions I locate the ideal images to place in my journey. I would prefer to be more cool and establish the images first, but often they are not so clear to me at first.
Moreover, it happens often that I have difficulties on some unexpected point, maybe a couple of words apparently harmless but which refuse to stick. In this case I try to make an image ad hoc for them.
The density of images I used so far is four triplets per locus… maybe it is too high, but having just started in this game I do not have many journeys ready, and the Commedia is loooong… I feared not to know anymore where to place the last cantos.
I’ve been unable so far to be so creative to place a large number of images per triplet: usually I have no more than one image per triplet - so that the idea of using “memoria verborum” remains just what it was, a dream.

I kept a diary where I wrote the cantos, heavily annotated with my places, images, notes. What I found after so many verses is that the images fade more and more, in a perfectly balanced way as the verses become more and more permanently etched in my mind - not such a bad thing: some images were rather disturbing!

I’m a bit worried about the (exponential?) memory decay, requiring the periodical refreshing of what you learned: I wonder how much time it will require when I will hold all of Hell in my head…

That’s all for now, I’ll try to review the cantos daily, while resting a bit by memorizing something brief: Jabberwocky seems perfect.


help im lost :D
How long would it take to memorize the entire Christian Bible?

P.S. just found out, while browsing the net. At this link:

unfortunately italian only, a paper published on Criticon titled: Memoria rerum et memoria verborum. The building of the Divina Commedia by R.Antonelli, on the Divina Commedia as a memory theatre.
As soon as I read the title I almost fell off my chair!

I’ll read it and let you know.


(Josh Cohen) #3

That is a great project. I wish I knew Italian. I started reading Inferno last winter in English, but I’m sure it loses something in the translation.

Was the PDF document any good?

By the way, if anyone is interested, there are audio versions and English and Italian here:


The paper was rather interesting, and it cites the work “La Memoria di Dante” by H.Weinrich (1994) that I ordered and will write about once I’ll be able to read it.
Basically, its hypotesis is that the whole Divina Commedia follows a grand plan according to the art of memory according to the teachings of the ancient rethorics (citing Yates book here).
In fact the Commedia seems to follow the laws of 1) concreteness 2) visualization 3) topical configuration 4) localization 5) mnemonical itinerary (I was unable to correlate these five laws to the ones discussed by Yates according to Ad Herennium and following works, but they seem rather close).


I haven’t read the Divine Comedy since college. Does Dante discuss memory directly in the cantos anywhere? Is there anything specifically in the Italian that points to techniques beyond the five points made above? In other words, is there anything like a number/letter based approach to memory technique?

Thanks for posting your experiences with this. It’s inspiring me to go back and start the Commedia again.



That’s a great find. I look forward to hearing about it.

(Josh Cohen) #7

That’s really interesting. Looking forward to hearing more about it…