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Q: Repressed Memory in ancient literature ( No Answer,   16 Comments )
Subject: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: harrisonpope-ga
List Price: $200.00
Posted: 09 Feb 2006 14:04 PST
Expires: 11 Mar 2006 14:04 PST
Question ID: 443814
Are there any cases of "repressed memory" anywhere in the world's
literature (novels, poems, dramas, epics, the Bible, or other such
sources) -- in English or in any work that has been translated into
English -- prior to 1800?

To qualify as a bona fide case, the individual described in the work must: 

1) Experience a severe trauma (abuse, sexual assault, a near-death
experience, witnessing the death of a loved one, etc.).

2) Develop amnesia for that trauma for a period of months or years
afterwards (i.e. be clearly unable to remember the traumatic event as
opposed to merely trying not to think about the event, or trying to
keep the event out of one's mind).

3) Experience amnesia that cannot be accounted for by biological
factors such as a) early childhood amnesia -- in which the individual
was under the age of five at the time that trauma occurred, or b)
brain impairment -- such as an individual who was knocked unconscious,
or was drunk with alcohol, at the time of the trauma.

4) Recover the lost memory of the event at some later time in the
individual's life, even though the individual has previously been
unable to access the memory.

For a little more detail, the idea of "repressed memory" or
"dissociative amnesia," as it is sometimes also known, refers to the
theory that an individual could experience a serious traumatic event
-- a trauma so serious that it would normally seem unforgettable --
and then develop amnesia for that event (i.e. be literally unable to
remember the event) for months or years afterwards, only to ultimately
recover the lost memory at some point later in life.  For example, in
modern novels or screenplays, an individual may experience childhood
abuse, or an assault, or a rape, and then have amnesia for the event
for years afterwards -- almost as if the mind were attempting to
protect the individual against the traumatic memory.  Then, the
individual may "recover" the "repressed memory" years later, perhaps
at a moment fraught with considerable emotion.

A literary example that fulfills all of the above criteria is Penn, in
Rudyard Kipling's novel, Captains Courageous, who develops complete
amnesia or for having lost his entire family in a tragic flood.  He
later goes to work as a fisherman on a Grand Banks schooner.  On one
occasion, after a tragic collision between an ocean liner and another
schooner at sea, Penn suddenly recovers his lost memory of the flood
and the death of his family, and recounts the story to other members
of the crew.

Note, however, that Captains Courageous appeared in 1896; I am seeking
a comparable example of "repressed memory" in a work prior to 1800.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 10 Feb 2006 10:38 PST

This is quite an interesting question.  I have access to a number of
full-text databases of 18th century works (of both medicine and
literature), but no luck so far.

Problem is, I'm not sure what to search on.  The word 'amnesia' rarely
finds use prior to the 1800's, and there's certainly no use of
'repressed' anything in the pre-Freud era.

Since you've clearly made quite a study of this already, perhaps you
can offer some suggestions.  What were the types of descriptive terms
used in the early 1800's when writing about what we today call
(generally) amnesia or (even more particularly) what we now call
'repressed memory'.

Any input would be a big help.


Clarification of Question by harrisonpope-ga on 13 Feb 2006 07:18 PST
pafalafa-ga has e-mailed me to ask about possible search terms to use
when looking at fulltext databases of works prior to 1800.  He or she
points out that the term "amnesia" rarely appears in these works, and
that the word "repression" is completely absent, since the term
apparently did not exist at that time.  Therefore, what search terms
could one use?

I have faced the same question when looking, for example, at
concordances to Shakespeare or concordances to the Bible. 
Unfortunately, I know of no good solution, other than the obvious
method of using words like "forget," "memory," and "remember." 
Clearly, these search terms will generate hundreds or thousands of
citations, making the search process very laborious.  Regrettably,
however, I don't know of any narrower terms, used prior to 1800, that
capture the concept of being literally unable to remember a traumatic
event.  Of course, the apparent absence of such narrower terms is one
of the factors that leads me to my suspicion that maybe there are no
cases of "repressed memory" prior to 1800.  Sorry not to be able to
offer any better advice -- but keep looking!

Clarification of Question by harrisonpope-ga on 13 Feb 2006 07:39 PST
amber00-ga poses the question of whether Oedipus Rex might arguably
qualify as a case of "repressed memory," in that Oedipus does not
remember events from his infancy.  I have not read Oedipus Rex
recently, but I gather that the events that Oedipus has forgotten
occurred before the age of five.  If so, they would represent the
ordinary so-called "infantile amnesia" that we all experience, because
our brains have simply not developed completely at that age to the
point that we can lay down very many permanent memories.  Of course,
most of us can a few fragmentary items from age 3 or 4, but it is very
rare that anyone would remember anything at all prior to their third

Now, if Oedipus experienced a traumatic event after his fifth
birthday, and he was selectively unable to remember that traumatic
event later on (i.e., that event was no longer accessible to his
conscious mind, even though he could presumably remember other,
non-traumatic things that happened when he was five), and he then
recovered the memory as an adult (i.e. became able to remember the
traumatic event of his own accord, as opposed to simply being told by
somebody that the event occurred), then in that case I need to go back
and read Oedipus Rex, because the case might indeed fulfill my

The same criteria would apply to Euripides' 'Heracles,' the other
possibility mentioned by amber00-ga.

So if either of these cases approach is my criteria, please tell me,
and I'll go back and read the play immediately.  On the other hand, if
the cases don't approach my criteria, perhaps you could explain to me
why they don't approach my criteria.

Harrison G. Pope Jr., M.D.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 13 Feb 2006 09:30 PST
Dr. Pope,

I've looked through Oedipus, and I have to agree with your
intuition...this is not an example of what you're seeking.

It could well be that no such example exists in pre-1800 literature. 
However, the best a researcher could do in that case would be to spend
a good deal of effort searching, and at the end, say "Sorry....nothing
turned up!"

I have access to a number of 18th century (and earlier) literature
sources, and I can make a best-effort search of those, if you'd like. 
Here is an example of another historical question I answered not that
long ago:

However, at the end of the day, it may well be that, best efforts
notwithstanding, my answer would have to be "Sorry....nothing turned

That's always the risk one takes in trying to prove the negative, I'm afraid.

Would you like me to make such an effort, and let you know what I find
as an answer to your question?

Let me know what you think.


Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 15 Feb 2006 18:33 PST
Thought I'd offer this up as at least the first step in repressing a
memory, even if its re-emergence is not described:
The Fall of Troy 
4th century 
Smyrnaeus Quintus

Answered her Menelaus wise of wit:
"No more remember past griefs: seal them up
Hid in thine heart.  Let all be locked within
The dim dark mansion of forgetfulness.
What profits it to call ill deeds to mind?"


Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 16 Feb 2006 14:50 PST
Another tidbit:

I've found mention in several 18th century works of a recognized
medical condition, "amnesia traumatica".

However, I haven't had any success yet in actually tracking down any
case descriptions, to see if they meet your criteria or not.  However
-- if you haven't already -- you may wish to make inquiries of some
history of medicine experts on this particular condition.

I'll let you know if I learn anything more,


Clarification of Question by harrisonpope-ga on 22 Feb 2006 09:48 PST
Hello everyone,

I'm sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but I have been out of
town for a number of days, and have only now returned to my office.

The examples that all of you provided to me, especially the examples
in the exhaustive analysis by hardtofindbooks, are fascinating -- but
as you have acknowledged yourselves, none of them is a simple case
where an ordinary human being experienced a traumatic event, then was
unable to remember it afterwards.

However, the examples supplied provide abundant evidence that our
ancestors were familiar with various forms of forgetfulness, if not
outright amnesia, even though none of the peers who have been familiar
with "repressed memory."  There appear to be several categories of
forgetfulness in the examples that you have supplied to me.

The first is the common human experience of trying not to think about
unpleasant things, or to put them out of one's mind.  This is what
Menelaus counsels in The Fall of Troy, or what Rabbi Nachman advises
in the examples that you have given.  Examples such as these likely
meet the criterion of a "traumatic event" -- since otherwise there
would presumably be no premium on trying to forget the event -- but
they do not meet the criterion of being unable to remember the event. 
Indeed, probably all of us can recall the experience of valiantly
attempting to put the memory of some unpleasantness out of our mind,
only to be haunted by it despite our best efforts.  This experience --
the conscious attempt to forget, or not think about, traumatic or
unpleasant memories -- contrasts with the theory of "repressed
memory," where it is postulated that amnesia occurs spontaneously, as
a result of an unconscious process.

The second is amnesia occurring as result of some type of biological
event, such as a head injury or intoxication.  For example the
18th-century term, "amnesia traumatica," very likely refers to amnesia
occurring as result of head trauma or some other insult to the central
nervous system (although I don't know this for certain).  Certainly
our ancestors were vulnerable to lots of biological traumas ?
including especially head injuries with loss of consciousness, or
brain diseases affecting memory -- so I would think that the
phenomenon of somebody forgetting a block of time, indeed even a block
of years of time, would have been familiar to everybody for many
centuries.  To take but one example, a severe case of herpes simplex
encephalitis can leave an individual with no memory of anything that
has happened to him or her for the last 20 years, even though that
individual may retain a perfectly intact memory for something that
occurred, say, 35 years ago.  Individuals who have recovered from this
illness may be perfectly capable of reciting a series of 10 digits
that has just been presented to them, yet they may have complete
amnesia for all events that happened more than a couple of minutes
earlier.  Indeed, I vividly remember such a patient, who was assigned
to me back in medical school in the 1970s.  She could vividly remember
events from World War II, and could instantly produce the name of,
say, Franklin Roosevelt's dog, but had total amnesia for her entire
life after approximately 1950.  Cases such as this have doubtless been
witnessed by people in every culture and in every century, and thus
would serve as a foundation for various written descriptions. Such
cases are instantly distinguishable from "repressed memory," however,
because the individual develops amnesia for an entire block of time,
or for a whole series of events, rather than for a specific traumatic
event.  In "repressed memory," by contrast, one can remember
nontraumatic events, while selectively being unable to remember the
traumatic event.

Now it is hard to know to what extent earlier writers had witnessed
biological amnesia (without perhaps knowing its cause) and had then
use this knowledge as inspiration for various narratives in which
amnesia plays a role.  But this may account for the many narratives in
which people are described as having amnesia for good things rather
than traumatic things (such as Sigurd's amnesia of his love for
Brynhild, or Mrs. Bettler's son's "amnesia" for the fact that he was
the reincarnated soul of Mr. Geltman, or the curse against Shakuntula
that his lover will forget him).  Alternatively, people may be
described as suddenly having amnesia for years of time, including both
good and bad things that happened during those years -- like my lady
who had recovered from herpes simplex encephalitis. Gu Kuang's
reincarnated son, along with other reincarnated individuals, might
best be classified in this category: they have forgotten everything,
and not just a traumatic event.

Parenthetically, I would note that my own example from James Fenimore
Cooper, quoted earlier in this thread by myoarin, doesn't really
qualify as a case of "repressed memory" either, because the children
of Wish-Ton-Wish also forgot whole blocks of time, rather than a
specific traumatic event.  However my example from Captains
Courageous, cited in my original question, is a "clean" case.

A third thread that runs through the examples provided is the notion
that one might have special powers or abilities of which one is
unaware, or for which one has amnesia.  Later, the amnesia might be
erased and the special powers restored.  For example the monkey
Hanuman has amnesia for his supernatural abilities as a result of a
curse in one of the citations given above.  However, the belief that
one has special powers or abilities, formerly unrecognized, is
commonplace in individuals with manic episodes (the manic phase of
manic-depressive illness, or bipolar disorder) who have grandiose
delusions.  As someone who has treated hundreds of manic patients, I
have dealt with countless patients who believed that they had acquired
the ability to speak languages that they had not formally known, or
believe that they suddenly had acquired other bodies of knowledge that
they had not previously possessed, or who believed that they were
Christ reincarnated (at the peak of my psychiatric practice in the
1980s, in fact, I was visited by three patients who met the latter
criterion in the course of the same day).  Now, manic-depressive
illness, accompanied by grandiose delusions, has existed since time
immemorial around the world, and therefore our ancestors could not
help but have witnessed people who reported that they had suddenly
recovered vast blocks of formerly inaccessible knowledge and wisdom.
Such delusional experiences, of course, can also occur under the
influence of hallucinogenic substances -- so that even people without
psychiatric disorders could experience them.  Hallucinogenic plants
and other substances have been well known and often deliberately
ingested for millennia, especially in the Americas (peyote, ayahuasca,
psilocybin mushrooms, etc.), and also in the old world (for example
Tabernanthe iboga in equatorial West Africa).  Hallucinogenic
substances might also be inadvertently ingested (for example, ergotism
in medieval Europe).  So in a word, our ancestors witnessed no
shortage of people who "recalled" bodies of knowledge, supernatural
abilities, and past lives -- and accounts of such phenomena would
inevitably percolate into literature.  But still, none of these cases
represents a simple case of being unable to remember a traumatic

In short, my suspicion continues to grow that no one before 1800
described "repressed memory" because in reality there is no such
thing.  If there were, someone would have noticed it -- just as people
throughout the ages have noticed the three types of phenomena
described above -- and described someone with a "repressed memory" on
some piece of paper, somewhere in the world, sometime during the many
centuries leading up to 1800.  Instead, I would submit, "repressed
memory" was cooked up and embraced as a quaint romantic notion by our
Victorian ancestors, as exemplified, for example, by Emily Dickinson
in 1862:

There is a pain--so utter -
It swallows substance up -
Then covers the Abyss with Trance - 
So Memory can step
Around--across--upon it -
As one within a Swoon - 
Goes safely -- where an open eye -
Would drop Him--Bone by Bone.

Here, I think you will agree, we have a graphic poetic description of
the theory that somehow the mind could selectively erase the memory of
a painful event -- i.e. "step around -- across -- upon it."  In short,
after 1800, the idea of selectively repressing the memory of a trauma
becomes quite commonplace.  But find me an equally graphic example of
this idea before 1800, in fiction or in nonfiction, and you get $200

By the way, I would like to increase my offer to $1000, so that
another word that would pay an additional $800 over and above the $200
that comes through Google.  However, I want to make sure that I am
allowed to do this without violating the terms of the Google answers
agreement, so I don't want to absolutely promise $1000 at this point. 
However, if anybody out there suddenly does come up with an example
prior to 1800 meeting my criteria, the first such person to do so has
my word that he or she will receive a total $1000 unless there is some
explicit prohibition in Google's terms against my being allowed to do

Harrison G. Pope Jr., M.D.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 22 Feb 2006 17:05 PST

I found a description from a medical treatise dated 1772, of a patient
who hit his head after falling from a horse and nearly died.  He lost
his memory for almost a month, at which time, he suddenly regained his
capacities.  He had no memory of the accident itself, but once
recovered, his memory worked just fine:

"...the debility of his mind continued till the twenty-fourth day from
the fall, when, on going out to the fields, his judgment and memory
fuddenly returned.  He remembered nothing that happened from the time
of his fall; but now remembers every thing diftinctly..."

I certainly wouldn't call this a case of repressed memory.  But since
the conversation here has roamed broadly, I wonder if this 18th
century case report might be of interest?

Let me know what you think.


Clarification of Question by harrisonpope-ga on 23 Feb 2006 14:50 PST
Hello everyone,

In response to the question about "amnesia traumatica," I believe that
this term is referring to amnesia caused by literal physical trauma to
the brain -- such as a head injury, alcohol intoxication, or
neurological disease -- but not to amnesia caused by a psychological

Certainly our ancestors were well aware of the fact that amnesia can
be caused by physical illnesses that affected the brain.  For example,
John Locke, in his 1690 "Essay concerning Human Understanding,"
mentions: may seem probable that the constitution of the body does
sometimes influence the memory, since we oftentimes find a disease
quite strip the mind of all its ideas, and the flames of a fever in a
few days calcine all those images to dust and confusion, which seemed
to be as lasting as if graved in marble.

Incidentally, Locke also comments on infantile amnesia, amnesia
associated with senile dementia,  and ordinary forgetfulness due to
simple memory decay for things that don't seem particularly memorable
-- but nowhere does he appear to suggest that the mind would be
capable of expunging a traumatic memory from consciousness.  Indeed,
he considers it absurd that God would design the mind to be able to

Nature never makes excellent things for mean or no uses: and it is
hardly to be conceived that our infinitely wise Creator should make so
admirable a faculty which comes nearest the excellency of his own
incomprehensible being, to be so idly and uselessly employed, at least
a fourth part of its time here, as to think constantly, without
remembering any of those thoughts...

Commentary like th this contributes my belief that prior to 1800, our
ancestors couldn't imagine the mind simply expunging a memory from

By the way, thanks for the suggestion that I post some simple
questions directed to individual people, since it appears that this
does represent a way that I can at least partially repay you for all
of your efforts, while still staying firmly within the terms of the
Google agreement.  I will try to do just that, sometime early next

Harrison G. Pope Jr., M.D.

Clarification of Question by harrisonpope-ga on 23 Feb 2006 16:45 PST
Sorry, I forgot to reply specifically to the "fall from the horse"
comment. Yes, that is something that neurologists see all the time,
right up to the present day. Head injuries with loss of consciousness
can produce retrograde amnesia (for memories going backward from the
time of the injury), or anterograde amnesia (for time going forward
from the time of the injury), or both.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 23 Feb 2006 18:02 PST
Dr. P,

This is one of those questions that gets under the skin after a while.
 Hope you don't mind if I keep offering up tidbits as they arise.

I came across a very interesting poem that pretty much *imagines* what
repressed memory is like, even if not an actual example of same.

The passage in question is called:  

Invocation to fancy and forgetfulness--to chase away the Demon Memory 

and is itself from a longer poem called 'Pains of Memory'.  It is dated 1798.

You can see the most relevant excerpt from it here:

by clicking on the file named forgetfulness.


Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 23 Feb 2006 20:22 PST
Another not-quite-there find.  This one, from 1796, recounts the loss
of reason that comes from hearing traumatic news:

The noble consort of the fair Lucasta, in vain endeavored to keep from
her ears the painful information.  Her mind had suffered a painful
shock in the interview with her lover, that tinged it with a degree of
insanity, and it was ill prepared to receive tidings of such fatal
import.  In the moment, therefore, that heralded to her ears the
misfortunes which had befallen him, reason dropped from it's seat, and
madness seized her brain.

Every care was used by her Lord to sooth the distress of this
ill-fated beauty, and restore the wonted tranquility of her mind:  but
his care was fruitless; the disorder was too firmly rooted for human
aid to remove, nor did it leave the wretched sufferer till she
resigned her sad existence.

Clarification of Question by harrisonpope-ga on 24 Feb 2006 14:21 PST
Dear Pafalafa,

Your last two examples in the late 1790s are quite intriguing, because
one senses in them, perhaps, the embryo of the idea that the mind
could somehow erase a traumatic event.  For example, in the "Demon
memory" poem, we see the lines:

Hide from his heart each suff'ring country's woe
And o'er its chains thy cov'ring mantle throw

That's only a small step from Emily Dickinson, 70 years later, as
quoted in one of my earlier clarifications:

There is a pain--so utter -
It swallows substance up -
Then covers the Abyss with Trance - 
So Memory can step
Around--across--upon it -

Note that both poems use the verb "cover" -- which carries the
implication that the painful or unpleasant memory is still there,
underneath, and that forgetfulness has "covered over" the memory. 
It's just that by the time of Dickinson, in 1862, the notion has
gotten more graphic: Dickinson claims as an actual fact that pain can
literally "swallow substance up," whereas in the "Demon" poem it's
more just a fanciful wish that forgetfulness could hide a suffering
country's woe.

Great cases!  I'll be in touch.

Harrison G. Pope Jr., M.D.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 24 Feb 2006 20:37 PST
The more I look, the more I see suggestions of lost/recovered memory
in 18th century literature, though nothing yet that clearly spells it

Here are the two latest:


Charles Churchill 


...By different methods different men excel;
But where is he who can do all things well?
Humour thy province, for some monstrous crime
Pride struck thee with the frenzy of sublime;
But, when the work was finish'd, could thy mind
So partial be, and to herself so blind,
What with contempt all view'd, to view with awe,
Nor see those faults which every blockhead saw?
Blush, thou vain man! and if desire of fame,
Founded on real art, thy thoughts inflame,
To quick destruction Sigismunda give,
And let her memory die, that thine may live.
 But should fond Candour, for her mercy sake,
With pity view, and pardon this mistake;
Or should Oblivion, to thy wish most kind,
Wipe off that stain, nor leave one trace behind;
Of arts despised, of artists, by thy frown
A wed from just hopes, of rising worth kept down,
Of all thy meanness through this mortal race,
Canst thou the living memory erase?
Or shall not vengeance follow to the grave,
And give back just that measure which you gave?

Charlotte Smith

[this is the poem in its entirety]

Far on the sands, the low, retiring tide,
 In distant murmurs hardly seems to flow;
And o'er the world of waters, blue and wide,
 The sighing summer-wind forgets to blow.
As sinks the day-star in the rosy West,
 The silent wave, with rich reflection glows:
Alas!  can tranquil nature give me rest,
 Or scenes of beauty soothe me to repose?
Can the soft lustre of the sleeping main,
 Yon radiant heaven, or all creation's charms,
"Erase the written troubles of the brain,"
 Which Memory tortures, and which Guilt alarms?
Or bid a bosom transient quiet prove,
That bleeds with vain remorse and unextinguish'd love!

[note that "erase the written troubles..." line is in quotes in the
poem, suggesting an even earlier source that was probably familiar to
readers at the time]



Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 25 Feb 2006 07:17 PST
Dr. P,

I'm sorry to keep posting, but I can't help it...I keep finding stuff!
 Two items to mention here:

St. Augustine's 'Confessions' contains a section on Memory (Book 10)
which has some interesting material:

...There also are reposited whatever Thoughts we have formed...which
have not as yet been swallowed up and buried by Oblivion.  When I am
here, I call for whatsoever I have a Mind should brought out; and some
Things appear as soon as they are call'd for' others are sought a
longer Time before they are found, and are fetched out as it were from
some more secret Repositories; others again thrust themselves out in
Crowds, and whilst I am calling for and seeking another Thing, will
start up as if they said, >ital< Is it not us you want? <ital>.  And I
put them by with the Hand of my Heart from before the Face of my
Remembrance, until the Thing that I desire be unclouded, and come
forth into my Sight from its dark and hidden Cell.

{He has a section on 'Oblivion' and other sections on forgetfulness as
well, which are too convoluted to excerpt here, but basically express
his wonder and confusion over how we can sort of remember that we've
forgetten something]


Also, the poem I cited earlier, "The Pains of Memory" is probably
worth reading in its entirety (it's about 40 pages long, but each page
is pretty short).  If nothing else, it has the most complete
early-vintage "life flashing before my eyes" description that I've
seen.  It also explores the whole topic of memory in a way that
probably captures 18th century sensibilities pretty nicely.

It's not available online as far as I know, but you might want to try
and track it down:

The pains of memory. A poem, 
by Robert Merry. A.M. 
London, 1796



Clarification of Question by harrisonpope-ga on 27 Feb 2006 17:20 PST
Dear Paf,

The two mid-18th-century poems are fascinating, but they are not as
close to the 19th-century concept of "repressed memory," I think, as
your two previous examples from the very end of the 18th-century, at
the cusp of the 19th-century.  Specifically, the "Demon memory" poem,
as I mentioned earlier, speaks of "covering over" the memory, which
suggests the first hint of an idea that the memory could still be
there, underneath, but merely covered over -- which might seem to
imply that, in theory, it could be "uncovered" again.  By contrast,
the earlier 18th-century poems both use the verb "erase" with regard
to memory -- implying that it is gone, never to return, rather than
merely being covered over.  Both the Hogarth poem and also St.
Augustine use the word "oblivion" -- again implying that the memory is
gone and cannot be recovered. Admittedly, Augustine also speaks of
memories in "more secret repositories" -- but that may be simply the
common human experience of having distant memories (not specifically
trauma memories) called up by some reminder, like Proust's
recollections called up by his gateau marjolaine.

In short, the quotes that you've discovered seem to document a gradual
evolution in the whole view of memory, from a straightforward,
matter-of-fact view (as in Locke's 1690 Essay Concerning Human
Understanding) through a transitional phase (as in "Demon memory" a
century later) and finally into a frankly romantic view that memories
could be covered over with trance (as Emily Dickinson says by 1862).

At any rate, I'm just a scientist, rather than a literary critic, so I
may be getting a little beyond my limits with all these speculations. 
(It was, after all, my own ancestor who remarked in 1711 that "a
little learning is a dang'rous thing.")

Harrison G. Pope Jr., M.D.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 08 Mar 2006 19:01 PST

Thanks for all you've done on this.  In case you missed Dr. P's
earlier note (since removed, as it had contact information), he'd like
to be in touch with you.  Books may be hard to find, but Dr Harrison
Pope is not.


There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: myoarin-ga on 09 Feb 2006 16:15 PST
I hope a Researcher can supply one or more examples to this interesting question.

Shakespeare and his audiences were apparently familiar with the
phenomenon since he presents it as a practical joke in Taming of the
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: purplecloud-ga on 09 Feb 2006 17:30 PST
Perhaps Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" would qualify?
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: myoarin-ga on 10 Feb 2006 05:44 PST
Greek mythology has various references to loss of memory:  River Lethe
washing away the memory of earthly life; Circes drugging men to make
them lose their memory; the Sirens; the lotus eaters.  So the concept
was familiar, but does not fulfil your criteria, as does not this
Roman reference:
"Pliny the Elder (Roman archivist: 27-79AD): In 77AD noted the
selective loss of memory with head injury. For example, a man who when
struck by a stone forgot how to read (Pliny, 77AD; Book VII, Stanza

The following quotation would seem to obviate the need for further search:

"One way to examine this question is to look at world literature. As
we look at stories, poems, and dramas written throughout the ages in
different places and different cultures, where do we find characters
who "repressed" and then perhaps later "recovered" memories of
traumatic events?

We have put this question to a number of experts in literature. Such a
survey, admittedly, is hardly a formal scientific study, but it is
nevertheless revealing. Throughout most of history, it appears, no one
in any story in the world's literature appears to have developed
amnesia for a seemingly unforgettable traumatic event and later
recovered the memory into consciousness. No one in the Bible, for
example, seems to have repressed and then recovered a memory. Nor in
Shakespeare -- a veritable catalog of the possible permutations of the
human psyche -- do we find a clear instance of repression. No one has
been able to show us a clear case of repression in classical Greek or
Roman literature, in Islamic literature, or anywhere else in Western
literature until well into the l9th century. Then, and only then, does
repression begin to crop up (1).

As best as we can tell, one of the first cases of repression and
recovery of memory appears in James Fenimore Cooper's 1829 novel, The
Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish (2). In this tale, set in the mid-seventeenth
century, Indians attack the little settlement of Wish-Ton-Wish in
Connecticut and abduct two children. One is a teenager named Whittal
Ring, and the other is a little girl named Ruth Heathcote. Years
later, Rueben Ring comes upon his lost brother Whittal in the woods.
Whittal is now dressed as an Indian; he is wearing war paint and calls
himself Nipset. He has complete amnesia for his past as a White man.
His sister, Faith, recognizes her brother, but is unable to persuade
him of his former identity, even when he looks at his own white skin.

Later, Ruth is also found. She, too, has become an Indian and goes by
the name of Narra-mattah. Her memories of childhood are also
completely repressed, but she has recurring images of her mother in

    "Narra-mattah has forgotten all ... But she sees one that the
wives of the Narragansetts do not see. She sees a woman with white
skin; her eyes look softly on her child ..."

Ruth's mother tries to help her child recover her lost memories, but
in vain. Then, at the very end of the novel, the child falls ill and
lies dying. And there, in the lush romantic prose of Cooper, we
witness what just might be literature's first case of a repressed
memory. The mother of the dying child speaks to her: ..."

The site goes on to mention Tale of Two Cities and Captains Courageous.

But as Researchers often note, it is almost impossible to prove that
there have not been "any cases" of anything.
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: harrisonpope-ga on 10 Feb 2006 05:48 PST
Thank you both for your suggestions. myoarin, your example illustrates
that Shakespeare's audiences were familiar with generalized amnesia,
but maybe not necessarily repressed memories. In Taming of the Shrew,
the amnesia was for a specific period of time, but not for a specific
event. Amnesia itself is a disorder that can come from a disease or
severe head trauma, but not some emotionally traumatic event.

purplecloud, Rip Van Winkle fell asleep for 20 years, which isn't
really an amnesia due to a traumatic event, either.

Nevertheless, thank you both for your input, and we continue to seek
for a true case of "repressed memory" prior to 1800!
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: harrisonpope-ga on 10 Feb 2006 08:19 PST
Myoarin, thank you very much for your extensive time and efforts in
finding an answer to my question. You may not have noticed, but the
lengthy quote you sent me was actually from a chapter in my own book,
Psychology Astray. I?ve asked this question of several previous
literary scholars, as the quote from my book indicates, but I wanted
to reiterate my question to an even wider audiance through the Web,
just to see if anyone out there might know of an example of "repressed
memory" that I had previously missed.

Thank you again, your assistance is very much appreciated!
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: myoarin-ga on 10 Feb 2006 10:26 PST
Greetings Harrison,
Oh, well, if quoting back to the author is helpful ...  :-)

Since Fenimore Cooper described the matter rather convincingly it
seems, one would like to think that at least in medical work of his
time the phenomenon had been documented or at least occurred often
enough that he and his audience knew that it could occur.
Perhaps an expert on literature could explain that the themes
literature prior to the 19th c. just did not deal with characters like
this  - for whatever reason -  maybe adhering to some "stock" list of
character types.

Someone using the name Hardtofindbooks-ga should like at this  -
probably already has.

Good luck, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: amber00-ga on 11 Feb 2006 13:47 PST
It might be possible to read Sophocles' 'Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the
King) as an example of this. He doesn't remember the traumatic events
of his infancy (multilated feet, abandonment etc) and only later comes
to realise who he is. I freely concede that this could be stretching
your criteria too far.

But, if you allow Oedipus Rex, you just might also consider Euripides' 'Heracles' .
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: hardtofindbooks-ga on 15 Feb 2006 08:46 PST
Well I?m back and I have had a look around and this is certainly an
interesting topic. Unfortunately I have been unable to find anything
that meets ALL the question guidelines but have found a few things
that may be of some interest, either of their own accord, or as they
may subsequently bear fruit in other hands, so herein some odds and
ends with apologies for length.

A few notes on what has gone before. 
As Myoarin has pointed out the idea of memory loss is not uncommon in
the ancient world. Being pedantic, it seems to me the reference from
Pliny, although at the time might have been considered due to memory
loss, would today probably more likely be considered to be an acquired
apraxia, specifically in this case, alexia.

Also, although it meets the DSM-IV guidelines for neither, in some
ways the Fenimore Cooper looks more like dissociative identity
disorder than dissociative amnesia as there seems to be a simple
switch from one
?personality? and memory set to another, there is no 'remembrance' of
original trauma.

The story of Oedipus, I agree, does not come close, his process is one
of realisation, not remembrance.

It should be no surprise that the ancients, like anyone else
fascinated by what it is that makes us tha way we are, were interested
in memory.
However, what is memory and what forgetfulness? 
As Pafalafa has pointed out the word amnesia is relatively uncommon
until recently although the first use recorded in the Oxford English
Dictionary E3 is from 1674, ?amnesic? only dates from 1868 and
?amnesiac? 1913. The original Greek just means forgetfulness. But as
ideas of memory, dysfunction and disease are very much a social
constructions, how might memory and its loss be considered and
reported by different and earlier cultures? The process of 'disease'
and its perceived causes might be very different to those coomly held

As stated previously, the ancient were no strangers to the loss of
memory. There are many mentions of it, including its use as pivotal
plot point. For example, in the story of Sigurd (Siegfried) in both
the Norse Volsunga Saga and German Nibelungenlied the plot turns on
the fact that Sigurd forgets his love of and betrothal to Brynhild and
wins her hand for Gunnar. This is however due to a drinking of
Grimhild?s ale of forgetfulness. The circumstances of his subsequent
remembering are also a little unclear, at least from my quick perusal
of the original texts.

This might be considered a magical cause of amnesia, which in a sense
falls short of emotional trauma but is a far better match than
physical trauma or simple intoxication. Closely related must be the
idea of a curse causing amnesia but at least and we know that in some
cases both curse and magic might be considered as part of a
biopsychosocial model of disease. A known curse especially so as it
might readily meet our requirement for psychic trauma.

In some versions of the Ramayana the immortal monkey Hanuman suffers
from an amnesia of his supernatural abilities caused by a curse placed
on him by sages he annoyed when young. On meeting Rama, the avatar of
Vishnu, his forgetfulness is swept aside, -?No sooner did Rama speak
thus than Hanuman realized that he was face to face with his Ishta -
Lord Rama. The amnesia of this birth suddenly vanished and Hanuman
could see the glorious form of his Master full of effulgence and

Similarly the Sanskrit poet Kalidasa, writing about the 4thC AD,
adapted the story of Shakuntala from the Mahabharata. He has
Shakuntala and the king Dushyanta separated as the result of a curse
by the ascetic Durvasas, which causes Dushyanta to suffer from amnesia
until he sees the ring which he had given to Shakuntula. The curse is
made against Shakuntula with Dushyanta absent at the time.
Interestingly though, in the translation by Arthur Ryder, the curse, 
"Your lover shall forget you though reminded,
Or think of you as of a story told"
has the flavour of dissociated memory about it.

Theories of, and attitudes to, memory vary greatly. To some, one of
the odder sounding might be Plato?s theory of anamnesis (remembering,
or perhaps ?not forgetting? ? use of the word in English predates that
of ?amnesia? by several decades). It combines several other Platonic
ideas, that of ?forms? - where objects in the world are but imperfect
reflections or shadows of a world of  perfect forms, and that of the
immortality of the soul and its transmigration. The soul, being
eternal and having participated in the world of forms is able to
recognize them and already possesses all knowledge, unfortunately
forgotten at birth (see Lethe as mentioned by Myoarin above). This
makes memory and the production of knowledge through reason by the
soul a remembrance of the pre-existing and eternal. It might be noted
the Greek word for ?truth? is
?a-lethe-ia? ? unforgotten or unconcealed.

The important role of forgetting is often ...forgotten. 

Plato?s theory of the transmigration of souls requires the expungement
of memory by the waters of Lethe, and cognate mechanisms can be found
in other societies holding similar beliefs.
For example in Chinese mythology, borrowing from Taoist and Buddhist
traditions, souls about to be reincarnated from the Chinese hell,
Feng-du, must drink Meng Po?s Broth of Forgetfulness, probably not a
bad thing given the kind of treatment they receive during their stay.
Despite the supposed efficacy of Lady Meng?s five herb tea (the
Chinese do love their enumeration), perhaps not surprisingly, there
are many tales of (often partial) remembrance of past lives in Chinese
lore. It seems to me in some ways these are a very good model of what
we are looking for. Here?s an example I though particularly useful
from a Google cache:

?Gu Kuang had a son who died very young. To express his grief, Gu
Kuang wrote a poem commemorating his son. The poem says, ?An old man
cried for his lost child from dawn until sunset; he cried ?til his
eyes bled. His heart was broken; all traces his son had left in this
world were gone. The old man was already in his 70s and he would leave
the world soon.?
Although Gu Kuang?s son died, his soul still lingered around his
house. Every time he heard his father?s crying, he too suffered. He
swore that if he was reincarnated as a human in his next life, he
wanted to be the son of his father again.
One day the soul of Gu Kuang?s son was brought before a heavenly
official. This official, who looked like a county commissioner,
decided that this soul would reincarnate into Gu?s family again. Then
the soul lost consciousness. After a while he came around and opened
his eyes. He saw the household items from his old house and his old
siblings; all his old relatives were standing around him. He felt
sorry that he could not speak. He knew that he had been born again.
Beyond that he could not remember.
On one occasion, when he was seven, his older brother beat him up when
they were fooling around. Suddenly, he said, ?I was your older
brother. Why do you beat me up?? The whole family was shocked. Then he
told them everything about his previous life, and every detail was
exactly true. He still remembered the childhood names of his siblings.
He went on to become a famous poet in the Tang Dynasty named Gu

Note: Gu Kuang (806 CE? a.k.a. Buwong) was born in Haiyan, Zhejiang
province. In the era of Suzong in the Tang Dynasty? He was skilled at
poetry and Chinese painting.
Gu Feixiong was Gu Kuang?s son. He published one collection of his
poems during the Tang Dynasty. ?
Translated from

Given the similarities between recovered/repressed memory therapy and
past lives therapy I don?t know whether to consider this similarity
interesting or ironic.

This Chinese concept of reincarnation was utilized by Kim Stanley
Robinson in his alternate history novel The Years of  Rice and Salt.
In it a set of closely linked characters were continuously
reincarnated through a long period of history in proximity to each
other. From my memory of reading it several years ago, in one
reincarnation some of the characters managed to (partially?) escape
the Broth of Oblivion to painful consequence in the following
incarnation. I wonder if this was based on an extant story.
It would be particularly nice to find to find a case where the
tortures of Feng-du were remembered by a reincarnated soul as that
would provide us with a very pertinent trauma-amnesia-recollection

Straying further from our original path, despite much writing to the
contrary, the idea of forgetting as a good thing also exists in some
strands of Judaism, especially within the Hasidic tradition, which
also subscribes to reincarnation.

?The Midrash teaches us that Hashem [God] gave Adam and Chava (Eve) a
blessing, as they were about to leave the Garden of Eden. He said, ?I
give you the gift of forgetfulness.??

?The Gift of Forgetfulness.
A true knowledge of all this is received mostly through the great
Tzadik who has already attained great perfection. Therefore, it was
Rabbi Nachman who once said: "Most people think of forgetting as a
defect. However, I consider that, at times it is very beneficial.
If you did not forget, it would be utterly impossible to serve G'd.
You would remember your entire past, and these memories would drag you
down -- now allowing you to raise yourself to G'd. Whatever you did
would be constantly disturbed by your memories of the past.
Therefore, G'd has given you the power to forget and disregard the
past. The past is gone forever and never need be brought back to mind.
Because of your ability to forget, you are no longer disturbed by the
past. This is very important to consider when serving G'd. Most people
are distressed by past events, especially during prayer. When a person
recites his prayers, his thoughts are constantly disturbed by memories
of the past. He may think about his business or household affairs,
worrying whether he might have done something wrong or forgotten
something important. While attempting to serve G'd through prayer or
study, he might become troubled by his many sins and shortcomings.
This is a universal problem and each person knows his own
The best advice for this is simply to forget. As soon as an event is
over with, forget it completely and never think about it again.
Understand this well, for it is a very important concept." [Sichos
HaRan (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom) 26] 

A Hasidic reincarnation story, but only from around the time of Fenimore Cooper:

?...The next morning when Reb Shlomo awoke, he was able to see the
destinies of all human beings on earth. He knew their past lives,
their present accomplishments, and all the repairs they needed to make
for their souls. It was indeed an awesome spiritual gift!
That very same day, a messenger brought Reb Sholom a kvittel - a
written prayer request - along with a great sum of money as a
donation. The sender was a prosperous merchant, whom we shall call Mr.
Geltman. He lay dying and wanted the Rebbe to make a miracle and save
his life.

No sooner had Reb Shlomo read the kvittel from Mr. Geltman, than a
second messenger arrived with another prayer request, this time from
the woman who supervised the homeless shelter near the edge of town.
She had come on behalf of a pregnant woman, whom we shall call Mrs.
Bettler, who was staying at the shelter. Mrs. Bettler had been
laboring in childbirth for several days, but was unable to deliver her
child. The midwife could do nothing for her. Could the Rebbe help?

With his newly-acquired mystical insight, Reb Shlomo immediately saw
that the soul of the dying Mr. Geltman was destined to be re-born into
the body of Mrs. Bettler's unborn child. Alas, the poor child could
not be born until the rich man had died!

"So be it," sighed the new Rebbe. "May the will of God be done."
Within moments, word of the rich man's death and the beggar child's
birth arrived, one upon the heels of the other.

The next day, Reb Shlomo also heard through the grapevine that there
was no firewood left at the homeless shelter, and the young mother and
her newborn son were in danger of freezing to death. So Reb Shlomo
took some of the donation money that Mr. Geltman had sent and used it
to buy more firewood. "It really is the boy's own money after all," he
said to himself. "So he deserves to benefit from it." Not long after
that, he gave the rest of the money to Mrs. Bettler, to be used for
the boy's care.

When the boy and his mother were strong enough to travel, they went on
their way with the other beggars, going from town to town. Six years
later, the Bettlers happened to be passing through Karlin again. At
the homeless shelter they heard that one of the sons of the deceased
Mr. Geltman would be celebrating his son's bar mitzvah. As was the
custom, the poor were all invited to the feast. So Mrs. Bettler and
her son went along with the others.
As soon as they arrived at the Geltman house, the six-year-old boy's
whole manner began to change completely. He took on an air of
importance, and refused to sit at the pauper's table with the rest of
the beggars. In a loud, arrogant voice, he demanded to be seated at
the head of the guest table in a place of honor. The child made such a
great disturbance that Reb Shlomo stepped in and said, "Let's just
humor the boy, so we can continue the celebration in peace."

But the rabbi knew there was more to it, because he had recognized the
boy as the reincarnated soul of Mr. Geltman. "He is really the master
of the house, and those are his sons," thought Reb Shlomo to himself.
"All he is doing is asking for his due."

When the meal was served, the same thing happened; the Bettler boy
refused to take the plain foods offered to the poor, and insisted upon
getting the best cuts of meat and the choicest morsels from the head
table. Once again, Reb Shlomo said, "Let him have his way, so he
doesn't disturb the feast."

But the other guests were getting upset with the boy. How dare he, a
mere beggar's son, insult the Geltman brothers like that? So they
asked his mother, "Does your son always behave like this?"

"Why no," replied Mrs. Bettler, as puzzled as they were. "He's always
been such a good boy, very quiet and well-mannered. He's never done
anything like this before - I just don't know what's gotten into him!"

At the end of the feast, after Reb Shlomo had already gone home, the
Geltman brothers distributed money among the poor, as was the custom.
When the Bettler boy's turn came, he looked disdainfully at the small
coins and shouted, "How dare you offer me coppers!? Bring me gold from
the treasure chest!"

By now, the Geltman brothers had had enough of his insolence, and Reb
Shlomo was not there to intervene. So the Geltmans told their servants
to throw him out of the house. And they did.

When Rabbi Shlomo later learned how the Geltman brothers had
unknowingly mistreated their reincarnated father, he was deeply
saddened. He could not bear the thought of spending his life watching
such tragic scenes, so he begged heaven to take away his miraculous
Jewish Tales of Reincarnation by Rabbi Yonassan Gershom

?and to prove simultaneously both the Law of Small Numbers and that
the Chinese aren?t the only ones fond of enumeration:
?Five things cause forgetfulness: - Partaking of what has been gnawed
by a mouse or a cat, eating bullock's heart, habitual use of olives,
drinking water that has been washed in, and placing the feet one upon
the other while bathing. Horayoth, fol. 13, col. 2.?

And in an interesting parallel to Plato?s anamnesis (noting also the
association of a physical trauma and amnesia);

?R. Simlai delivered the following discourse: What does an embryo
resemble when it is in the bowels of its mother? Folded writing
tablets? A light burns above its head and it looks and sees from one
end of the world to the other, as it is said, then his lamp shined
above my head, and by His light I walked through darkness? It is also
taught all the Torah from beginning to end? As soon as it, sees the
light an angel approaches, slaps it on its mouth and causes it to
forget all the Torah completely?
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Niddah, Folio 30b

?The Talmud (Niddah 30b) teaches that before each of us is born, while
we are still in our mother's womb, "A lamp shines over our heads with
which we learn the entire Torah and see from one end of the universe
to the other." The light over our heads is held by an angel, a being
of light. This being teaches us who we are, what is expected of us,
what our purpose and our mission is. In this sense, learning the
entire Torah means the entire blueprint of our lives (Rabbi Yitzchak
Isaac Chaver, Pitchey Shearim, Netiv Partzuf Zer Anpin, Part II, pp.
23a-23b). But it is no less true that we are taught the entire Torah,
or at least allowed to perceive, in this embryonic prophetic state, a
glimpse of the infinite vastness and magnitude of the Supernal Torah.
For in the womb, no effort is involved. The light merely shines "over
our heads." It is for this reason that we can "see from one end of the
universe to the other" [which, according to Kabbalah, does not only
mean "from east to west and north to south," but from the highest poin
the spiritual dimension down to the lowest point in our physical world
(space), and from the beginning of time to the end (time)]. Since, in
the womb, we exist in a bodiless state in which our minds are not yet
limited by our physical brains, we are not subject to the normal
limitations of time and space.
But, of course, no one leaves the womb without being struck on the
upper lip by the same angel. As the Maharal of Prague explains:
While the child is still in the womb, its soul is detached from its
body. Consequently, the soul is still completely spiritual and is able
to know and remember the entire Torah. When the time comes to depart
the womb, the soul now enters into and bonds with the body. At this
point, the soul is now limited by the physical [capacity of the
brain]. As a result, it immediately forgets the Torah it learned...
This is the meaning of the angel's slap on the mouth of the child. It
signals the completion of the soul's bonding with the body... For the
mouth is the organ of speech... As long as the child is in the womb,
it has no power of speech. Only when it is time to be born does it
receive a slap on the mouth in order to signal that the spiritual soul
has completed its bonding to the physical body... (Gevurot Hashem 28).
The angel's little slap on our mouths puts us into a state of amnesia.
Now, when we try to learn Torah, it is hard. It is faintly familiar;
it is good, sweet. But it is only with tremendous effort that even the
tiniest ray of light begins to penetrate our little minds... In
effect, we spend the rest of our lives remembering a tiny portion of
the infinite Torah we learned in the womb. The Tikuney Zohar thus
states, "If one struggles in it [the Torah], he will recall all that
he was taught in his mother's womb" (Tikun 70, Gra edition, p. 160b;
Margoliot edition, p. 136b). Similarly, it is stated, "Whoever
immerses himself completely in Torah [during the day] merits to have
his Neshamah taken up Above while he is fast asleep. There they [the
angels] teach him the deepest secrets of the Torah. When he speaks
Torah the next day, it is based on what he learned the previous night"
(Zohar Chadash ).?

In my memory, too, are all the events that I remember, whether they
are things that have happened to me or things that I have heard from
St Augustine, Confessions
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: myoarin-ga on 16 Feb 2006 05:19 PST
Wow, Hardtofindbooks, that was impressive!  The subject obviously
tickled your interest more than I anticipated when I ventured to
mention your name, but I expect that you would have latched onto the
question anyway.
I hope your comment is as interesting to Harrison Pope as it was to me.
Regards, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: myoarin-ga on 22 Feb 2006 15:37 PST
Hello Dr. Pope,
Many thanks for the very interesting expansion on your question. 
Three "christs" in one day?  I have to wonder if something was
happening at the time to inspire that.
Anyway, as to your generous offer:  It could be fulfilled by posting
subsequent questions directed to the Researcher (content immaterial,
low price, high tip).
I was hoping that between Mesmer and de Sade someone in France had
written the novel you are seeking.

Good luck, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: pafalafa-ga on 22 Feb 2006 17:06 PST
I posted some new information, above, in the clarifications section,
in case you haven't seen it...

Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: myoarin-ga on 23 Feb 2006 17:50 PST
Hi Dr. Pope,
The only persons you can address a question to are official G-A
Researchers such as Pafalafa-ga, who have blue names here and are the
only ones who can post an official answer in the answer box.
I was suggesting that if one of them found just what you have been
looking for, you could address additional questions about whatever you
like for the person to answer.
The rest of us just try to help (fun or obsession?).

Regards, Myoarin
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: myoarin-ga on 24 Feb 2006 02:22 PST
Paf's last excerpt raises the question of whether the author or his
readers considered that Lucasta's memory could be restored, or just
understood that her noble consort might be able to lessen her madness.
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: hardtofindbooks-ga on 25 Feb 2006 22:22 PST
if anyone is interested I have uploaded a text file of Merry's Pains of Memory to

Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: maniac_monarch-ga on 01 Jun 2006 08:01 PDT
As a historian of psychology, I think the project of searching for a
case of 'repressed memory' or related ideas prior to the 18th century
is most likely bound to fail. These notions rest on a modern concept
of memory which did not exist in the extant literature prior to say,
1700; after which everything change. If you take a look at
Hacking, I. (1998). Rewriting the soul: Multiple personality and the
sciences of memory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Leys, R. (2000). Trauma: A genealogy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 
Young, A. (1995). The harmony of illusions: Inventing post-traumatic
stress disorder. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
 you will see that much of psychological language is a modern Western
cultural product.

The basic point is that while the idea of 'memory' has been around at
least as long as literature itself, our conception of it has changed
drastically. Only in recent times has it been reified into something
that appears to have metaphysical characteristics - i.e. be 'lost' and
'found' etc. Hence, if someone in medieval times experienced what we
know call repressed memory (or someone today from a non-psychologised
culture) it would be expressed and explained in a radically different
way, e.g. translocation, possession etc.
Subject: Re: Repressed Memory in ancient literature
From: dtae-ga on 24 Jul 2006 21:15 PDT
Not exactly what you are looking for, but in the book, "Metaphysics,
Materialism and The Evolution of Mind: The Early Writings of Charles
Darwin" Transcribed and Annotated by Paul H. Barrett. On page 9 Darwin
comments, "My Father quite believes my grand F. doctrine is true, that
the only cure madness is forgetfullness". Darwin's grandfather Erasmus
died in 1802.

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