Testing 1 2 3, or Name That Greek

October 13, 2008

We had our midterm exam today, which consisted of three sections: one essay, one short answer and seven identification questions. I think I did well on the first two portions, but the ID questions… I wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted out of them. Who are Castor and Polydueces? Er, twin brother Argonauts? What are the Ister and the Eridanus? Um, rivers? We shall see how it all unfolds.

Which leads me to the bigger question of keeping track of large casts of characters. Epic poems tend to drop names a lot, in quantities somewhere between the Old Testament begatting bits and the red carpet at some Hollywood awards banquet. I find it difficult to remember the names of my husband’s relatives, much less the names of obscure and relatively unimportant characters and locations in a poem over 12,000 lines long.

And yet, amazingly, Homer did it. Or the ancient bards, if you’re partial to the “Homer wasn’t real” theory. Such a feat of memorization is practically unheard of in modern culture. I think it’s only getting worse as we become more and more dependent on the Internet; why memorize something when you can look it up anytime on Google? That portion of our brains is going the way of our vestigial tails.

Even so, better our current plight than a forced return to oral traditions, a la Fahrenheit 451. I wanted to be a book-keeper when I was young, but now I am content to hope that such people are never necessary for the preservation of our literary history.

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