In an age of smartphones, search engines and external memory aids, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t long ago that a good memory was essential to being an educated person. And, in many ways, our brains are built to be used in this way, even if we often opt not to do so today. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed in two types of memory: natural and artificial. The former was innate, but the latter faculty could be developed through training. And so they refined the loci method and other techniques using rules and instruction manuals to help senators, statesmen and performers remember lengthy speeches, poems and stories. Such methods proliferated during the Middle Ages as a means for the pious to commit to memory religious texts and long portions of the Holy Scriptures. Memory training came to be regarded as a required element of education.
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