A toast, on the occasion of the opening of the Memory and the Museum conference
[I was asked to offer a toast to open the 2018 Japan Society for the Promotion of Science forum on “Memory and the Museum.”]
We are here to celebrate the beginning of a conference on museums and memory. And since we are mostly historians and anthropologists, it seems it might appropriate to start with some imaginative genealogy. In Greek mythology Mnemosyne was the goddess of memory and remembrance. She was the mother of the nine muses, the goddesses of song and poetry, the arts and sciences. And a museum was the place of the muses — a building dedicated to them, or to the arts inspired by them. Museums and memory are closely related.
It’s entertaining to play out the ways that Mnemosyne might be found in the museum we know today. As the goddess of memory and remembrance, she was the inventor of language and words. She was the namer of things — and so, we might say, the first registrar. She was responsible for the remembering and telling of stories in the Greek oral tradition — and so, we might say, the first curator, too. She was an oracular goddess, offering oracles. Perhaps the first museum director? And finally, she was given the epithet “golden robed.” The first donor? Mnemosyne — the personification of memory — is a good and useful goddess for the museum.
The muses, daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus, were worshipped in different ways, in different places, and we might find some useful, or at least amusing, meaning in these various roots of the museum. In Athens, the temple of the muses was in the Academy, where Plato and Aristotle studied. In Sparta, sacrifices were offered to the muses before fighting a battle. In Rome they shared an altar with Hercules. One source suggests that the muses were companions of Dionysus. (Thus offering good justification for museum parties.) But before we get too proud of our mythological origins: At Toezene, sacrifices to the muses were offered at the temple of Hypnos, the god of sleep.
Our conference, I am sure, will explore and partake of all of these aspects of museums and memories. I’m looking forward to it. Cheers!