Ludi Imaginationis

This is a draft Eero Tuovinen wrote for Push 2. It is posted here as an act of intellectual archaeology, not as a finished and completed work.

Games of imagination

What follows is a partial translation of a short treatise from the very beginning of the 16th century. The name of the book in original latin is /Ludi Imaginationis/, and it’s authored by one Anton GrÈve, originally of Amiens in France, better known in contemporary sources by his monastic appellation of *Pacius Antonius Amiensis*. While the original latin work is preserved in the monastery of Emmaus near Gouda (ironic, considering the connection with Erasmus of Rotterdam), the excerpts here are translated via the French, rendered by the gentleman *Eustache Bastiani* at the end of the 19th century.

Of Pacius Antonius himself there is little to be said that would have any meaning outside a historian’s treatise: he was a contemporary of Erasmus, as is clear from his own introduction; from monastic records we find that he began his career in the Dominican school at Fontenay-le-Comte; continued in a peculiarly mobile lifestyle in an array of Augustinian monasteries around Europe; upheld an extensive correspondence with mainly monastic figures around Europe; slept away around the Christmas of 1527. Antonius has never been widely acknowledged in the more common histories of the monastic system or the renaissance, being that those focus invariably on the reformation either of doctrine or of the monastic order, both of which were of only occasional interest to the good friar. Antonius did, however, gain some brief notoriety during the 19th century among the budding social studies, which is understandable considering the content of his writing.

As the contents of Antonius’s fascinating prose skew so close to the practices of our own roleplaying community, I have taken the liberty of interjecting some personal notes and clarifications, mostly based on further reading of the latin not included herein. Any such additions will be /italized/ to make them distinct from the original Antonius. The reader would do well to consider this a kind of an enthusiast’s edition, sacrificing some accuracy of translation in favor of technical and theoretical detail while waiting for a definitive version.

I hope that Ludi Imaginationis – as presented here in a truncated form – is well received by hobbyists interested in alternate developments of our imaginary excursions. A more scholarly and complete edition of the book based on the original latin is already being prepared by the French Roleplaying Society, thanks to the currently revened interest in roleplaying in Europe. Barring any unforeseen impediments this work should also be joined by the correspondence of Antonius, transcribed into an internet database; fascinatingly enough, it seems that while Antonius was clearly considered a late authority on the Ars and Ludi, he was far from an isolated phenomenon in those latter days of the monastic institution. Perhaps this first modern publication of excerpts from his Ludi Imaginationis will drive further efforts at excavating the largely lost history of medieval roleplaying!

[subsubchapter]For the novice

It can hardly be expected that the average reader of a roleplaying journal would be familiar with Ars Memoriae, so the least I can do in my editorial role is to give a run-down of the most pertinent points before embarking on transmitting what Pacius Antonius has to say. The author is a highly learned man of his time, fully committed to his specialty in the arts of memory management; one can hardly expect him to deal with the basics of his subject matter in a work of such a high level. Of course, we as roleplayers are in an unique position to understand many details that would go amiss for a scholar of history – but even then we would be lost if not for the basic understanding of Ars Memoriae I will forthwith impart.

To put it simply, Ars Memoriae (or method of /loci/ as it is also known) is an ancient art of memory management utilized by Grego-Roman rhetors and, consequently, medieval scholars. The art is used to this day by anybody looking to memorize large numbers of details efficiently. Of course, the advent of literacy and digital information management later on have made the arduous discipline a curiousity for our time. Still, the feats of the mind performed by masters like Pacius Antonius were impressive: it was said that a fully disciplined practitioner could store and output hundreds, if not thousands of symbols with reasonable speed and exactitude.

The basic principle of Ars Memoriae is to utilize the propensity of human memory to connect data into contextual webs; any memory of a relevant detail is always connected with sensations and other memories having to do with the memorized detail. Practitioners claim that this is the reason for the difficulty of learning book knowledge, as compared to living experience: the latter has a multitude of connections to sight, sound, feel, smell and other experiences, which all help to anchor the memory in our mind.

The practitioner of Ars Memoriae seeks to duplicate the contextual web of memory by simple force of will and imagination: he would imagine a building (“memory palace”, called a /domus/ by Pacius) in his mind in utmost detail, and himself walking the halls and corridors therein. Whatever it was that he would need to memorize he would “place” in one of those rooms (the eponymous /loci/) in his imaginary building. The imaginary movement, the fictitious details of the building and tending to its rooms would help memory retain whatever was put into one of the rooms, just like a living experience.

Alongside the memory palace the practitioner would have a set of colorful /symbols/ pressed into his memory like the shapes of an alphabet. Each symbol would be a concrete thing or person, suitable for leading or carrying around the memory palace as need dictated. Each would also have a meaning, like a letter or number, or perhaps some real-world person or place. While the practitioner of Ars Memoriae would find it difficult to convince his mind to store abstract letters or long names for singular things, storing images of those things or symbols representing them would be much more natural: thus, a practitioner wanting to store the name of Pacius Antonius would store a pair of friendly doves one before another (dove, a symbol of peace, for “Pacius”, a dove ‘ante’ dove for “Antonius” and ‘amicus’ doves for “Amiensis”). Of course, someone simply wanting to remember the scholar himself would simply store a image of the man (definitely concrete enough for use in a memory palace) instead of an elaborate picture of his name. Regardless, Ars Memoriae can certainly be credited as one of the major sources of symbology in our European heritage, alongside heraldry.

The Ars would develop through the Middle Ages into a high art, much practiced and formalized. Different authors would recommend different builds for the memory palace, arguing whether buildings were better than natural environs, and whether the building should be a real-world structure appropriated by the practitioner (what Pacius calls a /domus ipse/) or wholly made of the gossamer of imagination for the purpose of memory management (as Pacius would have it, /domus rationis/). This discourse was a well-spring of poetic symbology and understanding of human memory, when different masters competed in the facility and efficiency of their methods and systems. The Ars at its peak consisted of not only method, but an international library of memory symbols that could be understood by adepts, much like modern Blissymbols.

During its zenith in the late Middle Ages Ars Memoriae finally developed into an art not only of memorization, but also /composition/. Composition was the name monastic authors used for the practice of creating original thought by recomposition of symbols, a kind of structural device connected to the Ars and made possible by the symbology. A skilled memory composer would arrange logical deduction, speeches or writing by structure alone, dwelving into the meaning of his material only at the end, to recite his work aloud, perhaps resembling a modern object oriented database program. This was considered the heart of Ars Memoriae by authors like Pacius Antonius, the key to orderly and disciplined thought; the reader should be aware that his other major work /Ars Memoriae/ (not to be confused with Giordiano Bruno’s later work by the same name) dwelves into composition in great detail, perhaps greater than any other author of the period.

Pacius himself will discourse somewhat on the treatment of Ars Memoriae during the long centuries of Renaissance, so let it be said here that time was not kind to the Ars. A major reason was that with the spread of literacy memory masters were no longer needed; writing things down was less effort for the mind. It is, however, clear from the contemporary discourse that the nature of the Ars was not always well understood by humanist scholars outside the monastic system; especially the matter of composition, which was largely impossible for non-adepts to grasp, was all but ignored by critique welling outside the monastic system.

[subchapter]Ludi Imaginationis

Antonius begins his treatise with the following introduction, outlining his specific purpose. We can see that he was motivated to embark upon his work by contemporary criticisms directed towards his beloved Ars. Only an incomplete copy of the “companion volume” has been found at this writing; apparently Antonius conceived of it as the practical “reference” guide, while Ludi was his own original theoretical contribution to the corpus. I have included the full introduction to give necessary context for the in places highly technical discourse following.

In recent times it has come known to me that the worthy Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, a long-term correspondent of mine, has been said to be speaking against the entrenched practice and teaching of what has been called by the name of Ars Memoriae, the art of mental composition and memory arrangement adviced by the ancients and scholars together. Among those criticisms imputed to Erasmus are that practition of the Ars encourages rote learning of Christian doctrine; that the feats of memory attributed to masters of the Ars are greatly exaggerated; that the imaginary symbols utilized in the Ars lead to lax thinking and possibly impious associations.

Regardless of the veracity of the connection between good Erasmus and any of the aforementioned arguments (indeed I refuse to believe that they would all origin with a man as well know for his intellectual standing) I find it virtuous to discourse upon the subject, especially now that not many current written records of the Ars Memoriae exist at all, and most of the finer points of it’s practice are limited to the Masters residing at monasteries and scholastic manuscripts never set in Gutenberg’s type. For this purpose I am now authoring this, book of the Imaginary Games, as well as the companion volume Art of Memory, dealing with the finer points of orderly management of memory.

Of the arguments stated, I give short counters: of rote learning, Ars has only been understood in that manner by those incomplete in their learning; of feats of memory, I can personally attest to utilizing 1,255 /loci/ simultaneously in the spring of 1511; of doctrine, that there is nothing more impious in the Ars as the imagination of man in general, so that anybody choosing to condemn one should also condemn the other, banning as well the arts of the painter and the chorist, and writer of pious plays. These are the short counters, I will further elaborate my arguments later by the means of example and reason, but only after embarking upon the more significant journey, which is the content of this treatise as opposed to its motive force.

At this point of my life I can conscientiously call myself a Master of the Ars Memoriae, after learning with Wilhelm at Glastonbury and Clementius at Entremont; in the breadth of my knowledge, however, I find my early experiences with the Ars and its method at Fontenay-le-Comte unique and apparently unrecorded in writing. In my later decades I have witnessed similar methods elsewhere, as well as sharing my own knowledge and practice with others. At this point in time I have to conclude that what I have come to call the Ludus Imaginationis can well be considered the contribution of our generation to the ancient corpus of the Ars. Thus the purpose of this treatise: to focus on the growth and establishment of the Ludi Imaginationis in my first-hand experience and to explain the method to others wishing to incorporate it to their practice of the Ars; and if this my experience shold convince some of the critics that Ars remains one of the foremost tools of human cognition, so much the better.

For those asking me, what is the Ludi and what does it have to do with Ars, I will give a short and conscise answer: the scholars of the Ars have long suggested that the efficacy of the method springs from the connection and harmony of the Five Senses into one memory, deliberately crafted by the practitioner for his own consumption. However, the thread to connect the senses has been the subject of heated argument and disagreement: how can the adept connect a sight to a sound, or taste to touch, in his mind? The answer of this author, exemplified in the practice of Ludi Imaginationis, is that human cognition can only ever really reside in events of chronological time, better called a resitation, or a story. The story of imagined events is what threads the five sense together, and Ludi is what allows us to create that story in a determined fashion.

[subchapter]The state of the art

The chapter of above name in the original edition is apparently paraphrased and combined with another chapter in the Bastiani edition, as it concerns mainly contemporary history of the Ars and it’s current practicing Masters, as viewed by Antonius. Also some information on what is best termed parallel developments at other Dominican schools and monasteries. I have paraphrased further, only including parts relevant for the article.

My early experiences of the Ars were initiated by my able teachers of the Order of Preachers at the school of Fontenay-le-Comte. Dominican friars have held the highest laurels in the field for several generations, so it’s no wonder that my life-long enchantement over the Ars was engendered at the school ably lead by Meister Fabianus. The school itself is a remarkable architectonical achievement, built specifically with highly eternal philosophical principles in mind; celestial forms, the golden ratio and prime numbers abound in the numerous archs, window-ledges, paths, vestibules, hallways and doors of the school. The architect had made sure to give the environs inside the walls very distinctive decorations, making each hall and arc a perfect basis for any domus of memory. The friars of the school were perfectly aware of this, utilizing our environs in a multitude of ways in imprinting our young minds with everything necessary for a Christian and scholarly life.

Concerning the matter and breadth of it, the Ars taught to me by the Order of Preachers was not only the inflexible rote learning depicted by some current authors; rather, it was made very clear to us that we were supposed to not only master the /locus/ and the /symbol/, but also the art of /composition/ based on the two: not only to store words and numbers in a domus of memory like a glorified parrot, but to travel those hallways of imagination and order their contents in inventive and abstract ways, finding connections made possible by symbolic depiction of subject matter not hampered by actual details. I could compose complete sermons or reasoned arguments in a matter of moments at a rather early age by this method, and was not deemed particularly exceptional by my teachers. The Ars taught at Fontenay-le-Comte was a tool of thought, not of rote.

I am certain that the very nature of the Ars at my school – and the Dominican sphere of scholastism in general – is the motivate method that gives rise to the Ludus Imaginationis, the topic of this treatise. As my natural memory has it, I was first introduced to this alternative method of imprinting by older noviate, which implies that something akin to the Ludus had already been in place for who knows how long. I am, however, of the mind that it was our particular class who brought together and made a discipline out of it – at first for the purposes of amusement only, but later even Meister Fabianus himself gave his blessing to this new method of the Ars.

[subchapter]Ludus Aedificandum

Here Antonius begins the description of his method proper. As this was considered an advanced treatise, he wastes no time explaining the normal Ars. For readers who skipped the introduction: the two basic concepts of Ars are the /locus/, which is literally a distinctive place in your memory palace (called a “domus” by Antonius), and the /symbol/, which is a representative thing or item you store in a locus. Both loci and symbols were both highly standardized and personal at the same time, as teaching was based on widely familiar cultural concepts, but an individual practitioner was assumed to choose his own symbols and loci to best reflect his personal experiences. The medieval systems of symbology have little purchase for the modern mind, but we can still appreciate the highly nuanced and international symbology deviced by the monastic orders.

The decisive term of difference for the method of Ludus is the /Communal Domus/: the group of practitioners, which should number no more than seven, builds a communal memory domus via diligent and simultaneous effort. This is done visually, actually touring suitable architecture when possible, but can also be done in the abstract, as per the usual difference between a /domus ipse/ and /domus rationis/. It is important to be focused and appreciative of this effort, because the slowest and dimmest of the participants sets the pace of progress for the whole group.

Even when building a domus ipse, and particularly when building a domus rationis, it is important to make use of the principles of talking and drawing. The practitioners should elect a leader for the effort before starting the tour, for the purpose of structuring input and resolving disputes. It is most reasonable to choose the most experienced practitioner to lead the building of a new domus. The practitioners should also bring wax tablets and styli to use in the building.

At the beginning of the tour the leader chooses a main entrance, as normal. Then he enumerates any distinctive features and symbology of the entrance and environs aloud, for the benefit of his co-practitioners. If working /in rationem/, the leader sets the definite characteristics of any given room, but allows for a round of iterative questions or suggestions to improve the room and give all practitioners a suitable handle on the area. When working /in ipsum/, all practitioners should explore the space and call out observations in clear voice for the others to mark down as appropriate.

The leader chooses the order where the rooms are explored. The Communal Domus can be linear, and should have a primary route, but to be truly useful for the Ludus, it should from the beginning use all pathways and not include sham connections: if there is a door, it is there to be opened (decorum permitting, of course; do not bother a monk in his cell, but rather wait for the noon and ask his permission before barging in). More importantly, after an initial inspection of all the spaces of the domus, the leader starts setting the loci: The practitioners return to each room in turn and the leader declares any loci in a resonant voice, including an unique name and any distinction from possible other loci in the room. A vigorous discussion is possible at this point between the practitioners to determine the easiest and most practical loci, but it is important that the leader declares the final resolution, so as to not leave it vague how the Communal Domus will be built.

As can be seen from the above, the voice is a crucial instrument in building the Communal Domus: like the practitioner who mutters to himself to imprint the memory of voice as well as thought, the Communal Domus is built primarily of words, even /in ipsum/; only the things mentioned out loud and confirmed by the leader are to be taken as authoritative features of the Domus. Great confusion can be engendered by the practitioner who fails to ensure that others have noted the same distinctive features in the domus that he has.

The wax tablets can be used in the process of domus building in the normal manner. The practitioners should also compare, trade and cycle their maps, locus paths and notes to ensure that everybody has retained the same domus with no differences. Combined with the aforementioned use of voice, rounds of questions and vigorous debate, the practitioners will achieve an unique manner of structuring the domus: while the communal method is somewhat slower in practice for a skilled practitioner and very tiring to use for a larger domus (one of, say, over two hundred loci), it has been proven to retain much better than a solitary study; several pairs of eyes see more, and men retain interaction with their equals better than observations of nature. The method was especially useful for us young boys when we were taught in it by the novices: a starting practitioner will be even slower in building his domus alone, and when you forget something, you can always ask your co-practitioner when building communally.

[subchapter]The basics of Ludus

The latinate version of this chapter is chock-full of examples, mostly from monastic settings but also from Antonius’s times at the university in Paris. Apparently what we would call ‘system’ was a very loose and local concept for the monastic practitioners, and Antonius readily adapted his methods based on situation. Unfortunately the Bastiani edition, which doesn’t really appreciate the implications for modern roleplaying theory, has largely left us waiting for the translation of the original latin in this regard.

We create domus to interact with them. Any domus will deteriorate with time if it’s not refreshed by interaction: details will gray out and get confused, flashes of erased symbols will haunt the domus. A small domus might require refreshment only now and then, but any domus of significant size has to be refreshed either every morning in short, or once per week in elaboration.

When we have a Communal Domus, it opens the door for a /Ludus Focillandum/, which is the craft of refreshing the Communal Domus. This is something we developed in elaboration of the Communal Domus in my youth, in those long morning hours set aside for refreshing our memories in the vestibule of the scriptorium. Instead of the sole practitioner interacting with his own domus, the practitioners who have created a domus together gather with suitable frequency and refresh their memories together. Not everybody needs to be there at once, but most should make the time, assuming that the domus holds information valuable to all practitioners.

When the domus is /in ipsum/ and the practitioners find it convenient to visit, the refreshment can be done by walking (and with youths, running) around during the procedure. When working /in rationem/ or away from the original /domus ipse/, it is best if all the participants sit down close to one another and do not move their bodies around. In both cases a leader is chosen for the refreshing Ludus, frequently based on whoever happened to have the sharpest recollection in the last Ludus. You might find that youths want to compete for the honor, which is all the more motivation for them to hone their skill.

The basic Ludus Focillandum follows the normal refreshing procedure, except that practitioners go in turns, stating where they go in the domus or moving appropriately. Each also describes what they see in the domus to others, not skipping important features of the domus itself. For a given turn to finish succesfully, the practitioner has to be able to name and describe the current room, locus he is in and any other loci in sight range, as well as any symbols he has in the current locus. The other practitioners query and correct the moving one to their satisfaction. Should the active player fail at his task even with support from his peers, he is sent to the back of the line with derision, and won’t be allowed a voice in any changes made to the domus at the end of the Ludus.

For the whole Ludus Focillandum to succeed, all loci should be visited at least once successfully and all practitioners should visit all loci they have stored or removed symbols at. Unless the domus has been established for some communal use, often it is the case that practitioners have made individual symbol deposits in the domus since the last communal Ludus; they should make a point of describing those symbols (if not their meaning) to the other practitioners either when they visit the locus themselves or when somebody else visits it. If several practitioners have symbols in the same loci, they have to negotiate and either fit both of their symbols in the same locus, or the younger has to take his symbols to another locus. If two practitioners have established the same symbol, as often happens, they have to modify their symbols to distinguish the two, unless of course they are supposed to represent the same thing.

An adept of Ars Memoriae does well to note that the act of refreshing a locus of a Communal Domus becomes an act of the rhetoric; the task set upon the player is that of painting with words the locus and its symbols in a memorable and aesthetically pleasing manner. Any fanciful turn of phrase that helps the peers memorize the domus and symbols becomes a valuable tool of memory management. As is usual with the Ars, any ad-hoc rituals devised for the purpose should be encouraged. In my youth we used different rigorous shouts and slaps to signify changes made in the domus, to better imprint them into our memory. Now I am content with firm handshakes, finger-crosses and kisses. Each group of practitioners should come up with a pleasing set of movements and actions to better avoid glossing over even small changes to the Domus. It is important to realize that the Communal Domus allows for an entirely new social set of stimuli to be added to the repertoire of a memory artist. In my first Communal Domus at Fontenay-le-Comte we came up with the notion that anybody discarding a symbol had to literally run with it to the refuse heap and throw it in there; in hindsight this was probably one reason for the amount of clutter in our domus, but at least we never suffered with erasure flashbacks.

If the practitioners have a large Communal Domus and they use it for many things actively, it might prove pleasurable to postpone adding or removing symbols until the communal Ludus; that way everybody can help in cleaning and refreshing the domus and it’s much less likely to make mistakes or leave haunts in the domus. Of course, if you use the domus for day-to-day things, in practice you’ll be often adding and removing symbols between the Ludi. To be sure, never remove, or worse still, ignore the symbols placed in the Domus by your co-practitioners; as any Master of the Ars knows, being lax with the imagined space of the domus is a certain way of fraying your domus unnecessarily. Rather, if you have to, store the symbols of your co-practitioners into other loci and be ready to discuss it with them in the next Ludus.

The Ludus Focillandum is the most basic of all ludi, as it is the most fundamental act of brotherhood within a community supporting a domus memoriae. A properly upheld Ludus can be a most efficient method of transferring information between practitioners, whether it is personal news or memorizations from lessons one practitioner has missed because of sickness. Also, assuming your co-practitioners are willing, any one practitioner can loan the communal domus to temporarily increase his artificial memory dozenfold. Half a dozen adepts working to one purpose are a force of intellect not to be overcome by any one soul in isolation.

[subchapter]Ludus Doctoris

Again, the chapter in original has more examples. I trust that the reader gets the gist of Antonius’s thought, being that we have progressed so far in these matters since his time. Antonius apparently distinguishes between different “ludi”, or games, based on the agenda of the players. Thus Ludus Aedificandum/Focillandum/Doctoris and so on, all for different purposes. The connecting thread seems to be the synergy engendered by the memory palace, as all of the games feed into creation of memory palaces and symbols therein. Playing one of these games supports play of any others as well.

When you have one or a few practitioners who need to be introduced into an already existing domus, or simply a group of students already competent in the Ars, you might want to apply the /Ludus Doctoris/, which is a game of imagination for the purpose of imprinting a domus on another person. As teachers of Ars know, this is something you only ever should try with the student in complete willingness and already familiar with the material; the Italian notion of imprinting symbols first and explaining their meanings only a posteori is morally dubious to say the least, as it is often very slow if not completely impossible to forget a properly constructed domus, should you wish to forget unpleasant knowledge.

The process for Ludus Doctoris shares features with the initial building of a communal domus, as well as /Ludus Focillandum/: as in /Ludus Aedificandum/, you should go through the domus in an orderly and clear manner, pointing out loci and symbols already in place; however, instead of disputation and suggestions, the dominant social manner should be doctrinal, with the leader exposing the imaginary space to the disciples. To force the minds of the disciples to imprint the foreign domus, it is essential to make the experience proactive: the disciples should declare clearly where they move in the domus, while the leader describes the surroundings to them (especially the symbols that are only present in the imagination, if working /in ipsum/). Ideally it is the disciples who ration and direct the transmission of information, not the tutor, as it is with the traditional manner of teaching. Even more significantly, the disciples should engage in aggressive composition from the first moment of exploring the domus: whatever symbols they find, they should handle them, combine them and find their inner meaning, engaging them in conversation if they are people or mythic beasts inclined to speech. This technique is unique to Ludus compared to Ars, so consider it well.

For example, when teaching the lives of the Northern Saints to boys of 12 summers, I use a very specific /domus rationis/ that has spires of several levels dedicated to each saint. The saint himself is one of the symbols I use, each saint is present on each floor of his spire, engaged in the factual matter of his legend. I allow the children to take the symbols and mix them up in various ways if they feel like it, but require them to put them back in the right places after a while. They can also discourse with the saints themselves, for whom I supply the voice as necessary. Sometimes the saints help the children find the right places for symbols when I put them out of order and ask the children to sort them out. All in good fun to make the learning easier for children, but the message holds true for adults as well: interaction with the symbols and the loci makes it easier remember even a large memory domus. Tying the events of interaction into a story produces context for the Ars to work.

When two or more practitioners of Ars and Ludus meet, it is quite possible for them to join their domus in the manner of Ludus Doctoris and a suitable imaginary road or shipping route between the two, both exploring the other’s domus. It often takes a long time for this manner of combination to develop into a true Communal Domus, but it is still very useful, especially if the practitioners happen to have different, yet useful information in their domus.

[subchapter]Ludus Repotiorum

Here’s where the disoriented roleplaying theorist should start paying attention, if not before. Pacius’ Ludus Repotiorum is the closest that his era (and, it would seem at this point, later generations up to the 20th century) came to roleplaying for entertainment purposes. Compared to the shards of evidence we have for other practitioners of Ludi Imaginationis, it seems that Pacius was the first and greatest proponent of the following principles, which intentionally flout the understanding scholars had of how a memory palace fundamentally works.

Even if the next game I am to describe is called a game for rest, it is not to be mistaken as an idle entertainment: if a very young or moderately old person is to be expected to support a considerably large memory palace, the reasonable means to it are not achieved by force, but by gentle instruction and rewarding activity solely. Likewise, the art of composition is difficult enough to learn without making it unduely arduous on the young mind. Thus, my bid at teaching the art of composition is worked into the form of an entertaining game, a /Ludus Repotiorum/.

Unlike the ludi that came before, a Ludus Repotiorum is played in the spare moment between duties or after, in moderate amount and only by volution of the players, not for the bidding of an instructor. It is also a game suitable to be played with beginners and laymen, not only scholars. Indeed, I used to teach Ars Memoriae by the means of this game and its variants to royal messengers, who need to have a fluid memory for places and routes.

For playing Ludus Repotiorum a domus of some sort is needed, but it does not matter whether it is communal or ordinary, only that the owner is willing to donate it as the playing field. If there is one among the group who knows the domus to be used best, then he will be its proprietor for the game. If there are two or three, then they will share the task, but in all cases the rest will be normal players.

The proprietors of the domus have a task different from the other players, for they will be in charge of the /bubones/, the owls. These are of two sorts, the /bubo decens/, that is, the ordinary owls, and the other sort, /caputites bubonum/, head-owls of evil intent. There is any number of bubo decens in the game, but only one of the /caputites/ per proprietor in the game. Owls of both types should be placed in the domus by each of the proprietors independent of others.

At this point it is pertinent to note that this Ludus Repotiorum is the game as it developed at Fontenay-le-Comte and later, on my travels with many peoples. In practical play it is important and proper to use what tools seem appropriate at the time and advice others in playing the game in the manner that most pleases everybody and attains the greatest understanding of the nature of memory. I will discourse later on the significance of the bubones and how come they play such an important role in the play of youths at Fontenay-le-Comte; for now, keep adviced that what I show here is just one form of the /ludus/, which itself comes like the carneval in a multitude of different manners, glorifying the endless invention us men are capable of.

When it is clear which domus will be used, as well as who will be the proprietors, the game will begin. The game can be played either /in ipsum/ or /in rationem/, but I will here promote the manner of play /in rationem/, as I will later explain how play is to be modified to be done /in ipsum/. /In rationem/, play is done in a close gathering, akin to /Ludus Focillandum/.

When play is began, the proprietors of the domus ask each other player in turn to state their purpose. This is done in order of prestige and skill, reflected in order of seating. Should a player make a mistake in the game, he will move to sit farthest from the proprietors, signifying his mistake. When such a failure happens, start play again at the beginning of the order. In this way the most skilled are the first to take upon the challenges of the owls.

When stating his purpose, a player has several choices, often depending on the skill of the participants. The most basic of these choices, and the one always made in the beginning, is to call on the senses. When a player calls on his senses each of the proprietors will reveal to him what one of his senses – starting with sight – tells of the /locus/ or room the player is at. At the beginning of play the proprietors choose the locus in secret, and therefore this is the only sensible purpose at the beginning. The task of the player is to recognize or guess which locus he is at, to make reasoned choices when his turn comes again. The skilled player only ever needs to call on his senses rarely, as he knows the domus, or learns of it from what other players state as their purpose.

Calling on the senses can be dangerous: should the player ever call on the senses while a /caput bubonis/ is within his sight, he will fail at his purpose and move to the end of the seating. He will, however, get all five senses for his current location, even if frightened by the fearsome caput. The player can avoid the terror of the caput by stating that he is expecting it in his purpose, but this will lift the onus of completeness from the proprietors, who do not need to be comprehensive in their description for anybody confronting the domus in a timid manner and eyes slitted.

Another most basic purpose is for a player to move. This is a purpose the player can state in any form he pleases, describing how he acts to navigate the domus of memory, going from room to room and locus to locus. However, therein lies a danger: should the player ever turn towards a wall or stumble on symbols or other furniture, he has failed his purpose. He again gets all five of his senses in the interest of instruction before losing his place in the order.

The third basic purpose is the last: should the purpose of the player be to take or interact or move any symbols in his current locus or room, he can do so. Likewise, the player can act in other manners deemed reasonable, considering the current threat of the caputites bubonum on the domus and the safety of the player. Should a player opt a course of action deemed foolish or unvirtuous by any one of his fellow players, he has failed his purpose and loses his place in the order.

As for the task of description settled upon the proprietors: they will only ever describe the domus and its contents as they are, without error. They will not fail to describe bubones of either type when they alight upon any of the player in the domus. Acting for the caputites bubonum as well as bubones decentes, each according to its nature, is also the purview of the proprietors, as described below.

When ever a round of play is finished, either because a player failed on his turn, or because all players had an opportunity to state their intent, the proprietors move the bubones in the domus. The caput bubonis is a fearsome chimera that has taken the body of a man, residing inside the ribcage and covering itself with a robe; it shuffles in the domus in the manner of men, one locus or room at a time. The natural bubo flies, and can therefore alight anywhere it wishes. Each proprietor, again, moves their caput and other bubo independently. And if the bubones should move so as to alert the senses of any of the players, the proprietors will tell them thus.

Finally, each bubo has a purpose, fulfilled as best it might: the /caput bubonis/ is a malcontent beast, using its mannish abilities to disrupt the domus and to set traps for the unwary. The proprietors may have the caput take symbols with them, moving them from their ordained places. As well, instead of moving about, the caput may take upon itself to create a /Dolus Chimaerae/, a malign trap or monster constructed of symbols available in its current locus. Such a /dolus/ always acts according to the proprietor whose caput created it, moving about if that is its nature, or waiting to trap the unwary.

The /bubo decens/, on the other hand, is a wholly different animal. This is the natural owl, a symbol of wisdom, and thus a solace for the desperate player beset by the ill will of the caput and its doli. While the bubo itself cannot manipulate symbols, having no human form, should a player happen upon it he is able to ask the owl questions which it will answer to the best of its knowledge. The bubo wish nothing so much as to set the domus back to its natural order; as the domus resides in the mind of the adept, so does the owl, who is his reason given form. Therefore the owl advices as to the whereabouts of any caput it knows, as well as the structure of the domus, or the best ways to disjunct any dolus described and explained to it.

Of the /dolus chimaerae/, it is to be noted that all works of men and owls can be put apart, should there be will and wisdom enough. Therefore, all /doli/ created by the caput can be not only replicated by the willfull player, but also taken apart. The doli are only dangerous to the player who lets go of his reason and lets the caput surprise himself, or lets fear of the terrifying beast get the best of him. Should a player beset by any dolus correctly interpret the riddle of its appearance, he might well be able to deconstruct the beast, countering the threat. However, if a player fails in this, he has failed his purpose and is sent to the end of the order.

Should it happen that play is not otherwise interrupted with more urgent tasks, the ludus ends when all caput bubonis have been captured and judged, each upon its deeds and understanding, according to the law and virtues. The bubones decentes will then instruct the players in how to repair the damage done to the domus, while the proprietors thank the players for their help in vanquishing the dire threat and annoyment from their domus.

There is one more possibility of play that should be noted: if ever it happens that a proprietor strays from his obligation of truthfullness, whether intentionally or not, there is an additional game to be played: the other proprietors do not condone any such lies, but neither will they expose the erring proprietor. Should a player notice such discrepancy in description as is the inevitable result, he has the right to accuse! A wrongful accusation is a failure of intent, sending the player to the end of the order and ending the round, but should the accusation of mistake prove truthful, the player has proved himself the equal of the wrongful proprietor. In this case the proprietor loses his position to the player and has to move to the end of the order. The player moves in as a proprietor, and where he were as a player is now a /caput bubonis/. Where once was a /caput/ of the former proprietor he is now himself as a player. Then, play continues with this new uncertainty, at least as long as the newly initiated proprietor manages to keep to his /sedicum periculosus/, considering the expert knowledge he needs of the domus of play.

In this manner, my reader, the discourse that is Ludus Imaginationis commenses. The bubones were something invented in harmless games at Fontenay-le-Comte to intrigue the memory and thus better retain and learn. Since then I’ve seen and played numerous games with bubones and without, with varying rules utilizing similar conseits. More of these enchanting variant forms will be displayed in following chapters, wherein I discourse not only of my own experiments, but independent developments in other schools and monasteries.

It should be noted that the Ludus Repotiorum as described here (which should perhaps be described as /Ludus Bubonum/, considering the extent and variety of different Ludi Repotiorum) can be played with laymen as well as memory adepts, should the proprietor be understanding and willing to compromise with those with less orderly minds. If a suitable domus is not immediately available or a less experienced practitioner wants to proprierate, a wax tablet could even be used to keep track of the domus, bubones, player positions and symbols. I am sure that the adept can reasonably easily see how the disciplines of /Ludus Doctoris/ or even /Ludus Aedificandum/ can be ingrained in the existing structure as described above, should need arise.

[subchapter]Developments of the Ludus

It seems this chapter is not in the original latin. As far as I can ascertain from my short acquaintance with the original manuscript at Emmaus, Mr. Bastiani took it upon himself (in the interest of brevity, no doubt) to paraphrase most of the second half of the /Ludus Imaginationis/ in his translation, distilling it into one extended chapter. I fear that most of the structural points about the ludus have been lost in the process, Bastiani being mostly interested in tracing the social stature of memory adepts at the time. I have translated what relevant bits are left, but for the full story we’ll simply have to wait upon the complete original.

[… of composition and the Ludus:] While it cannot be said that there is no joy in a well played game, there is no earthly reason to hold this against the /Ludi Imaginationis/, which has now become widely supported as the foremost tool in shaking the ossified rhetors and their uninspired teaching of the Ars to their bones. What there is of rote learning in current teaching of the art will surely not be sustained when the practice of Ludus grows roots in the fertile soil of young minds.

[… of emotional intensity in Ludus:] Should the reader refer to any of the old masters of Ars, the foregoing consensus has always been that emotional intensity is neither a balk nor danger for the practice, being that it is by this impression of intensity that memory works. In Ludus, then, if players should opt to build a domus of such material that puts a fire upon their chests and tears in the eye, whether that be romances of knighthood or afflictions of Christ, by this working they will ensure that the interaction of imagination will be the better impressed into their memories, and thus their purpose will be fulfilled the better than if they were prudes who efforted to reduce Ars into a clinical effort of logic and comforming forms only. This being the case, do not fear to craft symbols and environments that elicit an emotional response from other practitioners when working a Communal Domus.

[… of secular experiences with Ludus, shamefully cut nearly in its entirety by Bastiani:] While I am well aware that no such admonishment will find purchase with the facile young mind, my considered advice for the memory adept keen to experience the world and its peoples is to keep away from womankind, and especially avoid being drawn into situations where the Ars or the Ludi would be used to impress and entertain in a mixed company. My own experiences at Limoges and Occitania amply suggest that while Ludi can entertain and educate the laymen, the matter of play may easily turn lurid in a rough company. Even damsels of gentle association may turn improper over the course of perfectly innocent play, misunderstanding the gossamer of imagination for suggestions of another kind. Better for the adept to avoid such awkward situations alltogether and rather seek the company of men of learning or boys eager to learn.

[subsubchapter]Of Doli Chimaerae and other symbols

The following is really here in the interest of clarifying the text for the reader who might not be so familiar with the medieval mind. The examples are from my own notes I hastily scribbled when inspecting the latin version of /Ludi Imaginationis/ at Emmaus; the images are scans from the monastery’s ongoing digilization project, courtesy of the chaplain’s office, except for the floor plan, which is something I’ve adapted myself from another manuscript concerning Ars; it might be useful if you want to build a memory palace /in rationem/, perhaps in the interest of playtesting one of the games depicted above.

[subsubchapter]Author’s note

It appears that Antonius Amiensis and his erstwhile translator Eustache Bastiani, as well as the original manuscripts referred to in the introduction, are actually only figments of the author’s imagination. Which is rather a shame, because really, some of the practices of medieval /ars memoriae/ (itself completely real) really are just a hop and a skip away from what we call roleplaying (and which we could well call “manipulation of the Communal Domus”) today. Just as imaginary are the Dominican school at Fontenay-le-Comte and the French Roleplaying Society fabricated in the introduction, as well as most of the persons, places and works referenced in the “manuscript” itself. The monastery of Emmaus is very real, surprisingly enough, as it was at this place where Erasmus of Rotterdam (definitely not an imaginary person) began his short-lived monastic career.


Johan Huizinga:
The Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919)
Erasmus of Rotterdam (1924)
Homo Ludens (1938)

Ars Memorativa, 1490, Augsburg
Ramon Llull: Ars Magna
Giordano Bruno: Ars Memorativa

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