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Repressed Memory in Ancient Literature
Written by Harrison Pope   
Friday, 14 July 2006 08:35
$1000 REWARD TO THE FIRST PERSON WHO CAN FIND A CASE OF "REPRESSED MEMORY" IN THE WORLD'S LITERATURE PRIOR TO 1800.

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We are researchers at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School who have been studying the hypothesis of "repressed memory" or "dissociative amnesia," as it is sometimes also known. This concept 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.

Although we are aware of many such instances of "repressed memory" in the literature of the last 200 years, we have been unable to find any such instances prior to 1800. Therefore, we offer a $1000 reward to the first person who can find for us a case of "repressed memory" that appears 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.

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; we are seeking a comparable example of "repressed memory" in a work prior to 1800.

You are welcome to reply through the forum if you wish, and if you have any questions, comments, or other input we'd love to hear it. We'd also love to hear about any cases you find that may be close or in some other way related. If you believe that you have discovered a bona fide case meeting our criteria, and you wish to claim the $1000 reward, then you will need to contact me privately at harrisonpope at mclean.harvard.edu. Thank you, and good luck!

 

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