River Lethe

Days of Awe: Forgetting


In Judaism there is fixation on memory, perhaps we could call this a memory complex.  There is an admonition to never forget, for example, the horrors of the Holocaust. The passover seder is repeated every year to remember how the Jewish people were released from bondage in Egypt.

Much of the talk about memory, is not just about the past, but about reliving the memory in the presence. Something similar to imitation dei deus. It is as if each individual at the Seder was themselves released from bondage. This is not just a memory but a reenactment in some respects.

The term forget comes from the old english and roughly is a compound of for and get – miss and grasp. So forget roughly translates to lose grasp and is a modifier of a basic term to grasp. Contrasting this with the ancient greek we have lethe- forget. This is personified by the river Lethe that all souls pass on their way to the underworld. The opposite of this is alethe – or truth.  So in English we start with a state of knowing and lose that, and in Greek we start with a state of forgetfulness and the lack of forgetfulness is memory or truth.  Or to put it another way, we can find and lose things in English and in Greek the memory is always there it is just covered (forgotten).

What does it mean to remember and what does it mean to know? Is memory a burden or a  blessing? Does it prevent us from acting or help us act correctly?

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