MNEMOSYNE: The Greek goddess of memory and mother of the nine Muses

MNEMOSYNE is the Warburg Institute’s blog—a digital showcase for its collections and activities.

When we thought about what to name our blog, there was really only one option: ‘MNEMOSYNE’ was the name that our founder, Aby Warburg (1866-1929), gave both to his unique library and to his final project, the unfinished Bilderatlas in which he mapped the afterlives of ancient images, stories and ideas. The word captured his commitment to cultural memory and to the spaces, trainings and tools needed to preserve and study it.

In 1925, when Warburg was building his new library in Hamburg, he asked to have MNEMOSYNE carved over the door.

Warburg Library, Hamburg
Warburg Library, Hamburg

Then when the Warburg Institute was given its permanent home within the University of London, in a building designed by the architect Charles Holden, the word was once again carved above the foyer door.

Warburg Library, London
Warburg Library, London

All who enter the Warburg pass under the spell of Mnemosyne and her children, who are represented in a sculptural frieze of the classical Muses.

Warburg was always happier with fragmentary notes and provisional reports than finished publications: our archive houses dozens of boxes of index cards in which Warburg stored scraps of information (a few of which are featured in our banner-image). He seems to have worked with digital modes before the invention of digital technology. We think he would have loved the format of the blog, and we hope you will enjoy reading these regular updates from our staff, students and visiting scholars.

Further Reading

Claudia Wedepohl, ‘Mnemosyne, the Muses and Apollo: Mythology as Epistemology in Aby Warburg’s Bilderatlas,’ in The Muses and their Afterlife in Post-Classical Europe, eds. Kathleen W. Christian, Clare E. L. Guest and Claudia Wedepohl (London and Turin: The Warburg Institute and Nino Aragno Editore, 2014)

Christopher D. Johnson, Memory, Metaphor, and Aby Warburg’s Atlas of Images (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012)