Thinking Places, Placing Thoughts: Spatial Metaphors of Mental Activity in Roman Culture

William M. Short


In this paper, I examine Roman culture's ways of speaking, reasoning, and behaving vis-à-vis mental activity from the perspective of conceptual metaphor theory and the theory of tropes. Evidence demonstrates that motion in place was an important model for conceptualizing mental activity, systematically structuring the entire Latin vocabulary of acquiring, relinquishing, and having ideas. Furthermore, an analysis of the mnemonic technique of "loci", the senatorial practice of "pedibus in sententiam ire", and the augural ritual of "inauguratio" reveals that a conceptual association between 'ideas' and 'locations' also organized behavior across a range of socio-cultural practices. I thus suggest that the conceptual metaphor ideas are locations functioned in Roman culture as what anthropologists have called a 'cultural' or an 'instituted model'.

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