The Associated Press
AMHERST, Mass. _ Retirement brought Stephen Powelson lots of spare time. Perhaps too much: He decided to memorize Homer's "Iliad."
All 600 pages, two volumes, 15,693 lines and more than 200,000 syllables, by his count.
In the ancient Greek.
For 16 years, he has spent about an hour a day _ 5,840 hours in all _ intoning the classic poem. So far, he knows 14,800 lines by heart.
And this is a man whose wife says can't find his glasses or car keys. How did he do it?
"Will, discipline and a touch of madness," he said.
More importantly, why did he do it?
"Every person has a secret desire to achieve immortality," he said. "My way is to absorb into myself something that is immortal."
On Monday, Powelson recited an hour's worth of verse _ about 650 lines _ for a dozen classics professors and students at the University of Massachusetts. One long section was assigned to him the previous night to prove he wasn't cheating.
Powelson, 76, who lives in Paris, is in the midst of a national tour to show off his memory and promote the classics in a society whose most famous Homer is named Simpson.
Powelson, an auditing executive and Harvard graduate, was forced into retirement at age 60 when his employer closed its Paris office, where he was based.
He opened Homer's grand tale of the Trojan War, which he hadn't read since his prep school days, and decided to memorize the entire epic.
Working from Harvard University Press' Loeb Library edition, Powelson would repeat lines with his eyes closed. Sometimes, he would record his voice and listen to it. He would resort to memory tricks, such as associating items with pieces of furniture in his home.
As he recited on Monday, he periodically closed his eyes and clenched a fist, moving it up and down to the meter of the dactylic hexameter. Occasionally, he would falter, repeat a few words and press on. Only a few times did he need a cue from the audience.
Afterward, a listener asked if Powelson gained deep insights into ancient Greek thought by memorizing the text.
"Not really," he said. "I wish I had." Read Next Article