Funes the Memorious

Last updated
Funes the Memorious
by Jorge Luis Borges
Original titleFunes el memorioso
Translator Anthony Kerrigan
Country Argentina
Language Spanish
Genre(s) short story
Published in Ficciones
PublisherEditorial Sur
Media typePrint
Publication date1942
Published in English1954

"Funes the Memorious" (original Spanish title Funes el memorioso) [1] is a fantasy short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). First published in La Nación of June 1942, it appeared in the 1944 anthology Ficciones , part two (Artifices). The first English translation appeared in 1954 in Avon Modern Writing No. 2.


"Funes the Memorious" is the tale of one Ireneo Funes, who, after falling off his horse and receiving a bad head injury, acquired the amazing talent—or curse—of remembering absolutely everything. [2]

Plot summary

The narrator, a version of Borges himself, meets Ireneo Funes, a teenage boy who lives in Fray Bentos, Uruguay, in 1884. Borges's cousin asks the boy for the time, and Funes replies instantly, without the aid of a watch and accurate to the minute.

Borges returns to Buenos Aires, then in 1887 comes back to Fray Bentos, intending to relax and study some Latin. He learns that Ireneo Funes has meanwhile suffered a horseback riding accident and is now hopelessly crippled. Soon enough, Borges receives a note from Funes, requesting that the visitor lend him some of his Latin books and a dictionary. Borges, disconcerted, sends Funes what he deems the most difficult works "in order fully to undeceive him".

Days later, Borges receives a telegram from Buenos Aires calling for his return due to his father's ill health. As he packs, he remembers the books and goes to Funes's house. Funes's mother escorts him to a patio where the youth usually spends his dark hours. As he enters, Borges is greeted by Funes's voice speaking perfect Latin, reciting "the first paragraph of the twenty-fourth chapter of the seventh book of the Historia Naturalis " (by Pliny the Elder).

Funes enumerates to Borges the cases of prodigious memory cited in the Historia Naturalis, and adds that he marvels that those are considered marvellous. He reveals that, since his fall from the horse, he perceives everything in full detail and remembers it all. He remembers, for example, the shape of clouds at all given moments, as well as the associated perceptions (muscular, thermal, etc.) of each moment. Funes has an immediate intuition of the mane of a horse or the form of a constantly changing flame that is comparable to our (normal people's) intuition of a simple geometric shape such as a triangle or square.

In order to pass the time, Funes has engaged in projects such as reconstructing a full day's worth of past memories (an effort which, he finds, takes him another full day), and constructing a "system of enumeration" that gives each number a different, arbitrary name. Borges correctly points out to him that this is precisely the opposite of a system of enumeration, but Funes is incapable of such understanding. A poor, ignorant young boy in the outskirts of a small town, he is hopelessly limited in his possibilities, but (says Borges) his absurd projects reveal "a certain stammering greatness". Funes, we are told, is incapable of Platonic ideas, of generalities, of abstraction; his world is one of intolerably uncountable details. He finds it very difficult to sleep, since he recalls "every crevice and every moulding of the various houses which [surround] him".

Borges spends the whole night talking to Funes in the dark. When dawn reveals Funes's face, only 19 years old, Borges sees him "as monumental as bronze, more ancient than Egypt, anterior to the prophecies and the pyramids".

Borges later finds out that Funes died from "congestion of the lungs".

Major themes

Borges explores a variety of topics in the text, such as the need of generalization and abstraction to thought and science.


Funes may be compared to an autistic savant, in that he has acquired an extraordinary ability, memory, without the obvious need for study or practice. The story raises the unresolved question of how much unfulfilled potential the human brain truly contains.

The very existence of eidetic (photographic) memory is controversial, although hyperthymesia, now known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM), the ability to recall one's past day-by-day, has been confirmed to exist by some neuroscientists (Parker et al. 2006). Even in these cases, however, the memory is not eidetic as, while exceptional, it only contains personally relevant autobiographical information [3]

Wasted miracles

The early death of Funes echoes the idea of unfulfilled potential, the wasted miracle of a plainsman with phenomenal abilities who lives and dies in obscurity. The unheeded marvel is a common theme in Borges's writing.

Counting systems

Funes claims to have invented a system of enumeration which gives every numeral (up to at least 24,000) its own arbitrary name. The narrator argues that a positional number system is a better tool for abstraction.

Artificial languages

The narrator mentions that Locke postulated then rejected an impossible idiom "in which each individual thing, each stone, each bird and each branch would have its own name; Funes once projected an analogous language, but discarded it because it seemed too general to him, too ambiguous" [4] since it did not take time into account: given that physical objects are constantly changing in subtle ways, Funes insisted that in order to refer to an object unambiguously one must specify a time.


Because Funes can distinguish every physical object at every distinct time of viewing, he has no clear need of generalization (or detail-suppression) for the management of sense impressions. The narrator claims that this prevents abstract thought, given that induction and deduction rely on this ability. This is stated in the line "To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes, there were nothing but details."


Funes sits in a dark room and goes over the events in his past. As narrative, this can be seen as an extended version of insomnia. It is a fantastical presentation of a common human complaint. Borges himself states the tale is a metaphor for this in the prologue to Artifices.

Actual persons with similar conditions

Solomon Shereshevsky, a stage memory-artist (mnemonist) with a condition known as "hypermnesia", [5] is described by the Russian neuropsychologist Alexander Luria in his book, The Mind of a Mnemonist, [6] which some speculate was the inspiration for Borges's story. [5] Luria discusses explicitly some of the trade-offshinted at by Borgesthat come with supernormal memory power. (Further Skywriting on this topic.) British-American neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks cites Luria's book as the inspiration for his own book Awakenings , which is dedicated to Luria. [7] Sacks also mentions Borges's Funes in his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, at the end of Chapter 13 entitled, "Yes, Father-Sister" and in other chapters. The neuroscience aspects of Funes are also discussed in detail by Rodrigo Quian Quiroga in his book Borges and Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain.

Jill Price, and ten others, can remember with great accuracy most days of their lives starting from the average age of eleven. The scientific term for their unique condition is "hyperthymestic syndrome", more recently known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM). Price has stated that she, like Funes, views her memory as a curse. [8] [9]

Cultural references


  1. The title has also been translated as "Funes, His Memory." The Spanish "memorioso" means "having a vast memory," and is a fairly common[ citation needed ] word in both Spanish and Portuguese languages. Because "memorious" is a rare word in modern English, some translators opt for this alternate translation.
  2. "In Retrospect: Funes the Memorious". Nature. 463: 611. 2010. doi: 10.1038/463611a .
  3. LePort, AK; Stark, SM; McGaugh, JL; Stark, CE (16 March 2016). "A cognitive assessment of highly superior autobiographical memory". Memory (Hove, England): 1–13. doi:10.1080/09658211.2016.1160126. PMC   5488704 . PMID   26982996.
  4. Borges, Jorge Luis (2000). Labyrinths. Trans. James E. Irby. London: Penguin Classics. p. 93.
  5. 1 2 T. Verberne (September 1976). "Borges, Luria and hypermnesia--a note". The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 10 (3): 253–5. doi:10.3109/00048677609159507. PMID   1071003.
  6. Маленькая Книжка О большой Пяти [ permanent dead link ] by Alexander Luria (in Russian)
  7. Oliver Sacks (2008-04-16). "Life-changing books: The Mind of a Mnemonist". New Scientist.
  8. "The woman who can remember everything" The Telegraph, 9 May 2008
  9. "A Case of Unusual Autobiographical Remembering" Psychology Press, 2006

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexander Luria</span> Russian neuropsychologist

Alexander Romanovich Luria was a Soviet neuropsychologist, often credited as a father of modern neuropsychology. He developed an extensive and original battery of neuropsychological tests during his clinical work with brain-injured victims of World War II, which are still used in various forms. He made an in-depth analysis of the functioning of various brain regions and integrative processes of the brain in general. Luria's magnum opus, Higher Cortical Functions in Man (1962), is a much-used psychological textbook which has been translated into many languages and which he supplemented with The Working Brain in 1973.

"The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" is a fantasy short story written in 1935 by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. In his autobiographical essay, Borges wrote about "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim", "it now seems to me to foreshadow and even to set the pattern for those tales that were somehow awaiting me, and upon which my reputation as a storyteller was to be based."

<i>Ficciones</i> Book by Jorge Luis Borges

Ficciones is a collection of short stories by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges, originally written and published in Spanish between 1941 and 1956. Thirteen stories from Ficciones were first published by New Directions in the English-language anthology Labyrinths (1962). In the same year, Grove Press published the entirety of the book in English using the same title as in the original language. "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" originally appeared published in A History of Eternity (1936). Ficciones became Borges's most famous book and made him known worldwide.

<i>Labyrinths</i> (short story collection) 1962 book by Jorge Luis Borges

Labyrinths is an anthology of short stories and essays by the writer Jorge Luis Borges. It was translated into English, published soon after Borges won the International Publishers' Prize with Samuel Beckett.

"The Aleph" is a short story by the Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. First published in September 1945, it was reprinted in the short story collection, The Aleph and Other Stories, in 1949, and revised by the author in 1974.

<i>The Man Who Tasted Shapes</i> Book by Richard Cytowic

The Man Who Tasted Shapes is a book by neurologist Richard Cytowic about synesthesia.

"The House of Asterion" is a short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The story was first published in 1947 in the literary magazine Los Anales de Buenos Aires and republished in Borges's short story collection The Aleph in 1949. It is based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and is told from the perspective of Asterion, the Minotaur.

The title mnemonist refers to an individual with the ability to remember and recall unusually long lists of data, such as unfamiliar names, lists of numbers, entries in books, etc. Some mnemonists also memorize texts such as long poems, speeches, or even entire books, of fiction or non-fiction. The term is derived from the term mnemonic, which refers to a strategy to support remembering, but not all mnemonists report using mnemonics. Mnemonists may have superior innate ability to recall or remember, in addition to relying on techniques.

"The South" is a short story by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, first published in La Nación in 1953 and later in the second edition (1956) of Ficciones, part two (Artifices).

Solomon Veniaminovich Shereshevsky, also known simply as 'Ш' ('Sh'), 'S.', or Luria's S was a Soviet journalist and mnemonist active in the 1920s. He was the subject of Alexander Luria's case study The Mind of a Mnemonist (1968).

Hyperthymesia, also known as hyperthymestic syndrome or highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM), is a condition that leads people to be able to remember an abnormally large number of their life experiences in vivid detail. It is extraordinarily rare, with only 61 people in the world having been diagnosed with the condition as of 2021.

<i>The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven</i>

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a 1993 collection of interconnected short stories by Sherman Alexie. The characters and stories in the book, particularly "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona", provided the basis of Alexie's screenplay for the film Smoke Signals.

Exceptional memory is the ability to have accurate and detailed recall in a variety of ways, including hyperthymesia, eidetic memory, synesthesia, and emotional memory. Exceptional memory is also prevalent in those with savant syndrome and mnemonists.

Eidetic memory is the ability to recall an image from memory with high precision—at least for a brief period of time—after seeing it only once and without using a mnemonic device.

<i>Away with Words</i> 1999 Hong Kong film

Away with Words is a 1999 auteur trilingual film by Christopher Doyle co-scripted by Doyle and Tony Rayns and starring Tadanobu Asano, Kevin Sherlock and Mavis Xu.

<i>The Book of Sand</i> (short story collection) 1975 book by Jorge Luis Borges

The Book of Sand is a 1975 short story collection by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. In the author's opinion, the collection, written in his last days — and while blind — is his best book. This opinion is not shared by most critics, many of whom prefer his other works such as those in Ficciones (1944).

"The Congress" is a 1971 short story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The story is on an utopic universal congress and is seen by critics as a political essay.

<i>Moonwalking with Einstein</i> Book by Joshua Foer

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything is a nonfiction book by Joshua Foer, first published in 2011. Moonwalking with Einstein debuted at no. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list and stayed on the list for 8 weeks.

Isaac Asimov wrote three volumes of autobiography. In Memory Yet Green (1979) and In Joy Still Felt (1980) were a two-volume work, covering his life up to 1978. The third volume, I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994), published after his death, was not a sequel but a new work which covered his whole life. This third book won a Hugo Award.