Halbwachs says that memory is something that is formed through the interactions between individuals in a social context. Each individual’s memory of an event or situation is formed around the memories of others. Even though an individual can have his or her own unique memories that come from their own unique psychological experience, these memories are often “filtered through the social field” due to social and cultural aspects that decide the significance of the memories (11). Even very personal memories can be explained in this way because they “are preserved in language, which renders them social entities rather than the products of autonomous individual consciousness” (11). Through the use of language, memories can be spread over space and time creating a collective memory among groups and in some cases lending themselves to traditional practices and “establishing an attachment or bond across time” (12). With this collective memory, different groups, whether religious, familial, cultural, etc., can create their own sense of the past and understanding of their historical and present collective identity. The way one remembered something and recorded it in the ancient world often creates difficulties for historians because it can be hard to decipher the historical from the legendary. In Christian martyr stories especially, writers would often embellish the stories with many different interpretations which may or may not have been evident at the time of the event. Because martyrs are only created through the narrative told after their death, much of the collective Christian memory of their martyrs has probably been embellished in order to make the stories fit their other collective historical memories.
Before this class I never really thought about how different people might perceive what some people call a martyr. It never really occurred to me that a martyr to one person could be a murderer, and/or mentally ill individual to another person. As soon as we began to explore the subject, however, it began to make a lot of sense to me.
I would have initially assumed that the historical situation of someone’s death was the main deciding factor in whether they would be known as a martyr. It does make sense that people might create a skewed story of someone’s death leading to them being thought of as a martyr. After all, people bend the truth and exaggerate every day in order to make people think how they want them to think.
I can see how martyr stories would not survive if they didn't become a myth in the collective memory of a culture. Without being passed down through generations and being thought of as part of a group’s identity, they would be forgotten after no time at all.
It never crossed my mind that the reason people in a society were punished was not to set justice straight, but to show the overwhelming power of the higher up in the society and to exact revenge for wrong doings against the leaders of the society.