From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (in English Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream, from Greek hypnos, ‘sleep’, eros, ‘love’, and mache, ‘fight’) is a romance by Francesco Colonna and a famous example of early printing. First published in Venice, 1499, in an elegant page layout, with refined woodcut illustrations in an Early Renaissance style, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili presents a mysterious arcane allegory in which Poliphilo pursues his love Polia through a dreamlike landscape, and is at last reconciled with her by the Fountain of Venus. One of the hundreds of illustrations to the book shows Leda and the Swan having intercourse on top of a triumphal car watched by a crowd.
The book was printed by Aldus Manutius in Venice in December 1499. The book is anonymous, but an acrostic formed by the first, elaborately decorated letter in each chapter in the original Italian reads POLIAM FRATER FRANCISCVS COLVMNA PERAMAVIT, "Brother Francesco Colonna dearly loved Polia." However, the book has also been attributed to Leon Battista Alberti by several scholars, and earlier, to Lorenzo de Medici. The latest contribution in this respect was the attribution to Aldus Manutius, and arguably, a Francesco Colonna, a wealthy Roman Governor. The author of the illustrations is even less certain, but contemporary opinion gives the work to Benedetto Bordon.
The text of the book is written in a bizarre Latinate Italian, full of words coined based on Latin and Greek roots without explanation. The book, however, also includes words from the Italian language, as well as illustrations including Arabic and Hebrew words; Colonna also invented new languages when the ones available to him were inaccurate. (It also contains some uses of Egyptian hieroglyphs, but they are not authentic.) Its story, which is set in 1467, consists of precious and elaborate descriptions of scenes involving the title character, Poliphilo ("Lover of Many Things", from Greek Polú "Many" + Philos "Beloved"), as he wanders a sort of bucolic-classical dreamland in search of his love Polia ("Many Things"). The author's style is elaborately descriptive and unsparing in its use of superlatives.
The book has long been sought after as one of the most beautiful incunabula ever printed. The typography is famous for its quality and clarity, in a roman typeface cut by Francesco Griffo, which Aldus had first used in February 1495 for De Aetna of Pietro Bembo, for which reason the typeface was named Bembo when it was revived in 1929 by Stanley Morison.
The book is illustrated with 168 exquisite woodcuts showing the scenery, architectural settings, and some of the characters Poliphilo encounters in his dreams. The illustrations are perhaps the best part of the book; delicate and evocative, they depict scenes from Poliphilo's adventures, or the architectural features over which the text rhapsodizes, in a simultaneously stark and ornate line art style which perfectly integrates with the type. These images are also interesting because they shed light on what people in the Renaissance fancied about the alleged æsthetic qualities of Greek and Roman antiquities.
The psychologist Carl Jung admired the book, believing the dream images presaged his theory of archetypes. The style of the woodcut illustrations had a great influence on late-19th century English illustrators, such as Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane and Robert Anning Bell.
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was partially translated into English in a London edition of 1592 by "R. D.", believed to be Robert Dallington, who gave it the title by which it is best known in English, The Strife of Love in a Dream. A facsimile of this edition can be seen online at the Internet Archive.
The first complete English version was published by Thames & Hudson in 1999, five hundred years after the original. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the Strife of Love in a Dream was translated by musicologist Joscelyn Godwin and typeset in Monotype Corporation's typeface "Poliphilus", a re-creation of Griffo's original. A smaller format paperback edition was published in February 2005. However, probably due to the difficulty of the original, the translation is recreated in standard, modern language, rather than following the original's pattern of coining and borrowing words.
The book begins with Poliphilo, who has spent a restless night because his beloved, Polia (literally "Many Things"), shunned him. Poliphilo is transported into a wild forest, where he gets lost, encounters dragons, wolves and maidens and a large variety of architecture, escapes, and falls asleep once more.
He then awakens in a second dream, dreamed within the first. In the dream, he is taken by some nymphs to meet their queen, and there he is asked to declare his love for Polia, which he does. He is then directed by two nymphs to three gates. He chooses the third, and there he discovers his beloved. They are taken by some more nymphs to a temple to be engaged. Along the way they come across five triumphal processions celebrating the union of the lovers. Then they are taken to the island of Cythera by barge, with Cupid as the boatswain; there they see another triumphal procession celebrating their union. The narrative is uninterrupted, and a second voice takes over, as Polia describes his erotomachia from her own point of view.
Poliphilo resumes his narrative after one-fifth of the book. Polia rejects Poliphilo, but Cupid appears to her in a vision and compels her to return and kiss Poliphilo, who has fallen into a deathlike swoon at her feet, back to life. Venus blesses their love, and the lovers are united at last. As Poliphilo is about to take Polia into his arms, Polia vanishes into thin air and Poliphilo wakes up.
Characters in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
Allusions/references from other works
- The book is briefly mentioned in The Histories of Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34) by François Rabelais: :"Far otherwise did heretofore the sages of Egypt, when they wrote by letters, which they called hieroglyphics, which none understood who were not skilled in the virtue, property, and nature of the things represented by them. Of which Orus Apollon hath in Greek composed two books, and Polyphilus, in his Dream of Love, set down more.." (Book. 1, Ch. 9.)
- Polyphilo : or The Dark Forest Revisited - An Erotic Epiphany of Architecture (1992) is a modern re-writing of Polyphilo's tale by Alberto Pérez-Gómez. The non-fictional preface to this book by this eminent architectural historian is an excellent introduction to the Hypnerotomachia.
- Gypnerotomahiya (Гипнэротомахия, 1992) is an 8-minute Russian animation directed by Andrey Svislotskiy of Pilot Animation Studio made based on the novel by the same title.
- The 1993 novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte mentions the 1545 edition of the Hypnerotomachia (Ch. 3). This book was the basis for Polanski's 1999 film The Ninth Gate (where the book is misnamed "Poliphilo").
- The title and many themes of John Crowley's 1994 novel Love & Sleep (part of his Ægypt series) were derived from the Hypnerotomachia.
- In the 2004 novel The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, two students try to decode the mysteries of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.
- Umberto Eco's 2004 novel The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana features a protagonist whose doctoral thesis was written on the Hypnerotomachia.