Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

From Academic Kids

Poliphilo kneels before Queen Eleuterylida
Poliphilo kneels before Queen Eleuterylida

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (or The Strife of Love in a Dream) is one of the most curious books ever published. The Greek title might be translated Poliphilo's Struggle for Love in a Dream.

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 himself.

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 Arabic, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, and hieroglyphics languages; Colonna also invented new languages when the ones available to him were inaccurate. 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 Polu "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 typeface cut by Francesco Griffo. The book is illustrated with 174 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 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.

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 faithful re-creation of Griffo's original. A smaller format paperback edition was published in February 2005.

The Hypnerotomachia in other fiction

Love and Sleep

The title and many themes of John Crowley's 1994 novel, Love and Sleep, were derived from the Hyperotomachia. Significantly, Love and Sleep was written prior to the renewed popularity of the Hypnerotomachia resulting from Joscelyn Godwin's 1999 translation.

The Rule of Four

In 2004, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason wrote a novel entitled The Rule of Four about two Princeton University students who try to decode the mysteries of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. As a companion and commentary to the novel Joscelyn Godwin wrote the The Real Rule of Four: The Unauthorized Guide to The New York Times Bestseller (2004, ISBN 1932857087) in which he investigates the history of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and its use in the novel.


  • Thames & Hudson (1999). Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the Strife of Love in a Dream. ISBN 0500019428 - a modern English translation.
  • Lefaivre, Liane: Leon Battista Alberti's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili : re-cognizing the architectural body in the early Italian Renaissance. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: MIT Press 1997. ISBN 0262122049. -
  • Schmeiser, Leonhard: Das Werk des Druckers. Untersuchungen zum Buch Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Maria Enzersdorf: Edition Roesner 2003. ISBN 3902300108 - austrian philosopher argues for Aldus Manutius' authorship.

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