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Hypnerotomachia Poliphili


Poliphilo kneels before Queen Eleuterylida
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is one of the most curious books ever published. The Greek title might be translated Poliphilo's Love-Strife in a Dream.

The book was printed by Aldus Manutius in 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" but the book has also been attributed to Leon Battista Alberti by several scholars, and earlier, to Lorenzo de Medici.

The text of the book is written in a bizarre Latinate Italian. Its story consists of precious and elaborate descriptions of scenes involving the title character, Poliphilo (the lover of Many Things), 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. The book is illustrated with peculiar 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 occasionally reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley. 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 book has been recently translated into English as Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the Strife of Love in a Dream, by Joscelyn Godwin[?], ISBN 0-500-01942-8.

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