Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream by Francesco Colonna, translated by another fellow Joscelyn Godwin [also] from Thames & Hudson:
For half a millenium, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili has been one of the great literary enigmas of the Italian Renaissance. This book, the title of which is translated as “The Strife of Love in a Dream,” was written by the Dominican monk Francesco Colonna in the late 15th century. It consists of the amatory adventures of one Poliphilo, who dreams of a search for his love Polia among spectacles of ancient buildings, sculptures and gardens frequented by the gods of pagan antiquity.
Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia does in fact constitute a “missing link” between two critical antecedents of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema: Saint Augustine and Francois Rabelais. Augustine, who wrote “Love, and do what thou wilt,” proposed that the spiritual trinity within the human soul was composed of memory, understanding, and will. In the Hypnerotomachia, Poliphilo represents memory, and he is given two guides: Logistica (understanding) and Thelemia (will). Eventually, when forced to choose between their counsel, he follows Thelemia in deciding upon the path of erotic fulfillment over the options of worldly glory and ascetic contemplation. Florence Weinberg has suggested that Rabelais, who certainly read Colonna and explicitly acknowledged him, was inspired by Colonna’s Thelemia in assigning the name Theleme to his utopian abbey.
The Hypnerotomachia was written in a curious and largely impenatrable “pedantesca,” supplementing the Tuscan vernacular with many Greek and Latin neologisms. One partial translation into English by “R.D.” was published during the Renaissance, when it was also translated into French. The book aroused the most interest in French readers of the 16th and 17th centuries, who usually understood it as an alchemical allegory. Anglophone scholars tended to concentrate attention on the innovative woodcut illustrations, rather than the text. Since 1999 Joscelyn Godwin’s complete and lucid English translation (now available in a more economical second edition) has made it available to readers in a new and powerful way. [via]
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