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Hypnerot omachi a Pol i phi l i

The st ri f e of l ove i n a dream: Embodi ment , Imagi nat i on and Free
Wi l l
Farid Rener
Int rodct i on
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is one of the most beatifl boo!s in the "orld#
The original edition, printed in 1$%% in Italy has 1&' "oodcts of "onderfl detail(
the font became "ell !no"n in the period for its clarity and beaty# It "as "ritten
in a form of Italian "hich contained many ne" "ords "ith )atin and *ree! roots#
There are many theories as to "ho "rote it + an acrostic formed by the first letter of
every chapter reads P,)I-. FR-TER FR-/0I1021 0,)2./-
PER-.-2IT 34rother Francesco 0olonna greatly loved Polia5, ths, it "as
traditionally attribted to a 4rother Francesco 0olonna "ho "as alive dring the
time period# Ho"ever, some have lin!ed it to -lberti, a different Francesco
0olonna, as "ell as theories that it "as "ritten by a grop of people# What is
certain is that the person "ho "rote it had a vast !no"ledge of the architectre and
cltre of anti6ity, and a "onderfl imagination#
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, literally, 7the strife of love in a dream8 3hypnos+
eros+mache5 is the story of Poliphilo 3friend9lover of 7Polia85, a yong lover "ho
falls asleep after a long night pining over his lover, Polia 37many things8, or 7city8
stemming from polis5# Poliphilo dreams that he is in a forest, "here he is chased by
a "olf and stmbles on a beatifl gate "hich is srronded by rins of architectre
from anti6ity# He gets frightened by a dragon "ho forces him to pass throgh the
gate, "hich trns ot to be the entrance to a dar! labyrinth# -t the other end, he
finds himself in the realm of :een Eleterylida 3the embodiment of Free+Will5,
"here he bathes "ith five nymphs "ho represent the five senses# They ta!e him to a
smptos feast "ith the :een, "here he "atches a hman dance+chess game# He
is then ta!en to three gates by the :een;s handmaidens Thelemia 3<esire, <estiny5
and )ogistica 3Reason5# He passes throgh the middle gate, and chooses the vita
volptaria, "here he is renited "ith his lover, Polia# They parta!e in a rital,
=oining them in love, at the temple of 2ens, "hich involves the e>tingishing of
torches and the !illing of doves, from "hose ashes a rose bsh gro"s# Poliphilo and
Polia go to a rined temple "here Poliphilo sees a mral depicting hell# They meet
1 Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, trans. Joscelyn Godwin, Thames & Hudson, 1999. Page numbers are given
according to the page numbers o the original 1!99 edition.
"ther reerences used in this te#t are$
Pere%&Gome%, 'lberto$ Polyphilo or The Dark Forest Revisited, ()T, 199*.
Pere%&Gome%, 'lberto$ Built upon Love: Architectural Longing ater !thics and Aesthetics, ()T, *++,.
-eaivre, -iane$ Leon Battista Al"erti#s Hynerotomachia Poliphili: Re$%ogni&ing The Architectural Body in
the !arly 'talian Renaissance, ()T, 199..
0pid "ho ta!es them to the island of 0ytherea 3-phrodite5, "here they see the
trimphal chariots in honor of 0pid# They arrive at the centre of the island "here
they get to the tomb of -donis# Here, the nymphs as! Polia ho" she and Poliphilo
fall in love# ,nce she finishes her story, Poliphilo "a!es p, sad and alone#
The long descriptions of the beatifl architectre and artifacts that Poliphilo
enconters on his =orney give s a sense that Poliphilo is trying to change the "ay
that "e conceive architectre# He presents to s an architectre that is embodied,
bringing the person "ho is e>periencing the architectre into the "orld throgh their
senses# Poliphilo creates "onderos architectre in his dream, "hich is far greater
than anything that has ever been bilt# Poliphilo is arging for an architectre that is
informed by dreams, "hich isn;t born e>+nihilo, and neither is pt into the mind of
man by a deity# -n architectre li!e this allo"s imagination and playflness to be
born from the architectre itself# Finally, I see Poliphilo imploring s to both accept
or Fortnes "hile allo"ing for the possibility of Free+Will# These ideas are not
contradictory for him, and are important in the sccessflly living the vita
-s there "as only so mch of this "or! that I cold read, I only dra" on
e>amples from the first ?@@ pages, p ntil "hen Poliphilo and Polia are nited in
love at the temple of 2ens#
Embodi ed E>peri ence of -rchi t ect re
Poliphilo presents architectre as an entirely embodied e>perience# -fter being
frightened by a "olf, Poliphilo arrives at a vast bilding set bet"een t"o montains,
of a siAe and beaty that he has never seen before# Bpon seeing the bilding in the
distance he is broght immense pleasre, "hich s"iftly displaces his fear of the
"olf# He describes the bilding and its srrondings to s in detail, details "hich
evo!e bodily reactions "ithin him# 7-fter loo!ing at this so intently and
concentratedly, my senses "ere captivated and stpefied by an e>cess of pleasre that
e>clded any other =oy or comfort from the grasp of my memory# -s I marvelled at
it and e>amined careflly every part of the beatifl comple>, e>amining these
e>cellent and noble states made from virgin stone, my emotions "ere sddenly so
"armly arosed that I gave forth a sobbing sigh#8 3b?;+b$5 His sigh, broght on by
the architectre, reminds him of his 3other5 love, Polia# Poliphilo sees architectre as
an erotic implse, it elicits "ithin him bodily sighs, it ta!es over the "hole of his
being# This is not =st Poliphilo merely telling s of a fetish, rather, the
Hypnerotomachia is arging that good architectre "old give this e>perience to
everyone "ho is open to it# The architectre doesnCt flfil Poliphilo D indeed, he is
constantly teased by it + it e>cites him, then cools him off# The architectre creates a
space of eroticism by providing him "ith limits D by providing a place, not of
clima>, bt of constant arosal, a place "here he is strc! by beaty at every trn,
"hen he is loo!ing at it from afar, and "hen he moves close and loo!s at the
minte details#
These sighs, these bodily reactions present to s the possibility for an architectre
that is different to the ne" Renaissance architectre and architects that the athor
obviosly feels is lac!ing# -fter being a"ed by the beaty of the bilding, Poliphilo
then starts to measre the proportions: 7I "as inflamed "ith the pleasre of stdying
and nderstanding the fertile intellect and sharp intelligence of the "ise architect( and
ths I made this carefl scrtiny of its dimensions, its lineaments, and its practical
aspects#8 3c1;5 While he is measring, he thin!s abot modern architects "ho, in
his opinion 7do not even !no" "hat EarchitectreF is#8 3c1;5 For Poliphilo, an
architect orders symmetry, and for this, mch talent is re6ired, someone "ith a
7fertile intellect8 and 7sharp intelligence,8 someone "ho is 7"ise8, since bilding
"ith mere simple ornamentation is left to 7common and nedcated fol!#8 3cG5 The
ornamentation of the architectre is secondary to its being + the measrements,
"hich are in no "ay Hscientific;, bt are proportional and necessary for harmony, are
more important in bringing abot the bodily "onder that Poliphilo e>periences than
the beatifl ornaments# 7For to the serios architect, being comes before "ell+being#
That is to say, he mst !no" above all ho" to arrange the solid mass and to
complete in his mind the entire fabric, rather than the decorations that are accessory
to the principal matter#8 3c?;5 The material harmony "hich Poliphilo e>periences
here is, according to PereA+*omeA, 7a!in to the harmony that stems from or
"holeness as hman beings in love#8 3>vi, PIreA+*JmeA, 1%%G5
-s an embodied e>perience, architectre, for Poliphilo, ta!es place in the "orld#
7-rchitectral meaning, li!e erotic !no"ledge, is primarily of the body and happens
in the "orld8 3>vi, PIreA+*JmeA, 1%%G5# -fter his long description of the the gate
bet"een the montains, Poliphilo comes face to face "ith a dragon "ho forces him
to cross the threshold into a dar! labyrinth: 7I fled throgh many t"ists and trns,
many devios paths, "hich made me thin! I "as in the ine>tricable maAe of clever
<aedalsK83d$5 Leeping in mind his beloved Polia, he finally, half+dead, finds an
e>it to the cave, "hich brings him to the "onderfl land of :een Eleterylida 3free
"ill5# Here he meets five beatifl nymphs, -phea 3toch5, ,sfressia 3smell5,
,rassia 3sight5, -choe 3hearing5, and *essia 3taste5, "ho embody the five senses#
These five nymphs ta!e him to the baths and he is revived M saved, not by the
<eities that he invo!ed "hile he "as in the cave, bt by the tic!ling of his senses:
7)ovely nymphs K yo have opportnely restored me to life#8 3e$5 -rchitectre has
the po"er to save s from the dar! labyrinth( it mst be present to s, it mst
englf s, as do the scents that the nymphs englf Poliphilo "ith: 7EIF fond myself
in a state of e>treme pleasre and delight# /o" that "e had happily entered into
sch a fragrance as cold never have gro"n in -rabia, they spread ot their sil!en
garments neatlyK8 3e&5#
While Poliphilo is "ith the nymph+senses, "e are made a"are of the absence of
Polia: 7I "old have contented "ith everything if only my golden+haired Polia had
been there to fill my cp of happiness and to ma!e the company p to the perfect
nmber of si>#8 3e$;5 Polia, represented here as the si>th sense, brings architectre
beyond the senses: 7The "holeness of love and architectre is sensos yet beyond
the senses,8 3>vi, PIreA+*JmeA, 1%%G5# This changes the focs of architectre from
a solely embodied state and ta!es it deeper# It allo"s architectre to be playfl, to
e>tend past the mere e>periential senses and to toch on or emotions# While in the
baths, Poliphilo is as!ed by -choe to collect some "ater# 74eing an>ios to please,
I lost no time in hrrying over there# /o sooner had I set one foot on the step to
reach the falling "ater, than the little Priaps lifted his penis and s6irted the
freeAing "ater in my hot face, so that I fell bac! instantly on my !nees#8 3e&;5 The
fontain "as rigged so that "henever someone "as to step on the step right belo"
it, they "old be s6irted in the face# /ot only is the architectre able to elicit
laghter, bt the manner in "hich this is done is ingenios: 7I fond this machine
and its crios device most gratifying#8 3eN5 The architectre offers more than a
pretty, Hfnctional; fontain( it is the provider of =oy and laghter#
Poliphilo is also given the chance to better nderstand his body throgh the
architectre he enconters# While still "andering arond the gate bet"een the
montains, he enconters a large colosss "ith a staircase do"n into its throat,
7thence into his stomach, and so by intricate passage"ays, and in some terror, to all
the other parts of his internal visceraK8 Every part of the body is labelled in
mltiple langages, and he is able to enter each part throgh little passage"ays#
7When I came to the heart, I cold read abot ho" sighs are generated from love,
and cold see the place "here love gravely hrts it#8 3b&;5 The emotions that
Poliphilo feels are imprinted on his body, by e>tension, the similar emotions that are
broght abot by the architectre he visits also has an effect on his body# This
colosss literally allo"s him to see inside himself, to nderstand the "ays his
emotions and his body are one and the same# I am left "ondering, ho"ever, "hat
the significance is 3if any5 of the fact that the female colosss is in rins# Perhaps
the athor "ants s to see that !no"ing the other is harder than !no"ing oneself(
that it is the self "hich is revealable throgh emotions and architectre, and that this
self is singlar, not alone, bt separate and different#
Import ance of <ream and i t s ef f ect on t he Imagi nat i on
Hypnertotomachia Poliphili is set in a dream# The dream allo"s Poliphilo to
present a some"hat idealiAed and topic architectral reality, it also gives him the
chance to prove a very specific point + that architectre begotten in a dream is good
architectre# -t first, the ob=ects and architectre in PoliphiloCs dream are massive
and a"esome, and "old not necessarily ma!e sense in the "a!ing "orld# -s the
dream nfolds, more order is introdced D natre becomes more manicred, bt the
"orld is still fantastical# The dream allo"s Poliphilo to be transported from the
Renaissance bac! to anti6ity, and to e>perience it in all, or "ith more, of its
former glory + allo"ing him to pt together strctres that "old previosly have
been nthin!able or impossible# )iane )efaivre, in her boo! abot the importance
of the Hypnerotomachia in nderstanding the Rennaissance body, arges that the
dream state allo"s Poliphilo to carry ot thoght e>periments, 7offering a place
"ithin "hich mental leaps and "ild thin!ing can ta!e place#8 3$&, )efaivre, 1%%N5
It cold be arged that this is Poliphilo commenting on the architectral practise of
the Renaissance + "hich "as slo"ly ta!ing the form of technI, becoming more and
more a prescriptive set of rles# The ease "ith "hich Poliphilo dreams a bilding
bet"een t"o montains, and then e>plains ho" he imagines, rationally, sch a
thing "old be bilt is inspiring + confronted by the gate he says: 7Thin!ing it
over rationally, I conclded that either a solid piece of the montain had been left
nderneath it, or else that it had been bilt on a compacted mass of gravel and
nshaped roc!s set in cement#8 3b?;5 <reams, therefore, can be Hrationally; realiAed,
to "onderos effect# The dream, ho"ever, is still his o"n doing + none of the ideas
"ere placed in his head by *od# -rchitectre, for Poliphilo is born of man;s
dreams# Ho"ever, architectre is not born from nothing, it is in the 7personal
imagination,8 a middle grond bet"een the 7-ristotelian+medieval passive fnction
of mimesis8 and 7the imagination of the Romanitc H*enis,; delded by the
possibility of creation e>+nihilo#8 3>iii, PIreA+*JmeA, 1%%G5 Poliphilo opens p a
middle grond in the creation of architectre, "here hman dream and imagination
are allo"ed# Fortne still plays a role in this architectre, as "e shall e>plore shortly#
/ot only is the architectre born of a dream, it is also allo"ed to stimlate the
imagination# -fter bathing "ith the five nymphs, Poliphilo is ta!en to a smptos
feast "ith :een Eleterylida, "here he describes many amaAing fontains, and a
hman chess game "here each move is a beatiflly choreographed dance# These
festivities bring p many memories for Poliphilo, memories from the stories of
anti6ity# For instance, dring the chess game he is reminded of Timothes, 7the
most s!ilfl of the msicians, "ho "ith his singing forced the army of the great
.acedonian to ta!e p arms, then, changing his voice and the mode, made them all
lay their "eapons aside and calm do"n again#8 3h15 The architectre, and the
events that ta!e place "ithin it, elicits a recollection of greatness( architectre, "hen
informed by "ell fonded principles "ith events "hich come together 7faltlessly for
the sa!e of dignity, grace and pleasre,8 3gG;5 toches not =st the body bt also the
imagination and the mind# ,nce the festivities are over, :een Elerterylida then
pts Poliphilo in the charge of t"o of her handmaidens: )ogistica 3Reason5 and
Thelemia 3Will, <esire5# These t"o ta!e him to visit three gardens, of glass, sil!
and a labyrinth "hich mst be navigated by boat# )ogistica tells him, 7Poliphilo, I
"ant yo to !no" that things perceived give more en=oyment to the intellect than to
the senses alone#8 3h$;5 It is almost as if the Hypnerotomachia is pre+emptively
closing the gap to be created by 0artesian dalism# The athor is arging that it is
architectre that is able to bridge this gap, it is architectre that allo"s .an to be an
embodied thin!ing, sensing being# -rchitectre toches on all of the senses 3along
"ith the &th, inner sense5 and the intellect, and "hen these are all ta!en and
nderstood as a "hole, beaty is felt and en=oyed in a heightened state D more than
if the senses are ta!en alone#
Free Wi l l , Fort ne and Ti me
-fter he is sho"n the three gardens, Poliphilo is ta!en to the three gates# 4ehind
one of these gates Polia is a"aiting him, he mst choose, "ith the help of both
)ogistica and Thelemia "hich one to go throgh# The three gates,*loria <ei,
.ater -moris, and *loria .ndia, *lory of *od, .other of )ove and *lory of
the World, represent three lives "hich an architect cold potentially lead: 2ita
0ontemplativa 3the left+hand door5, 2ita -ctiva 3the right+hand door5 or 2ita
2olptaria 3the middle door5# -fter visiting each door in trn and being advised
by the t"o nymphs, he chooses the middle door + the 2ita 2olptaria "hich
represents a life of desire 7in "hich flfilment is not the ltimate aim, yet is never
far a"ay# Throgh recollection and pro=ection, it involves ethical responsibility and
re6ires respect for the beloved#8 3$?, PIreA+*JmeA, G@@&5 The architectre in
PoliphiloCs dream, as mentioned before, gives him limits, they donCt provide him
flfilment in themselves, instead it provides him "ith a heightened sense of
a"areness, an arosal# The life of the architect, the vita volptaria, necessitates
living in the same regard#
There is an interesting ent"ining of the ideas of free+"ill and fortne "hich
Poliphilo e>presses throgh his descriptions# When confronted by the three gates,
Poliphilo is left in the hands of free+"ill, in the hands of his desire and his intellect,
to find his love# Bpon choosing the middle door, the vita volptaria, )ogistica is
saddened: 7Here both pleasre and shame are forever fleeing and dissolving, leaving
nothing bt a life brdened "ith perpetal tears and an>ios sighsK8 she then
brea!s her lyre on the grond# This life is spent al"ays chasing, al"ays yearning#
4t this is "here love and desire comes from D "ith or sols separate from the
,ne, "e are constantly see!ing nity# 7Thelemia, alert and npertrbed by this
tirade, smiled and made a sign that I "as not to listen to )ogistica# The latterK
"as filled "ith contempt( she trned her bac!, sighed, and ran speedily ot and
a"ay#8 3iG5 Poliphilo is telling s that "e have the free "ill to not al"ays follo"
or intellect# Follo"ing or desires is necessary "hen or hearts are yearning, "hen
"e are loo!ing for Polia# Indeed, behind this middle door, he does enconter the
most beatifl nymph he has ever set eyes on# Ho"ever, he doesnCt !no" it "as
her: 7I "as almost certain on the first sight of her that she "as indeed Polia, bt the
nfamiliarity of her clothing and of the location dissaded me( on =dicios
reflection I dobted it and remained in respectfl sspension of =dgement#8 3i$5
While Free+Will aids Poliphilo in finding his love, Fortne also helps him along
on his =orney# For Poliphilo, Fortne, "ho helps him escape from the dragon, is
7frivolos8 3d&5# There is no contradiction bet"een free+"ill and fortne for
Poliphilo + :een Eleterylida even attribtes his arrival in her realm as an act of
fortne: 7since long+haired Fortne has chosen yo to reach here in safety, I =dge
that nothing shold prevent yo from receiving my benign grace and favorK83fN5
He recogniAes that his destiny is mapped by Fortne, and seems to embrace it +
"hen describing the iconography of the gate he is constantly encontering artifacts
devoted to her# The message here cold be that accepting both Free+Will and
Fortne is necessary to live the vita volptaria, "e need to listen to both Thelemia
and )ogistica and sometimes disregard them completely to bild anything
-fter they are edcated in the art of love by the Trimphs of Oes, Poliphilo and
Polia finally arrive at the circlar temple of 2ens, "here Polia finally reveals "ho
she is# They ndergo a rital overseen by a priestess of 2ens, "here Poliphilo
e>tingishes Polia;s torch in a "ell# Polia offers some doves for sacrifice, "hose
ashes beget a rose bsh# It is throgh these types of rital actions that architectre is
involved "ith time: 7Rital actions "ere obviosly narrative 3temporal5 forms that
articlated, together "ith their architectral 3spatial5 sites, the order of hman
prpose in the gap bet"een a mortal hmanity and an over"helming e>ternal
reality#8 3>iv, PIreA+*JmeA, 1%%G5# The significance of the rital, connecting earthly
bodies to heavenly po"ers, plays a similar role to that of architectre itself D
bringing the order of the heavens to the disordered earth# While it is the act of the
rital that allo"s Polia to sho" herself to Poliphilo, this rital finds its meaning in
the architectre "hich hoses it# While rital is important in creating the narrative
"hich brings the t"o lovers together, it is not the rital "hich gives meaning to the
architectre, it is the 7most holy altar8 3o$5 that embs the rital "ith meaning#
The longing "hich is present throghot the boo! is never satiated, Poliphilo
a"a!ens from his dream alone, bt "ith a memory fll of beatifl
architectre# What "e are made to realiAe is that the e>perience
that he has =st had, of dreaming these beatifl scenes
"hich instill a sense of yearning in his heart,
leave him "ith no choice bt to
go and bild#