Hypnerotomachia Poliphili Meaning

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Widely regarded as the most beautiful book of the 15th century. It is illustrated with 174 exceptionally beautiful woodcuts and is known for its special typographic design.

The title “Hypnerotomachia” is a made up word from the Greek words for “sleep” (as in “hypnotize”), “love / lust” (as in “erotic”), and the “struggle / strife” (as in “naumachia , “the pseudo sea battles held by the ancient Romans). So the title literally means something like “Fight for love in a dream,” and describes what the main character, Poliphilo, does the whole story: searching for his lover in a dream. “In the imagination of the Middle Ages, ‘struggle’ is a metaphor for the pursuit of love. The text is implicitly erotic, but the accompanying wood engravings are a lot more bold. A bare breast or penis appears regularly.

‘Poliphilus’ can be translated in two ways: ‘Poli + philus’ can mean that he loves ‘all things’, but in the story we quickly notice that there is also a person involved, namely his beloved Polia ( „He who loves Polia‟).

Its authorship is attributed to Francesco Colonna, a Dominican friar who lived in Venice and died in 1527, and it was published by Aldus Manutius in the same city.

Poliphili’s love for Polia takes him on a fabulous journey through history, revealing the author’s great knowledge of architecture and landscaping, as well as construction painting and sculpture

The Secret Codes in the Text and Images of the Hypnerotomachia

One of the mysteries of the Hypnerotomachia is that the author never explicitly gives his name, but his identity seems to be revealed when the first letter of each chapter is connected to the following: the letters form the Latin message “Poliam Friar Franciscus Columna Peramavit” which means “Brother Francesco Colonna loved Polia very much.” In addition to this hidden acrostic, the entire text of the book is written in a hybrid of languages that was considered unnecessarily complex, even in its own time. When these facts are combined with the strangeness of certain elements in the story – the detailed attention to the dimensions and features of the buildings the main character sees, the sexual feelings that the main character has when viewing these buildings – it is easy to see why some readers believe there is a hidden subtext in the book.


An acrostic (also: name poem or letter verse) is a poem of which certain, usually the first, letters of each line or stanza, read consecutively, also form a word or sentence. Acrostic is a combination of the Greek words akros (excellent) and stichos (row, verse).

The best-known example is the text of the Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus, of which the first letters of the original stanzas together form the name ‘Willem van Nassov’. The 2010 Speech from the Throne also uses this acrostic principle: the initial letters of the first 15 sentences of the text also form the name ‘Willem van Nassov’:

The Hypnerotomachia and William of Orange

The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili is a book of great cultural-historical significance. The book was printed in 1554 in Paris and bought in 1559 by the then 21-year-old Prince William of Orange. He had his coat of arms painted in color on both sides of the tape. The Prince was attached to the book.

As a Renaissance man, the Prince was caught between the Pagan and the Catholic faith. The link between Church and State became more problematic. There was a trend towards secularization, a secularization that also underwent Christian practices, whereby the Church became part of the State. Biopolitics emerged, a power directed at the population and inherent to the population, whereby subjects constructed themselves and were also constructed themselves by means of self-examination.

As a Renaissance book, the Poliphilus is an early monument to multiculturalism and tolerance and the changing position of women and has made a significant contribution to the formation and democratic consciousness of the “Father of the Fatherland”.

When the Father of the Fatherland took refuge in Dillenburg in Germany in 1568 to escape persecution by the Spanish King Philip II, he took only a small book collection, including this Poliphilus. After his violent death in 1584, his library became scattered in all directions, including through relatives.

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