Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo’s Strife of Love in a Dream or Poliphilo’s Struggle for Love in a Dream), more than just a book but rather a milestone in depth psychology, was published in Venice in 1499. It featured beautiful woodcut illustrations and told a bizarre story that resembled the logic of a dream:
“The action of the ‘Hypnerotomachia Poliphili’ takes place in a dream. The books opens on the hero, Poliphilo, who has spent a restless night because his beloved, Polia, has shunned him. At the break of day, he finally falls into a deep slumber and his ‘Hypnerotomachia,’ or, as it can be roughly translated, ‘struggle for love in a dream,’ begins. The action is particularly absurd, however, even by the standards of the genre. Poliphilo is transported into a wild forest. He gets lost, escapes, and falls asleep once more. He then awakens in a second dream, dreamed inside the first. Within it, he is taken by some nymphs to meet their queen. There he is asked to declare his love for Polia, which he does. He is then directed by two nymphs to three gates. He chooses the third, and there he discovers his beloved. They are taken by some more nymphs to a temple to be engaged. Along the way they come across no less than five triumphal processions celebrating the union of the lovers. Then they are taken to the island of Cythera by barge, with Cupid as the boatswain; there they see another triumphal procession celebrating their union. The narrative is uninterrupted, and a second voice takes over, as Polia describes the erotomachia from her own point of view. This takes up one fifth of the book, after which the hero resumes his narrative. They are blissfully wed, but Polia vanishes into thin air as Poliphilo is about to take her into his arms.”
This “frenetic, fantastic specimen” of a book, as Liane Lefaivre describes it, is full of mysterious messages in various languages. It is a testament to boundless creativity and simmering mutability of the psyche, ceaselessly spouting foam, creating mirages, blowing soap bubbles, while painting internal, breathtaking landscapes of the soul. Poliphilo chases Polia through grottos, landscapes and gardens which get increasingly fantastical, with an aquatic labyrinth taking the crown. Poliphilo, “lover of many things,” and Polia, “many things,” symbolize the boundedness of Psyche to Eros – as one cannot exist without the other. Yet they both delight in endless hot pursuit.