Writers' Workshop for ARCH 531 / McGill University / School of Architecture / Fall 2012

Week Seven: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili










Dr. Tracey Eve Winton gave a lecture at McGill this April on the Hypnerotomachia. During her talk she spoke of the importance of understanding the activities in this erotic novel through the relation between the human temperaments and the four elements: sanguine>air; phlegmatic>water; melancholic>earth; choleric>fire.  Choosing any passage from the book, please explain how this concept might provide a greater comprehension of the reading.

10 responses

  1. While it is certainly an interesting reading into the actions of the work, I would disagree with this connection, particularly based on the scene where Poliphilus finds himself bathing with the nymphs. Water plays a large part in this scene (as well as the temperature of the water), and if one were to follow the connection made by Dr. Winton, this interplay would have a phlegmatic undertone. (Since I did not see that particular lecture, I am merely speculating). Yet this scene has a great energy and action to it: ‘After our great laughter and bathing, and all having washed with a thousand sweet, amorous, and pleasant words, maidenly sports, and pastimes, we went out of the water, and leapt up upon the accustomed fates, tripping on their toes, where they did anoint themselves with sweet odours…’ (pg. 44) (I apologize for any misinterpretation, I found the old English very difficult to decipher). This scene seems to me full of action, certainly not sluggish, apathetic or composed. If these actions are to be found anywhere in the scene, it would probably be a few pages earlier, when Poliphilus comes upon the sculpture of the pissing boy, who expels fresh cold water, in contrast to the warm baths the group was languishing in. ‘And I had no sooner set my foot upon the step, to receive the water, as it fell, but the pissing boy lift up his prick, and cast suddenly so cold water upon my face, that I had like at that instant to have fallen backwards.’ (pg. 42) Thus Poliphilus is cooled of his ardour allowing him to regain some semblance of composure.

    October 21, 2012 at 6:13 pm

  2. Contrairement au passage souligné par Sfumato, le songe de Poliphile depuis sa traversée de la forêt jusqu’à son somme après avoir couru après la voix mélodieuse adhère à la lecture proposée par Tracey Eve Winton. En effet, dans ce passage, les éléments présent sont fortement associés aux quatre humeurs. Poliphile s’endort initialement à même le sol, la terre, et ses pensées sont tristes, mélancoliques : « Après me venait en mémoire la condition misérable des amants lesquels, pour complaire à autrui désirent doucement mourir […] » Après s’être assoupi, il se retrouve dans une plaine dans laquelle « le temps était serein et atrempé, le soleil clair et adouci d’un vent gracieux […] ». Le vent rend Poliphile d’une humeur sanguine qu’il ne saura combler car « […] [il] n’y apercevais aucun signe d’habitation d’hommes, ni même repaire de bêtes; [ce] qui [le] fit bien hâter [ses] pas […] » qui le mèneront dans une forêt noire, proche de la terre, dans laquelle ni air ni feu ne pénètre et dans laquelle il se perd : « […] je ne sus bonnement que faire, sinon me plaindre à haute voix. » Après avoir vu sa prière exaucée, hors de la forêt, Poliphile découvre « […] une grosse veine d’eau fraîche sourdant et bouillonnant en une belle fontaine qui coulait par un petit ruisseau […] », laquelle le rend flegmatique et imperturbable. Ce n’est que lorsqu’un « chant si fort mélodieux » dont la « suavité [lui] donna beaucoup plus de délectation que le boire qui m’était apprêté […] », que l’on peux aisément associé à l’air, réveille en lui un tempérament sanguin qui cherche de nouveau la compagnie d’autrui et le fait courir à sa recherche, perdant le sang-froid qui aurait dû le faire boire. Il s’endort finalement d’une humeur mélancolique, « […] rêvant sous la couverture de ces rameaux […] », associé à la terre.

    – – –

    [1] Colonna, Francesco, Jean Martin, and Gilles Polizzi. Le Songe De Poliphile. [Paris]: Imprimerie Nationale éd., 2004. Print. p. 17-22

    October 23, 2012 at 1:55 pm

  3. Esiolé

    To link the four classical elements, air, water, earth and fire, to emotions, to humors is not extremely uncommon. When reading Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, one feels that this understanding of nature as reflecting the temperament of Polyphilo only emphasizes the significant symbolism of nature.

    In the second chapter, Polyphilo is desperately thirsty, both literally and metaphorically. His thirst for water can be related to his desire, his love of Polia. However, in this extract of the text, we can see that Polyphilo is extremely sensitive, excitable, and unstable due to this urgent need of water. This “phlegmatic” quality of water, as explained by Dr. Tracey Eve Winton, is not only present in the water itself, but also in the lack of it. When there is no water, there is not emotional stability possible. Even the sanguine quality of the air cannot distract Polyphilo from his thirst. He feels the optimism in the air, but cannot appreciate it because of his need of water. “Verye thirstie I was, my clothes torne, my face and hands scratched and netteled, and withall so extreamely set on heate, as the fresh ayre seemed to doe me more hurt then good, neither did it any waye ease my body, desirous to keepe his new recovered scope and libertie.” [1]

    Polyphilo, by remaining thirsty, also stays restless and reckless, as opposed to the fulfilment, the satisfaction, and the serenity that quenching his thirst would have brought. This extreme conscience of the body, in desperate need of water, can also be related to this undying desire that can never be fully satisfied, that doesn’t want to be satisfied. When near the water, Polyphilo do not drink the water, even if he could have. He prefers to follow the melody, so beautiful that it prevents him from drinking, which was his absolute desire a moment before. “The sweetnes whereof so greatly delighted me, as thereby I was ravished of my remembrance, and my understanding so taken from me, as I let fall my desired water thorough the loosned ioynts of my feeble hands.” [2] A greatest thirst has overcome his physical thirst. Overpowered by this thirst of the mind, however, this need of water doesn’t magically disappear during his errand in the forest. “Thus vainly running up and downe, I knew not after what, I grew feeble, wearie, faint, and drye, and so feeble, that my legges could but with great paine, uphould my distempered body.” [3] Thus, we can deduce that mind and body, even though yearning for something different, are tightly linked. “Erotic knowledge is never experienced by the mind alone.” [4]

    [1] Francesco Colonna. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice : Aldine Press, 1499.
    [2] Francesco Colonna. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice : Aldine Press, 1499.
    [3] Francesco Colonna. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice : Aldine Press, 1499.
    [4] Alberto Pérez-Goméz. Polyphilo or the Dark Forest revisited, Cambridge : MIT Press, 1992. (quote from online version : http://www.polyphilo.com/)

    October 23, 2012 at 7:21 pm

  4. somer

    In the Hypnerotomachia there are many moments of Poliphili’s journey that can be related and understood metaphorically through the four temperaments.
    An example of this can be found when Poliphili encounters a beautiful Nymph carrying a torch, “The most fayre Nymph beeing come to Poliphilus, bearing a Torch in her left hand, with the other tooke him and inuited him to walke with her, and there Poliphilus by her loue was more inflamed.”(Colonna) The flame the Nymph carried can be understood through the Choleric temperament as the Nymph continued with him as his guide and became the focus of his passion. “For which cause, my collour red and blushing, with reuerent admiration, being grieued at my basenesse, I setled my selfe to followe her.”(Colonna) Poliphili was blinded by his desire and uncontrollable passion as he found himself falling for the Nymph but knew he was really in love with Polia. He found himself overwhelmed as he describes “And still me thought by her louely and delightfull countenance, by her fayre tresses, and the curling and wauing haire, playing vp and downe vppon her forheade, that it should be _Polia_, whome so greatly I had loued and desired, and for whom I had sustained so many & sundry griefes, without intermission.”(Colonna)
    A different temperament emerges when the two reach a Temple and the Nymph explains that Poliphili must extinguish the torch in the water. This can be understood as phlegmatic, water is a release where Poliphile will become at ease and find peace. “My _Poliphilus_, thou shalt vnderstand, that no earthly creature can enter in heere without a burning torch as thou seest me, either with extreeme loue and great paines, or for the fauour and company of those three matrones. And from hir hart setting a deepe sigh, she said: This torch haue I brought hither for thy sake, minding to put it out in yonder temple.” (Colonna) After Poliphili enters the Temple and extinguishes the torch, he metaphorically quenches his own blinding passion and was able to see the Nymph as her true self, Polia.

    Colonna, Francesco. Hypnerotomachia. Trans. Robert Dallington. EBook. 2006 .

    October 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm

  5. Amalin

    In order to confirm part of Dr. Winton’s thesis, I shall focus on the element of fire in Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, and how it relates to the choleric temperament. In this tale, Poliphilo eventually encounters three doors at the crossroads representing Heavenly Fame, Earthly Fame and Love. “[…] Polifilo follows the advice of Will and finds himself embraced by the charming ladies of Love (HP 127-133). As quickly as they had appeared, the nymphs now leave him alone in an environment every bit as pleasant as that in the realm of Free Will. After some time a richly dressed nymph adorned with precious jewels appears and approaches Polifilo carrying a cornucopia-like burning torch (HP 133-138). She will henceforth be his companion and guide. Polifilo falls in love with her at once, which thrusts him into a tormented inner struggle of bittersweet love (HP 143-148, 179-182).” [1] At this point, we recognise that the energetic Polia bearing the torch was able to inspire passion in Poliphilo. Further, they spot a temple devoted to Venus and “it is here that they fully acknowledge their loving encounter.” [2]

    As professor Pérez-Gòmez mentioned in last week’s lecture, it is difficult to misinterpret the passage when Poliphilo extinguishes Polia’s fiery torch in the water. Also, Esiolé brings up a good point. The thirst Poliphilo feels as a result of his desire for Polia can only be quenched by the attainment of this love. However, despite the fact that Poliphilo’s excitement may have been fuelled by the absence of water, I believe it is his passion – represented here by the flame held by Polia – that justifies his eagerness. Consequently, I tend to agree with our fellow blogger somer. The water has a visibly calming effect on the ambitious and passionate Poliphilo.

    HP – Colonna, Francesco, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, critical edition and commentary by Giovanni Pozzi and Lucia A. Ciapponi, 2 vols. (Padua, 1980).

    1 Stewering, Roswitha, Architectural Representations in the “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili” (Aldus Manutius, 1499), Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 59, No. 1, Mar., 2000.

    2 Pérez-Gómez, Alberto, Built Upon Love: Architectural Longing After Ethics and Aesthetics. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2006.

    October 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm

  6. Trebuh

    In addition to what Amalin previously posted, the passage of which Polyphilo extinguishes the torch explains accurately the ideas of Dr. Tracey Eve Winton.
    This interplay between the four elements and the human temperaments is noticeable throughout the book and the contrast between fire and water in this specific passage helps to prove her point. Colonna describes the scene in which Poliphilo extinguishes a torch that Polia is holding. The torch is depicted as raging and the vitality of its flame evokes the human temperament of passion. The agitation of the flame and its uncontrollable movement are certainly elements that participate to the choleric temperament of the scene. Poliphilo then extinguishes the torch by plunging it into the water, which illustrates the contradiction of the two elements. The water does have a phlegmatic undertone since it brought back the calm through extinguishing the flame. In Dr. Eve Tracey Winton interpretation she also suggests the idea of the fire not as a tangible object, but more as a metaphor:

    “Just as the water extinguishes the flame, the fire of love lights the cold heart!” [1]

    This quote emphasizes the idea that the fire also represents passion. Throughout the book this idea that fire and water represent passion and calm, respectively, is recurrent:

    “[…] il allumait de plus en plus dans mon coeur ce feu, ces désires, présents chers et si funestes, que l’on voudrait éteindre, et si dont cependant on craint de voir la fin”. [2]

    This passage underscores the idea that fire represents passion and that it is sometimes hard to extinguish this fire that is burning. Moreover, we can also read in the novel the metaphor “my burning heart”[3], which likely refers to passion. The water is used as a phlegmatic element, to bring back the calm. I would tend to agree with Somer and Amalin that fire is related to passion and that water has a phlegmatic effect on Poliphilo.

    [1] Winton Eve Tracey, Why architects wear black and other grotesque and sublime mysteries: being a demonstration of eros & melancholy in the hermetical art of architecture with reference to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of Colonna wherein he showeth, that all things human are but a dream ; in the representation whereof are many things figured salutary and worthy in remembrance, Thesis McGill University, 1996, p. 112

    [2] Colonna, Francesco, Jean Martin, and Gilles Polizzi. Le Songe De Poliphile. [Paris]: Imprimerie Nationale éd., 2004. Print. Chapitre XX, p. 53

    [3] Colonna Francesco. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice : Aldine Press, 1499, p. 83

    October 23, 2012 at 11:32 pm

  7. beaupré

    Throughout Poliphili’s quest to find Polia, thirst has been tormenting him, a parallel to his longing for Polia. In chapter eight of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, he encounters five nymphs that embody the five senses. Under their hospitality, he is perfectly aware that he is falling for sensual pleasures but resolves to surrender to his senses. Although the nymphs satisfies his senses, it only quenches his thirst and his desire for Polia partially: “being wel content with euerie present action, but that Polia was not there to the suppliment of my felicitie, and to haue been the sixt person in the making vp of a perfect number.” (p.92). Water is a symbol of phlegmy as Poliphili restlessly tries to seek. Poliphili’s anxiety to find Polia as mentioned by previous bloggers, will truly quench his thirst for love.

    As we read later on in chapter eight, Poliphili began to doubt the nymphs’ amiableness. His choleric disposition is portrayed by symbols of fire. He felt ridiculed by the nymph’s repetitive laughter. When asked by a ‘flamigerous’ nymph, what altered his disposition, he replied “giue mee leaue to destroy my selfe in a lascivious fire” (p.101) He further expresses his restlessness to find Polia: “Put no Pitch to the fire in my heart, make me not to forget my selfe I beseech you” We can see in his words that his longing for Polia’s love turns choleric at times.

    Colonna, Francesco. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Padova: Antenore, 1980.

    October 23, 2012 at 11:44 pm

  8. uncleremus89

    Evident already in the introduction given by Joscelyn Goodwin, are the nature of Poliphilo’s interests, summed up by “Most of all, Poliphilo is in love with Antiquity” (1) which despite being an addition by the translator, hints that we should expect important relations to the four elements of Antiquity. However, given the strife for love it would be interesting to keep these terms in mind not only in their elemental sense but also for their erotic influence on the tale.
    “Poliphilo, fearing danger in the dark wood, made a prayer to Jupiter and came out anxious and thirsty. Wanting to refresh himself with water, he heard a sweet singing which he followed, neglecting to drink, and became still more frightened.” (2)
    Already here, we have evidence of earth, water and maybe even fire, in the sense that people would yearn towards it for warmth upon exiting a frightening wood. Yet, these could also be considered to play off one to translate into the yearning for an erotic climax.
    Later, while describing the encounter with the obelisk, which precedes the visit with the water nymphs, the four classical elements play material, descriptive roles for what is perceived, but also develop a subconscious mental strife within the reader.
    Throughout, there are multiple references and manners to read these elements as an analogy for Poliphilo’s strife, and in totality, we could possibly consider that he is tied to earth, and the fire burning in him creates a yearning for the sky (air) which can only be reached by water – as is seen when Cupid takes him and Polia to the circular island.

    (1) Colonna, Francesco. Trans. Goodwin, Joscelyn. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Thames & Hudson, London, 1999, p. vii.
    (2) Colonna, Francesco. Trans. Goodwin, Joscelyn. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Thames & Hudson, London, 1999, p. 15.

    October 24, 2012 at 12:35 am

  9. You have presented some good discussions. Sfumato has argued that the nymph bathing scene is anything but calm and composed. Madeck finds the opposite true and cites four specific examples where the temperaments seem to be aligned with the humours. For Esiolé, the lack of serenity in Poliphilo’s state is presupposed by the thirst for water and for love. Somer understands the account of the torch, in contrast to its eventual extinguishing, as a metaphor for the protagonist’s passion. Amalin, discussing the idea of fire, shifts the emphasis from the lack of water to the intrinsic excitability of Poliphilo as he journeys along. Trebuh again notices a distinct shift of mood between passages related to fire and those connected to water while Beaupré focuses on the choleric nature of longing.

    October 24, 2012 at 11:06 am

  10. reckon

    Dr. Tracey Eve Winton discusses a closer reading of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili using, for one, the relation between the human temperament of sanguinity and the classical element of air. Poliphili’s journey finds him observing many instances of interaction with air, breath and wind. An interpretation of these with a particularly sanguine, hopeful, or cheerfully optimistic connotation highlights the desires of Poliphili.

    At several occasions, Poliphili notes the way in which the wind has “blown abroad” the garments of a woman or Nymph to reveal “part of the naked substance of [her] legs and thighs.” [1]If one considers this wind, as the classical element of air, to conform to the human temperament of sanguinity, then this wind could infer Poliphili’s hope and desire to indecently expose the beautiful women he encounters. Another instance of a similar female encounter, in which “above the hems of their nether garments, there compassed about instead of garters and embroidered work of hearts, which now and then blown up with the gentle air, made a discovery of their fine legs,” [2] highlights Poliphili’s desire to see the women undressed. Again, he encounters a woman, “her vesture of silk being blown about with the wind, upon her virginal parts.” [3]

    Poliphili even goes to the extent of describing the wind as “sweet air” and “cool wind” “causing sometime, by the thinness thereof, [a woman’s] shape to be seen in it.” [4] The descriptive terms used already lending the air a cheerful temperament.

    Poliphili also make a connection between the idea of permanence and the blowing of the wind, wherein an armed woman carried a sphere inscribed with Nihil firmum, or Nothing permanent while being “apparelled in a thin garment carried abroad with the wind,” [5] implying that even the state of her clothing is not lasting, it is “unstable”.

    [1] Colonna, Francesco. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice: Aldine Press, 1499. p. 7.
    [2] Colonna, Francesco. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice: Aldine Press, 1499. p. 37.
    [3] Colonna, Francesco. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice: Aldine Press, 1499. p. 84.
    [4] Colonna, Francesco. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice: Aldine Press, 1499. p. 78.
    [5] Colonna, Francesco. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice: Aldine Press, 1499. p. 21.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:09 pm