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A Renaissance Seduction of Memory :…

A Renaissance Seduction of Memory : Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia as…

by Matthew D. Rogers

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2015-09 (1) NOF (1) sacred (1)



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An interest in memory techniques, steganography, and an abiding curiosity for esoterism led me to Rogers' "A Rennaissance Seduction of Memory". In his thesis, Rogers discusses Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii (published circa 1499) in contrast with Prudentius's Psychomachia (early 5th Century AD). I've read neither work in full: what I know of either derives primarily from Rogers' own argument. Yet I found Rogers' discussion engaging enough to seek out open versions online, for dipping into occasionally:

● an English translation of the Hypn P via Project Gutenberg {1}
● an original English translation of the Psychomachia, via a thesis by Louis B Snider {2}

Snider, translating Psychomachia as "Soul-struggle", notes: "In this poem is described the battle of the Christian Virtues with the Pagan Vices for the possession of the soul." (114) And: " In the Psychomachia there is a double thread of allegory. The more evident thread is the battle between the Virtues and Vices of an individual soul. Besides, however, there is a more subtle allusion to the battle between Christianity and paganism." (124) A key battle portrayed in the Psychomachia was between (Christian) Faith and the (Pagan) Ancient Cult, with Faith utterly and swiftly victorious. Notably, Faith is Queen of the remaining Virtues, emblematic of Christianity generally. The remaining Virtues defeat their adversarial Vices, and together these maiden warriors build a Christian edifice, within which the individual may live unvanquished.

Colonna provides his own translation of the Greek neologism hypnerotomachia: "The strife of love in a dream." Rogers observes that two works contemporary with Hypn P, however, suggest another translation: "the battle between sleep and love" (29). The lion's share of the story occurs within a fitful dream of Poliphilo, in which he pursues (and meets) his love, Polia, a dream lasting until sunrise, whereupon he awakens and loses her. Apart from this figurative battle, however, there is no combat featured in his adventures, a clear contrast to the Psychomachia. Rogers considers various ways combat is re-imagined within Hypn P: as puzzle (another sense of machia), or magic (magia), or machine (machina). These alternatives are suggested as they are puns, a trope of the memory arts.

Thus the premises and bare outlines of the two separate works. Each includes copious examples of mnemotechnics, sacred architecture, allegory, and arguments for attaining a normative ideal. Each is intended for edification, moreso than entertainment: summaries of plot or setting, then, are beside the point. It's worth noting the aspects of the memory arts evident in Hypn P were not hidden but openly advertised, and assumed to be understood by Colonna's readers. Similarly with Prudentius's Psychomachia, the use of sacred architecture and Biblical symbolism were techniques to assist with instruction and retention of the message, and not means of coding a message.

Rogers argues, whereas Psychomachia is a pro-duction (an argument for Christianity), wielding its central image of Virtues combating Vices and the establishment of an ultimate edifice in which to reside; Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii is a se-duction (counseling a wider appreciation, Christian and Pagan wisdom combined) harnessed to a central image of dream, no combat, and the beguiling figure of Polia. If Psychomachia is constraining, narrowing, Hypn P is expansive. Hence Rogers' subtitle: Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii as counter-edification to Psychomachia.

{1} http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18459/18459-h/
with images available separately http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18459/18459-h/images/
{2} Snider, Louis B., "The Psychomachia of Prudentius" (1938). Master's Theses. Paper 372.


The question of each work's authorship is of interest, though for different reasons. Prudentius's earnest apologetics is instructive relative to Patristics and the founding of the Christian Church, with a pull akin to that of Aquinas or Augustine (e.g. Foucault's recently published examinations). Colonna's authorship was long disputed and is perhaps still today; Rogers summarises the various candidates and provides reasons for accepting Colonna as the author.

A bit oddly, this reading experience reminiscent of my reading The Castle of Otranto. There, too, a work I knew primarily at secondhand, finally reading the text well after having various discussions of it, and retaining less of the text than I do of its argued influence on genre fiction. I suspect that as with Otranto, I probably shall prefer my dissections and examinations to the texts themselves (assuming I ever read the entirety of either work). ( )
2 vote elenchus | Oct 20, 2015 |
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