Francesco Colonna (d. 1527) Hypnerotomachia Poliphili

Venice: Aldus Manutius, Romanus, for Leonardus Crassus, December 1499

The eccentric romance Hypnerotomachia Poliphili tells the tale of Poliphilo’s voyage to Kythera, the island of love, in search of his beloved Polia. Exhausted, Poliphilo falls asleep, and the search for Polia continues in the dream world. The title is almost untranslatable, as is much of the text, but is perhaps best expressed as Poliphilo’s strife of love in a dream. Authorship of the work is still uncertain, but it is most commonly attributed to one Francesco Colonna, a Dominican Friar in the convent of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. The Cambridge copy belonged to Sisto Medici (1501/02-1561), a friar at the same convent. Medici was so moved by the Hypnerotomachia that at the age of sixteen he composed a sonnet, Young Sisto Medici to his most elegant Book. A translation of this poem can be seen by clicking ‘Extended captions’ below.

Inc.3.B.3.134[1830], fol. [pi]1 recto

Young Sisto Medici to his most elegant Book

Oh book, worthy of immortal cedar and commemoration,
beauteous, learned, fine, wide-ranging, dignified,
descended from the goddesses of the sacred choir,
triumph and glory of the spring of Pegasus,
every fable, every story is contained in you,
all architectures of divine creation,
all hieroglyphics, gems, silver and gold,
and every victory of the child Cupid.
Francesco, great column of virtue,
composed you in Latin, Greek and Hebrew styles,
praising the Muses, Apollo and every Grace;
you will endure until such time as Phoebus and bright Latona light up the sky:
therefore go forth bravely into every mortal hand
to satiate their beautiful spirits
with your sweet fruit and graceful flower,
more fragrant than the scented musk.

In the year 1518, aged 16

Translation by Laura Nuvoloni and Abigail Brundin

Extended captions