Love Affair?Thoughts Aroused by the "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili"
“As I wandered in this place with fearful wonderment, I said to myself ‘No human being appears to the eager sight, no forest or woodland creature, no beast, wild or tame, no rustic house or peasant’s cottage or shepherd’s hut, nor even a tent is to be seen.”
So says Poliphili in the thick of an endless forest as he starts his long search for his beloved Polia, “she whose holy image was deeply impressed within me, and dwelt into my innermost parts.”
I can relate. For the past few days I have wandered into and about the University’s art library. Most seats on each floor have not been disturbed since spring break began. On the ground floor the loudest sound is the paced typing of the librarians, which barely rises over the constant hum of idle computers. A floor down and no managers, no noises, not even a student is to be seen.
The forest I wander — our library — is more docile than Poliphili’s, but no less enchanting. The trees here are all the same height and length, but on close inspection they reveal themselves filled with unending variety between base and top. Indeed, I found Poliphili’s own adventure among the bound leaves of this scholarly woodland. The "Hypnerotomachia Poliphili" (1499) – “The Strife of Love in a Dream” of Poliphili, if we are to translate the Greek title of this Renaissance text into English. But oddly this love story (nearly 505 pages in the translation I hold) devotes many fewer pages to Polia than to things around Poliphili, especially architecture. For example, upon seeing a tower he admits, “At the sight of it, all my hairs stood on end, and when I tried to shout, my voice failed me… I reckoned that it would be well worth examining and so I set my hastening steps in that direction. The more closely I approached it, the more it appeared to be a huge and magnificent object, and the greater was my desire to admire it…” The things of our knowledge, and specifically architectural knowledge, are the true love in this story, and one often encountered erotically by which I mean it is encountered with an affirmation of sensual stimulation and feeling.
Again I can relate. It may seem unlikely that I find the erotic among stacks of books in a quite empty library, as opposed to a spring break soiree in warm waters pushed by sultry winds, but doubt is only indicative of a narrowing of the erotic experiences possible in college.
In itself, the erotic is what is generated by Eros’s touch, as Socrates tells us in the "Symposium," born from Penia (poverty) and Porus (resourcefulness). We feel his arrow deep in ourselves, as bodily vibrations, a move from cool to warmth. It is the beginning of desire, that feeling, much more than one of want. I want a new pair of loafers, but desire the beloved’s body; I will endeavor long to get and perhaps become better in my strife. This body can be a living one of gentle lines and steady breath for which we want to take in erotic embrace. Or it can be a body living differently by constant contributions, critiques and clarifications discovered, and given no less erotically. This body is a body of knowledge, and perhaps one finds it in architecture, art, math, science, history or some mix thereof.
Nothing stops us from being able to love both types of bodies, though for some reason many seem to feel that Eros’s love only belongs to persons. But are other people really the only things which elevate and send our sense toward desire?
I myself have yet to be pulled on and after a person, but as I roam the library finding books holding knowledge of sculpture, touch and the Renaissance I see that other type of body materializing before me. The prospect of knowing excites me and reduces hours to minutes, crushes me when I fail to understand and lifts me high when I do. This feeling, these sensations are all a part of my pursuit, different yet very much the same as any other caused by Eros.