Poliphilo's Children: Esoteric Discovery, Recollection, and Anamnesis in Contemporary Fiction
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili was first published in Venice in 1499. The author Francesco Colonna, writing as "Poliphilo," offered a long dream-narrative in which the protagonist sought to recover his beloved among ancient buildings and monuments, and amidst the festivities and ceremonies of pagan cults. The Hypnerotomachia was in many respects developed from mythic narratives of late antiquity: the pagan Metamorphoses of Apuleius and the Christian Psychomachia of Prudentius. Even more fundamentally, Colonna’s book reflects the paradigmatic story of the bereaved Orpheus, both as a tale of lost love and tragic affection, and as a metaphor for the loss and attempted recovery of knowledge.
The enigmatic and esoteric content of the Hypnerotomachia, along with its narrative complexity and rich descriptions, have made it a point of reference in three recent novels. John Crowley’s Love & Sleep (1994), John Banville’s Shroud (2002), and Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason’s The Rule of Four (2004) each make the Hypnerotomachia a sort of metafictional feature of their respective stories. All three of these books speak directly to the nature of intellectual work and the value of personal memory. In addition to examining these three fictions as the progeny of the Orphic Poliphilo, the present study works to identify in each case the Euridicean Polia, the lost loves and lost knowledge that inform these novels.
Lollardy, Privity, and Mystery
The interaction between the establishment church and Lollard or Wycliffite dissenters in late medieval England was characterized by the interplay of issues surrounding secrecy and proprietary status regarding scriptures, confession, and other sacraments. The 14th and 15th centuries when this conflict developed were also a time in which the social organization of artisan and craft guilds was a matter for public notice, and many Lollards were themselves craftsmen. The Middle English term misterie denotes a craft guild and its secrets, as well as a religious rite, and the confluence of these ideas in the social space of Lollard heresy and its repression helps to illuminate the motives of the heretics as well as the methods of official reaction.
I should have an abstract to post for my recently-completed major history research paper on "The Master of Rhodes Letter on the Birth of Antichrist." That will have to wait for a few days, while I wrap up this last paper: a study of the mutually-constitutive nature of Anna Kingsford's social activism and her spiritual doctrines regarding the rights of women and animals.