It is a strange, pagan, pedantic, erotic, allegorical, mythological romance relating in highly stylized Italian the quest of Poliphilo for his beloved Polia. The author (presumed to be Francesco Colonna, a friar of dubious reputation) was obsessed by architecture, landscape, and costume—it is not going too far to say sexually obsessed—and its 174 woodcuts are a primary source for Renaissance ideas on both buildings and gardens.
In 1592 an attempt was made to produce an English version but the translator gave up. The task has been triumphantly accomplished by Joscelyn Godwin, who succeeds in reproducing all its wayward charm and arcane learning in language accessible to the modern reader.
Joscelyn Godwin is Professor of Music at Colgate University. He has written books on the seventeenth-century occult philosophers Robert Fludd and Athanasius Kircher, as well as on the history of theosophy and on the spiritual dimension of music.