Brother Francesco Colonna Loved Polia Tremendously

From a conversation with bestfriend Tina last month:

“Most people don’t think practically. They believe that love conquers all. That in spite of all difficulties and complications, they will still get through because of love.”

From The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason:

omnia vincit amor

Omnia Vincit Amor
(Love Conquers All)
Agostino Carracci
Engraving showing Cupid beating up a large satyr in front of two naked nymphs.

“That”, my father said, pointing to the boy, “is Love.”

“He is not supposed to be on your side, you fight with him, but he’s too powerful.”

I’ve always wondered why Carracci put two women in the engraving, when he only needed one. Somewhere in that is the moral I took from the story: in the geometry of love, everything is triangular … The tongue of desire is forked, kissing two but loving one. Love draws lines between us like an astronomer plotting a constellation from stars, joining points into patterns that have no basis in nature. The butt of every triangle becomes the heart of another, until the roof of reality is a tessellation of love affairs. Taken together they have a pattern of netting; and behind them, I think, is love.

Love is the only perfect fisherman, the one who casts the broadest net, which no fish can escape. His reward is to sit alone in the tavern of life, forever a boy among men, hoping one day to tell stories about the one that got away.


I re-read The Rule of Four this weekend. I bought this book two years ago in Bahrain and read it on the plane ride back. I liked it then but I was probably too jet-lagged to capture the essence of the book as I conveniently forgot about it when I arrived. A few days ago, out of boredom and laziness to do my chores, I decided to give it another shot and was surprised to find myself thoroughly enjoying it.

The story revolves around the interpretation of the Renaissance book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilo’s Struggle of Love in a Dream). The puzzles and ciphers in the book still keep modern historians busy. One of the first hints discovered involves the initial letters of the 38 chapters, giving “Poliam Frater Franciscvs Colvumna Peramavit”, or “Brother Francesco Colonna greatly loved Polia”, identifying the author as one Francesco Colonna.

The Hypnerotomachia isn’t just a typical love story but you’ve got to read The Rule of Four to find out why. Of course, The Rule of Four is a work of fiction, but a lot of the information in the book are based on facts. All in all, it’s a fascinating read, especially if you love history. 🙂

[spoiler coming:]

I just found out from Wikipedia that Poliphilo literally means “lover of many things” while Polia means “many things”. In the book, the real writer of the Hypnerotomachia was supposed to be a wealthy Roman humanist who tried to save as much stores of knowledge and art as he could from the destruction ordered by the monk Savonarola who declared these to be immoral. Perhaps, Colonna himself was Poliphilo. But instead of being tremendously in love with a woman, he poured his devotion over the “many things”–the paintings, sculptures, and hundreds of books–that he locked in a secret vault to hide them temporarily until the next worthy scholar discovers them.

But isn’t the Roman Colonna merely a fictional alternative? I checked several sources and another Francesco Colonna, a Venetian monk, was supposed to be the writer. Now I’ve successfully confused myself.

I wonder where I can get an English translation of the Hypnerotomachia?


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