Book: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name of the Rose Cover Image

TitleThe Name of the Rose
(originally published in Italian under the name ‘Il Nome Della Rosa‘)
Author(s)Umberto Eco
TranslatorWilliam Weaver
Initially Published In1980 (Italian) 1983 (English)
PublisherMultiple –  Bompiani; Martin Secker& Warburg; Harcourt; Vintage Digital; Everyman’s Library; Mariner Books
Formats AvailableHardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Audio

I was planning to re-read and post the review of this book after a few months. However, when I heard of the death of Umberto Eco (the author) on 19th February 2016, I decided to pick it up ahead of my original schedule.

The Name of the Rose(Italian: Il Nome Della Rosa, 1980), is the first novel by the Italian author Umberto Eco. It is an intellectual murder mystery set in an Italian monastery, in the year 1327. It combines semiotics, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. It was translated into English in 1983 by William Weaver.

“The most intelligent and at the same time the most amusing book in years”

— Der Spiegel

William of Baskerville (a Franciscan friar), accompanied by his young assistant Adso of Melk, arrives at a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy to attend a theological discussion and negotiation, scheduled after a few days. On their arrival, they learn that one the monks has died in mysterious circumstances, possibly a suicide. Within a few days, several other monks die in rapid succession, and in strange ways.

William of Baskerville is assigned by the monastery’s abbot to investigate the deaths, so that the upcoming high profile theological conference is not hijacked by the events of the deaths and murders. Each murder victim leads William to new clues as well as dead ends.

William and Adso explore a labyrinthine medieval library, discuss the subversive power of laughter, and used their innate curiosity and highly developed powers of logic and deduction to unravel the mystery.

The story is narrated by Adso in his old age.

A Novel with Multiple Layers

At one level this is a murder mystery, solved intellectually with some action, like a Sherlock Holmes novel, or a novel by Dan Brown.

At another level it is a treatise on the conditions prevailing in Europe, the hold of the powerful (the Pope, clergy, rulers, merchants, etc.) on the society and what they do to tenaciously retain their hold on that power, while bickering and and squabbling between themselves.  The novel also highlights how (at that time) anything rational, logical or scientific can be denounced as ‘heresy’ or ‘work of the devil’ or ‘lack of faith’ and used to burn people at stake.

The detective, William of Baskerville is a logician (like William of Occam), and analytical detective (like Sherlock Holmes – oblique reference to the Hounds of Baskerville), and a deep follower of Roger Bacon (an English philosopher and Franciscan friar, and one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method inspired by Aristotle and Arab scientists). While solving the murders, William, however, must take care not to openly display too much dependence on scientific methods, as this could lead to his being denounced as a ‘magician’ in the clutches of the Devil.

The intellectual discussions between William, Adso and others are riveting and provide an interesting view to medieval Europe.

The book was made into an English language movie in 1986 starring Sean Connery. I don’t think the movie captured the complexity depicted in the book – I recommend the book over the movie, any day.

Here is a youtube video of the trailer of the movie:

If the video does not load, click here:

As mentioned earlier, I strongly recommend the book over the movie.

About the author

Umberto Eco (1932-2016) was an Italian novelist, medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, and literary critic.

Apart from The Name of The Rose, he authored several bestselling novels – >Foucault’s Pendulum, Island of The Day Before, and Baudolino. His collections of essays include Five Moral Pieces, Kant and the Platypus>, Serendipities, Travels In Hyperreality, and How To Travel With a Salmon and Other Essays.

He has also written academic texts and children’s books.

“…he flew with the ease and playfulness of Peter Pan from medieval aesthetics to literary criticism, semiotics, hermeneutics, media and cultural studies, and then diving with all his literary might for a quick column in a newspaper before soaring into a dazzlingly brilliant novel that would take the world by storm.”

— Hamid Dabashi
Professor at Columbia University in New York
for Al Jazeera

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