The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






The Name of the Rose

The Name of the Rose, a 1980 novel by Umberto Eco, is a murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327 during the papacy of Pope John XXII. The book was also made into a film in 1986, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Sean Connery as the intrepid Franciscan monk, William of Baskerville.

Along with his apprentice Adso of Melk (named after the Benedictine abbey Stift Melk and played by Christian Slater), William journeys to an abbey where a murder has been committed. As the plot unfolds, several other people mysteriously die. Our heroes explore a medieval library, the subversive power of laughter and come face to face with the Medieval Inquisition.

The name of the central character, William of Baskerville, alludes both to the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and to William of Ockham, who first put forward the principle known as "Ockham's Razor": that one should always accept the simplest explanation that covers the facts. The name of the narrator, his sidekick Adso, is among other things a pun on Simplicio from Galileo Galilei's Dialogue; Adso = ad Simplicio ("to Simplicio"). It is also a play on Holmes' friend Dr. Watson.

On one level, the book is an excellent exposition of the scholastic method which was very popular in the 14th Century. William demonstrates the power of deductive reasoning. He refuses to accept the diagnosis of simple demonic possession despite demonology being the traditional monastic explanation. He keeps an open mind, collecting facts and observations, following even pure intuition as to what he should investigate, exactly as a scholastic would do. The story also demonstrates the crucial importance of chance in any investigative endeavour. Nevertheless, William could not have solved the cases if he had not properly prepared a framework of facts and interconnections, which the chance discovery then made meaningful.

The book meticulously describes monastic life in the 14th century. The action takes place at a Benedictine abbey during the controversy between branches of Franciscans. The spirituals abhor wealth, bordering on the Dulcinian heresy.

As usual in Eco's novels, there is a display of erudition. The blind librarian Jorge from Burgos is a pun on Jorge Luis Borges. Borges wrote a short story, "The Library of Babel," which inspired the secret library in Eco's book. Throughout the book, there are Latin quotes, authentic and apocryphal. There are also discussions of the philosophy of Aristotle and of a variety of heresies, especially those associated with the fraticelli.

Eco, being a famous semiotician, is hailed by semiotics students who like to apply this movie to explain their relatively arcane discipline. Eco also spent some time at the University of Toronto while writing the book. The stairs in the monastery's library bear a striking resemblance to those in Robarts Library.

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Last updated: 05-23-2005 19:43:02