The Name of the Rose

The Name of the Rose
The Name of the Rose  
The Name of the Rose.jpg
1st edition (Italian)
Author(s) Umberto Eco
Original title Il nome della rosa
Country Italy
Language Italian
Genre(s) Historical novel, Mystery
Publisher Bompiani (Italy) Harcourt (US)
Publication date 1980
Published in
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 512 pp (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-15-144647-4 (paperback edition)
OCLC Number 8954772
Dewey Decimal 853/.914 19
LC Classification PQ4865.C6 N613 1983
Followed by Foucault's Pendulum

The Name of the Rose is the first novel by Italian author Umberto Eco. It is a historical murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the year 1327, an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. First published in Italian in 1980 under the title Il nome della rosa, it appeared in English in 1983, translated by William Weaver.


Plot summary

Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and a Benedictine novice Adso of Melk travel to a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy to attend a theological disputation. As they arrive, the monastery is disturbed by a suicide. As the story unfolds, several other monks die under mysterious circumstances. William is tasked by the Abbot of the monastery to investigate the deaths as fresh clues with each murder victim lead William to dead ends and new clues. The protagonists explore a labyrinthine medieval library, discuss the subversive power of laughter, and come face to face with the Inquisition. William's innate curiosity and highly-developed powers of logic and deduction provide the keys to unravelling the mysteries of the abbey.


On one level, the book is an exposition of the scholastic method which was very popular in the 14th century. William demonstrates the power of deductive reasoning, especially syllogisms. He refuses to accept the diagnosis of "simple demonic possession" despite demonology being the traditional monastic explanation. Although the abbey is under the apprehension that they are experiencing the last days before the coming of Antichrist (a topic closely examined in the book), William, through his empirical mindset, manages to show that the murders are, in fact, committed by a more corporeal instrument. By keeping an open mind, collecting facts and observations, following pure intuition, and the dialectic method, he makes decisions as to what he should investigate, exactly as a scholastic would do. However, the simple use of reason does not suffice. The various signs and happenings only have meaning in their given contexts, and William must constantly be wary of the contexts within which he interprets the mystery. Indeed, the entire story challenges the narrator, William's young apprentice Adso, and the reader to continually recognize the context he is using to interpret, bringing the whole text to various levels which can all have different hermeneutical meanings. The narrative ties in many varied plot lines, all of which consider various interpretations and sources of meanings. Many of the interpretations and sources were highly volatile controversies in the medieval religious setting, all while spiraling towards what seems to be the key to understanding and truly interpreting the case. Although William's final hypotheses do not exactly match the actual events as written, those theories do allow him to solve the abbey's mystery.


Primary characters
At the monastery
  • Abo of Fossanova—the abbot of the Benedictine monastery, the sixth to die
  • Ubertino of Casale—Franciscan friar in exile, friend of William
  • Severinus of Sankt Wendel—herbalist who helps William, the fourth to die
  • Malachi of Hildesheim—librarian, the fifth to die
  • Berengar of Arundel—assistant librarian, in love with Adelmo, the third to die
  • Adelmo of Otranto—illuminator, novice, the first to die
  • Venantius of Salvemec—translator of manuscripts, the second to die
  • Benno of Uppsala—student of rhetoric
  • Alinardo of Grottaferrata—eldest monk
  • Jorge of Burgos—elderly blind monk, former librarian, the seventh to die
  • Remigio of Varagine—cellarer
  • Salvatore of Montferrat—monk, associate of Remigio
  • Nicholas of Morimondo—glazier
  • Aymaro of Alessandria—gossipy, sneering monk
  • Pacificus of Tivoli
  • Waldo of Hereford
  • Magnus of Iona
  • Patrick of Clonmacnois
  • Rabano of Toledo
  • Michael of Cesena—leader of Spiritual Franciscans
  • Bernardo Gui—Inquisitor
  • Bertrand del Poggetto—Cardinal and leader of the Papal legation
  • Peasant girl from the village below the monastery

Major themes

Eco, being a semiotician, is hailed by semiotics students who like to use his novel to explain their discipline. The techniques of telling stories within stories, partial fictionalization, and purposeful linguistic ambiguity are prominent in Eco's narrative style. The solution to the central murder mystery hinges on the contents of Aristotle's book on Comedy, of which no copy survives; Eco nevertheless plausibly describes it and has his characters react to it appropriately in their medieval setting - which, though realistically described, is partly based on Eco's scholarly guesses and imagination. It is virtually impossible to untangle fact / history from fiction / conjecture in the novel. Through the motive of this lost and possibly suppressed book which might have aestheticized the farcical, the unheroic and the skeptical, Eco also makes an ironically slanted plea for tolerance and against dogmatic or self-sufficient metaphysical truths - an angle which reaches the surface in the final chapters.[1]

However, there is an alternative and more plausible explanation - the extremely ingenious solution was taken by Eco from "The Arabian Nights" - the story of "The Vizier Who Was Punished" is based exactly on the same theme.

Umberto Eco is a significant postmodernist theorist and The Name of the Rose is a postmodern novel.[2] For example he says in the novel "books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told." This refers to a postmodern ideal that all texts perpetually refer to other texts, rather than external reality.[2] In true postmodern style, the novel ends with uncertainty: "very little is discovered and the detective is defeated" (postscript). William of Baskerville solves the mystery in part by mistake; he thought there was a pattern but it in fact, numerous "patterns" were involved and combined with haphazard mistakes by the killers. William concludes in fatigue that there "was no pattern". Thus Eco has turned the modernist quest for finality, certainty and meaning on its head leaving the overall plot partly the result of accident and arguably without meaning.[2] Even the novel's title alludes to the possibility of many meanings or of nebulous meaning; Eco saying in the Postscript he chose the title "because the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left".[3]


Much attention has been paid to the mystery of what the title of the novel refers to. In fact, Eco has stated that his intention was to find a "totally neutral title".[3] In one version of the story, when he had finished writing the novel, Eco hurriedly suggested some ten names for it and asked a few of his friends to choose one. They chose The Name of the Rose.[4] In another version of the story, Eco had wanted the neutral title Adso of Melk, but that was vetoed by his publisher, and then the title The Name of the Rose "came to me virtually by chance".[3] Eco wrote that he liked this title "because the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left."[3]

The book's last line, "Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus" translates literally as "Yesterday's rose endures in its name, we hold empty names". The general sense, as Eco pointed out,[5] was that from the beauty of the past, now disappeared, we hold only the name. In this novel, the lost "rose" could be seen as Aristotle's book on comedy (now forever lost), the exquisite library now destroyed, or the beautiful peasant girl now dead. We only know them by the description Adso provides us — we only have the name of the book on comedy, not its contents. As Adso points out at the end of the fifth day, he does not even know the name of the peasant girl to lament her. Does this mean she does not endure at all?

Perhaps this is a deliberate mis-translation. This quote has also been translated as "Yesterday's Rome stands only in name, we hold only empty names". This line is a verse by twelfth century monk Bernard of Cluny (also known as Bernard of Morlaix). Medieval manuscripts of this line are not in agreement; Eco quotes one Medieval variant verbatim,[6] but Eco was not aware at the time of the text more commonly printed in modern editions, in which the reference is to Rome (Roma), not to a rose (rosa).[7] The alternative text, with its context, runs: Nunc ubi Regulus aut ubi Romulus aut ubi Remus? / Stat Roma pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus. This translates as "Now where is Regulus, or Romulus, or Remus? / Yesterday's Rome stands only in name, we hold empty names".

Also the title of the book has been inspired by a poem written by a Mexican lyric poet, Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695):

Rosa que al prado, encarnada,
te ostentas presuntuosa
de grana y carmin banada:
campa lozana y gustosa;
pero no, que siendo hermosa
tambien seras desdichada.

which has been translated into English as:

Red rose growing in the meadow,
you vaunt yourself bravely
bathed in crimson and carmine:
a rich and fragrant show.
But no: Being fair, you will be unhappy soon.[3]


To other works

It is necessary to mention here, that the historical novel with medieval time setting was re-discovered in Italy a short time before by Italo Alighiero Chiusano, with his L'ordalia. The several similarities between the two novels (time setting, the novel typology, meant as a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, as well as the choice of the main character, a novice, and his helper, an older monk), and the notoriety that L′ordalia had in 1979,[8] of which an expert on literature such as Umberto Eco was definitely aware, make L'ordalia to be very likely one of the first sources of inspiration of The Name of the Rose.[citation needed]

The name of the central character, William of Baskerville, alludes both to the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes (compare The Hound of the Baskervilles) and to William of Ockham (see the next section). William's physical description and manner closely parallel those of Holmes. The name of the narrator, his apprentice Adso, is among other things a pun on Simplicio from Galileo Galilei's Dialogue; Adso = ad Simplicio ("to Simplicio"). The name Adso also compares closely to the name of Sherlock Holmes's investigative partner, Watson.

As usual in Eco's novels, there is a display of erudition. The blind librarian Jorge from Burgos is a nod to Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, a major influence on Eco. Borges was blind during his later years and was also director of Argentina's national library; his short story "The Library of Babel" was a clear inspiration for the secret library in Eco's book: "The Library is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite, number of hexagonal galleries, with enormous ventilation shafts in the middle, encircled by very low railings". Another one of Borges's stories, "The Secret Miracle", features a blind librarian. In addition, a number of other themes drawn from various of Borges's works are used throughout The Name of the Rose: labyrinths, mirrors, sects and obscure manuscripts and books.

The ending also owes a debt to Borges's "Death and the Compass", wherein a detective proposes a theory for the behavior of a murderer. The murderer learns of the theory and uses it to trap the detective. In The Name of the Rose, the librarian Jorge uses William's belief that the murders are based on the Revelation of John to misdirect William, though in Eco's tale, the detective succeeds in solving the crime.

Eco seems also to have been aware of Rudyard Kipling's short story The Eye of Allah, which touches on many of the same themes – optics, manuscript-illumination, music, medicine, priestly authority and the Church's attitude to scientific discovery and independent thought – and which includes a character named John of Burgos.

The University of Toronto's Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

Eco 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[citation needed]. Throughout the book, there are Latin quotes, authentic and apocryphal. There are also discussions of the philosophy of Aristotle and of a variety of millenarist heresies, especially those associated with the fraticelli. Numerous other philosophers are referenced throughout the book, often anachronistically, including Wittgenstein. The "poisoned page" theme is in a classic Chinese novel, Jin Ping Mei, usually translated into English as The Golden Lotus.

The plot element of the poisoned book, on the other hand may refer or may have been inspired by a little known tale of the Arabian Nights ("The story of the vizir of the King Iounane and of the doctor Rouinane", itself in the "Story of the fisherman and the Efrit") where the King Iounane is led into poisoning himself by licking his finger while reading a book, although there is no way to prove or disprove such a reference.

To actual history, geography and current science

William of Ockham, who lived during the time at which the novel is set, first put forward the principle known as "Ockham's Razor": often summarised as the dictum that one should always accept as most-likely the simplest explanation that accounts for all the facts (a method used by William of Baskerville in the novel).

The book describes monastic life in the 14th century. The action takes place at a Benedictine abbey during the controversy surrounding the Apostolic poverty between branches of Franciscans and Dominicans; see Renewed controversy on the question of poverty. The Spirituals abhor wealth, bordering on the Apostolics or Dulcinian heresy. The book highlights this tension that existed within Christianity during the medieval era: the Spirituals, one faction within the Franciscan order, demanded that the Church should abandon all wealth, and some heretical sects began killing the well-to-do, while the majority of the Franciscans and the clergy took to a broader interpretation of the gospel.

A number of the characters, such as the Inquisitor Bernard Gui, Ubertino of Casale and the Minorite Michael of Cesena, are historical figures, though the novel's characterization of them is not always historically accurate. Dante Alighieri and his Comedy are mentioned once in passing. However, Eco notes in a companion book that he had to site the monastery in mountains so it would experience early frosts, in order for that action to take place at a time when Bernard Gui could have been in the area. For the purposes of the plot, he needed a quantity of pig blood, but at that time pigs were not usually slaughtered until a frost had arrived. Later in the year Gui was known to have been away from Italy and could not have participated in the events at the monastery.

Adso's description of the portal of the monastery is recognisably that of the portal of the church at Moissac, France.[citation needed]


References in popular culture

  • The song "Sign of the Cross" from Iron Maiden is about an execution during inquisition and openly cites the novel/movie title in the chorus lyrics.
  • The song "Abbey of Synn", from Ayreon's album Actual Fantasy, is based on The Name of the Rose, specifically referencing the labyrinth, the blackened fingers, and the book that kills, among other plot points.
  • The song "Neon Bible", from Canadian rock band The Arcade Fire's album Neon Bible, references The Name of the Rose's famous cause of death with the lyrics "Take the poison of your age / Don't lick your fingers when you turn the page". In addition, this song (and many others on the album) addresses Eco's theme regarding the futility of reading any text or message as an absolute truth.
  • The videogame Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem features a character who is a Franciscan monk named Paul Luther, who, after arriving to a cathedral in Amiens during the Inquisition, finds the corpse of a monk and is judged guilty for the murder. After escaping arrest from the cathedral's authority, he starts to investigate the cathedral's dark secrets and the real reason of the monk's death.

See also

Book collection.jpg Novels portal


  1. ^ pointed out by Lars Gustafsson in a postscript to the Swedish edition of the novel.
  2. ^ a b c Christopher Butler. Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. OUP, 2002. ISBN 978-0-19-280239-2 — see pages 32 and 126 for discussion of the novel.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Postscript to the Name of the Rose", printed in The Name of the Rose (Harcourt, Inc., 1984), p. 506.
  4. ^ Umberto Eco. On Literature. Secker & Warburg, 2005, p. 129-130. ISBN 0436210177.
  5. ^ "Name of the Rose: Title and Last Line". Archived from the original on 2007-01-21. Retrieved 2007-03-15. 
  6. ^ Eco would have found this reading in, for example, the standard text edited by H.C. Hoskier (London 1929); only the Hiersemann manuscript preserves "Roma". For the verse quoted in this form before Eco, see e.g. Alexander Cooke, An essay on the origin, progress, and decline of rhyming Latin verse (1828), p. 59, and Hermann Adalbert Daniel, Thesaurus hymnologicus sive hymnorum canticorum sequentiarum (1855), p. 290. See further Pepin, Ronald E. "Adso's closing line in The Name of the Rose." American notes and queries (May–June 1986): 151–152.
  7. ^ As Eco wrote in "The Author and his Interpreters" "Thus the title of my novel, had I come across another version of Morlay's poem, could have been The Name of Rome (thus acquiring fascist overtones)".
  8. ^ in Italian: from the Journal "Letture", n. 614, February 2005: Memoria. Marco Beck ricorda Italo Alighiero Chiusano


| last = Wischermann | first = Heinfried | title = Romanesque \ publisher = Konemann | year = 1997

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