We The Italians | Italian books: The Name of the Rose

Italian books: The Name of the Rose

Italian books: The Name of the Rose

  • WTI Magazine #155 Sep 24, 2022
  • 203

The Name of the Rose is the most famous work of Italian writer, essayist, linguist, and philosopher Umberto Eco (1932-2016) and it was published in 1980. Eco was a great scholar and author of different kind of works; he received several honours - among those, the cavaliere di gran croce ordine al merito della repubblica italiana in 1996 and honoris causa degree. 

The story is a murder mystery taking place in an Italian monastery in the 14th century. More precisely, in 1327 the young Benedictine Adso of Melk and the Franciscan William of Baskerville visit a Benedictine monastery in the North of Italy for a theological debate. Upon their arrival, William is asked to investigate a recent death that took place in the abbey, where an illuminator fell from the library.

The next day, another monk is found dead and William – accompanied by Adso - slowly makes his way into the library where they get lost before they can get out, while learning about secrets regarding what was happening between the monks in the abbey. As the two uncover more evidence and investigate the case, another monk is dead. 

Successively, a Franciscan legation and representatives of the pope arrive for the debate and an inquisitor among them arrests two monks for heresy and pushes one of them to confess the murders. Another body is found. And a mysterious manuscript is missing. Another death takes place and William starts to believe that there is a connection between the mysterious manuscript and all those killed – who were aware of the existence of this book. In the end, William and Adso find out who was behind all the crimes and that the book is a volume of Aristotle’s Poetics on comedy and laughter; the two then escape a fire that burns down the abbey and are finally able to return home. 

William made use of the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical knowledge of Roger Bacon, humour and curiosity to investigate the crimes, gather evidence, decipher secret symbols and mysterious manuscripts and find his way out into the intricated places of the abbey. 

The book became an international bestseller, it won the Strega Prize in Italy in 1981 alongside several other international literary prizes and it was widely analysed by scholars. 

The author writes this book in a way that leads its readers towards the attempt to interpret the story, to observe and regard the signs, to ponder upon the meaning of something and to accept the infinite vastness that the pursuit of meaning brings.  With this book, Eco opens the door to the marvel of interpretation.   

The story was also transported into the big and small screen universe with a movie in 1986 and television adaptations. 

With the backdrop of a murder mystery in an old Italian monastery, the Name of the Rose actually proposes to examine the matter of truth from a theological, philosophical, scholarly and historical perspective. 

In fact, as it has been described “the novel is set in challenging times during the late medieval period in Italy, full of conflicts within the Church and between medieval states. Despite the general trend of despair and hopelessness in society and the clergy, the protagonist learns to appreciate the beauty of intellectual discovery and curiosity. […], the novel is the tale of a student coming of age into a world of complexity and ambiguity, where it is difficult to tell apart good from bad, moral from immoral. The book is the story of how intellectual passion can be liberating, transformative, and deeply painful”.

“Why read The Name of the Rose Today? For three reasons. First because it is a very fun book to read, designed for the pleasure of the reader and this in literature matters a lot. Second because it transports us to a time different from ours, the Middle Ages, which however has a series of affinities with our world and immerses us in that world by putting us in contact with it better than through reading a manual, and third because it tells how important books have been in the past, those objects that have contained the ideas that men have elaborated over time but that contain in themselves better than anything else the essence of the past.”