The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco

These pages: The Name of the Rose

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second page (here)


William Weaver


medieval mysteries

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The Name of the Rose

translated from the Italian by William Weaver

Copyright © 1980 by Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri-Bompiani, Sonzogno, Etas S.p.A.
English translation copyright © 1983 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. and Martin Secker & Warburg Limited


Fourth Day Terce It was as if all creation spoke to me of her, and I desired to see her again, true, but I was also prepared to accept the idea of never seeing her again, and of never lying again with her, provided that I could savor the joy that filled me that morning, and have her always near even if she were to be, and for eternity, distant. It was, now I am trying to understand, as if—just as the whole universe is surely like a book written by the finger of God, in which everything speaks to us of the immense goodness of its Creator, in which every creature is description and mirror of life and death, in which the humblest rose becomes a gloss of our terrestrial progress—everything, in other words, spoke to me only of the face I had hardly glimpsed in the aromatic shadows of the kitchen.



“Why? To know what one book says you must read others?”

“At times this can be so. Often books speak of other books. Often a harmless book is like a seed that will blossom into a dangerous book, or it is the other way around: it is the sweet fruit of a bitter stem.”


Books (general)

Sext “And what will we tell sinners, then, if we cannot threaten them with an immediate hell the moment they are dead?”




I understood at that moment my master’s method of reasoning, and it seemed to me quite alien to that of the philosopher, who reasons by first principles, so that his intellect almost assumes the ways of the divine intellect. I understood that, when he didn’t have an answer, William proposed many to himself, very different one from another. I remained puzzled.

“But then . . .” I ventured to remark, “you are still far from the solution. . . .”

“I am very close to one,” William said, “but I don’t know which.”

“Therefore you don’t have a single answer to your questions?”

“Adso, if I did I would teach theology in Paris.”

“In Paris do they always have the true answer?”

“Never,” William said, “but they are very sure of their errors.”

“And you,” I said with childish impertinence, “never commit errors?”

“Often,” he answered. “But instead of conceiving only one, I imagine many, so I become the slave of none.”

After Compline

“But then how can we trust ancient wisdom, whose traces you are always seeking, if it is handed down by lying books that have interpreted it with such license?”

“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means, a precept that the commentators of the holy books had very clearly in mind.”

“So must we then read books without faith, which is a theological virtue?”

“There are two other theological virtues as well. The hope that the possible is. And charity, toward those who believed in good faith that the possible was.”

“The print does not always have the same shape as the body that impressed it, and it doesn’t always derive from the pressure of a body. At times it reproduces the impression a body has left in our mind: it is the print of an idea. The idea is sign of things, and the image is sign of the idea, sign of a sign. But from the image I reconstruct, if not the body, the idea that others had of it.”

So I was moved by the pages of Ibn-Hazm, who defines love as a rebel illness whose treatment lies within itself, for the sick person does not want to be healed and he who is ill with it is reluctant to get well (and God knows this was true!).



Fifth Day Terce The confusion was now abating. The legates on both sides were exchanging the kiss of peace. The Bishop of Alborea praised the faith of the Minorites. Jerome exalted the charity of the preachers, all expressed the hope of a church no longer racked by internal conflicts. Some praised the strength of one group, some the temperance of another; all invoked justice and counseled prudence. Never have I seen so many men so sincerely concerned with the triumph of the cardinal and theological virtues.



When the church identifies some heretics she must surely point them out to the prince, who must rightly be informed of the conditions of his citizens. But what should the prince do with a heretic? Condemn him in the name of that divine truth of which he is not the custodian? The prince can and must condemn the heretic if his action harms the community, that is, if the heretic, in declaring his heresy, kills or impedes those who do not share it. But at that point the power of the prince ends, because no one on this earth can be forced through torture to follow the precepts of the Gospel: otherwise what would become of that free will on the exercising of which each of us will be judged in the next world? The church can and must warn the heretic that he is abandoning the community of the faithful, but she cannot judge him on earth and force him against his will. If Christ had wanted his priests to obtain coercive power, he would have laid down specific precepts as Moses did in the ancient law. He did not do it; therefore he did not wish it.



Vespers The older I grow and the more I abandon myself to God’s will, the less I value intelligence that wants to know and will that wants to do; and as the only element of salvation I recognize faith, which can wait patiently, without asking too many questions.



“The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb. This library was perhaps born to save the books it houses, but now it lives to bury them. This is why it has become a sink of iniquity.”

Sixth Day Prime

“I have seen many other fragments of the cross, in other churches. If all were genuine, our Lord’s torment could not have been on a couple of planks nailed together, but on an entire forest.”

“Master!” I said, shocked.

“So it is, Adso. And there are even richer treasuries. Some time ago, in the cathedral of Cologne, I saw the skull of John the Baptist at the age of twelve.”

“Really?” I exclaimed, amazed. Then, seized by doubt, I added, “But the Baptist was executed at a more advanced age!”

“The other skull must be in another treasury,” William said, with a grave face. I never understood when he was jesting.



After Terce

“It made no sense, like all dreams!”

“It had another sense like all dreams, and visions. It must be read as an allegory, or an analogy. . . .”

“Like Scripture?”

“A dream is a scripture, and many scriptures are nothing but dreams.”




Nones “The language of gems is multiform; each expresses several truths, according to the sense of the selected interpretation, according to the context in which they appear. And who decides what is the level of interpretation and what is the proper context? You know, my boy, for they have taught you: it is authority, the most reliable commentator of all and the most invested with prestige, and therefore with sanctity. Otherwise how to interpret the multiple signs that the world sets before our sinner’s eyes, how to avoid the misunderstandings into which the Devil lures us?”



“Try to formulate a hypothesis. You must have learned how it is done.”

“Actually, I have learned I must formulate at least two, one in opposition to the other, and both incredible.”



Seventh Day Night “That laughter is proper to man is a sign of our limitation, sinners that we are. But from this book many corrupt minds like yours would draw the extreme syllogism, whereby laughter is man’s end! Laughter, for a few moments, distracts the villein from fear. But law is imposed by fear, whose true name is fear of God. This book could strike the Luciferine spark that would set a new fire to the whole world, and laughter would be defined as the new art, unknown even to Prometheus, for canceling fear. To the villein who laughs, at that moment, dying does not matter: but then, when the license is past, the liturgy again imposes on him, according to the divine plan, the fear of death. And from this book there could be born the new destructive aim to destroy death through redemption from fear. And what would we be, we sinful creatures, without fear, perhaps the most foresighted, the most loving of the divine gifts?”



“The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came.”


The Devil

[...] He was announcing the truth to you and telling you that the truth has the taste of death, and you believed, not in his words, but in his grimness. And now I say to you that, in the infinite whirl of possible things, God allows you also to imagine a world where the presumed interpreter of the truth is nothing but a clumsy raven, who repeats words learned long ago.”



“The simple must not speak. This book would have justified the idea that the tongue of the simple is the vehicle of wisdom. This had to be prevented, which I have done. You say I am the Devil, but it is not true: I have been the hand of God.”

“The hand of God creates; it does not conceal.”

Night “The Antichrist can be born from piety itself, from excessive love of God or of the truth, as the heretic is born from the saint and the possessed from the seer. Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.”



“The order that our mind imagines is like a net, or like a ladder, built to attain something. But afterward you must throw the ladder away, because you discover that, even if it was useful, it was meaningless.”



“The only truths that are useful are instruments to be thrown away.”

“You have no reason to reproach yourself: you did your best.”

“A human best, which is very little. It’s hard to accept the idea that there cannot be an order in the universe because it would offend the free will of God and His omnipotence. So the freedom of God is our condemnation, or at least the condemnation of our pride.”

I dared, for the first and last time in my life, to express a theological conclusion: “But how can a necessary being exist totally polluted with the possible? What difference is there, then, between God and primigenial chaos? Isn’t affirming God’s absolute omnipotence and His absolute freedom with regard to His own choices tantamount to demonstrating that God does not exist?”

William looked at me without betraying any feeling in his features, and he said, “How could a learned man go on communicating his learning if he answered yes to your question?”



Last Page . . . I shall soon enter this broad desert, perfectly level and boundless, where the truly pious heart succumbs in bliss. I shall sink into the divine shadow, in a dumb silence and an ineffable union, and in this sinking all equality and all inequality shall be lost, and in that abyss my spirit will lose itself, and will not know the equal or the unequal, or anything else: and all differences will be forgotten. I shall be in the simple foundation, in the silent desert where diversity is never seen, in the privacy where no one finds himself in his proper place. I shall fall into the silent and uninhabited divinity where there is no work and no image.



text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Background graphic copyright © 2004 by Hal Keen