Foucault's Pendulum Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jacopo Belbo, the senior editor at a publishing house in Milan, Italy, is taken hostage by a shadowy group of occultists. These Diabolicals, as Belbo thinks of them, are convinced that he possesses a secret map or code. They are determined to get hold of it so they can complete the task they believe their society was set up to accomplish. Casaubon, the firm’s junior editor, rushes to Paris, hoping to save Belbo’s life and perhaps his own. He hides in the Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Trades), where the famous pendulum of Léon Foucault is housed. Casaubon’s investigations have led him to believe that the occult society will gather there at midnight that night, as the moment of the summer solstice approaches.

As he waits in hiding, Casaubon thinks over the events of the last dozen years: He first meets Belbo when in a Milan tavern that serves as a meeting place for students and workers of every political persuasion; it has always seemed to him to resemble Rick’s bar from the 1942 film Casablanca. He is then a doctoral student in philology, writing a thesis on documents pertaining to the medieval Knights Templar. Belbo is reviewing a manuscript submitted by a retired army colonel that purports to solve the mystery of the Templars’ lost treasure. Just as Casaubon is brought into the office, where he briefs Belbo and the other editor, Diotallevi, on the Templars, the manuscript’s author disappears, and the three men of...

(The entire section is 592 words.)

Foucault's Pendulum Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Foucault’s Pendulum is 641 pages long. The story extends quite aimlessly for nearly the first quarter of the book, after which it gains focus and momentum. This is not a failing on Eco’s part; his writing is calculated even if his pace may frustrate some readers.

Readers who had difficulty with Eco’s frequent inclusion of Latin passages in The Name of the Rose face a nine-line quotation in Hebrew at the beginning of this novel. Eco regularly lapses into foreign languages in his novels, much as James Joyce did in his. When readers complain to him about this, he dismisses their complaints by saying that they do not have to translate the passages: Had he wanted readers to know what they mean, he would have provided translations.

Foucault’s pendulum was invented in 1851 by Jean-Bernard-Léon Foucault to demonstrate the axial rotation of the earth. Foucault suspended a weight from a wire attached to a fixed point. Unlike a pendulum in a clock, the Foucault pendulum is able to swing in any plane. Such a pendulum will continue to swing in the same plane even as the earth turns beneath it. To an observer, it appears that the pendulum is turning in a circle as it swings back and forth; the truth is that the observer, not the pendulum, turns in a circle. Eco uses the pendulum as a metaphor for his narrative approach.

Casaubon, a doctoral student in philology, well versed in the Knights Templar legend, narrates the...

(The entire section is 571 words.)