Study Guide

The Name of the Rose

by Umberto Eco

The Name of the Rose Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Through the use of a preface, Umberto Eco presents The Name of the Rose as a book he came upon by chance. That book was a translation of a manuscript written by Adso of Melk, a monk in the fourteenth century. The fictional framing of the novel and distancing of the narrator from the story alert the reader to the theme of the way knowledge and understanding are gained and the novel’s questioning of the accuracy and relevance of what is learned.

Adso of Melk, a young novice monk, relates the story of how he accompanies the Franciscan monk William of Baskerville to an abbey in northern Italy, where a meeting between opposing factions in the Church will soon take place. The pope, who is very rich, wants to keep factions of monks who advocate poverty for the clergy from gaining power. The abbey is in a state of anxiety because a monk has recently died; the monks believe he was murdered and that supernatural, evil forces are loose in the abbey. As more deaths follow, William uses logic to discover how the monks died. William advocates observing carefully to understand the signs that will reveal truth. In contrast, others, such as the inquisitor Bernard Gui, rely on superstition and assumptions. William believes for a time that the murders follow a pattern laid out in the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation), and the elderly monk Jorge of Burgos encourages this line of thinking to distract William from the truth. There was not, in fact, a single murderer,...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

The Name of the Rose Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In his first novel, Eco, already widely published in semiotics, sets up a story reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Eco, however, uses his mystery story to convey to his readers an incredible wealth of information about the medieval period, semiotics, aesthetics, and logic. Eco’s intention obviously was not merely to write a thriller. Indeed, much of The Name of the Rose, which launches frequently into serious philosophical discourse, is far from thrilling.

The novel treats dissension within the Franciscan order that reaches the boiling point in 1327. One group within the order, the Spiritualists, favors ecclesiastical poverty. Louis IV, the emperor, sides with this group. In the opposing camp are a corrupt pope, John XXII, and a group of monks who fear that ecclesiastical poverty will diminish the church’s power and influence. A meeting of the opposing forces is arranged on the neutral ground of a Benedictine abbey.

Representing the spiritualists is William of Baskerville, a British Franciscan, who represents Louis IV. He is accompanied by his young scribe, Adso. William, a consummate logician, is much like Eco himself and bears striking similarities to Sherlock Holmes. Adso, a convincing Watson, is the narrator and fictive author of the book. He writes the story fifty years after the events it relates.

Before the first session of the meeting convenes, a dead monk is discovered at the...

(The entire section is 507 words.)

The Name of the Rose Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In his old age, Adso of Melk recalls a momentous week in November, 1327. With William of Baskerville he reached an abbey somewhere along the central ridge of the Apennines. William’s mission was to mediate between delegations from Pope John XXII and Michael of Cesena, which would be meeting there. The purpose of this gathering was to ensure Michael’s safe passage to and from the papal palace at Avignon, where he hoped to secure endorsement for various church reforms.

Upon arriving at the abbey, William received a second charge, as well: to solve the mysterious death of Adelmo, whose body had recently been discovered outside the monastery walls. The abbot, Abo, wants to know how and why Adelmo died, not only because he is concerned about the welfare of the monks but also because he does not want the papal delegation, led by the inquisitors Cardinal Bertrand del Pogetto and Bernard Gui, to use the suspected murder as an excuse for investigating the abbey.

Despite William’s efforts, the mystery is still unsolved when the legations arrive. In fact, it has become even more puzzling. Two more monks have died: Venantius has been discovered with his head in a pail of pig’s blood, and Berengar has drowned in a bath. Moreover, Severinus, the herbalist who has been aiding William, is killed on the morning of the meeting, and Malachi dies shortly afterward.

As the abbot feared, the papal inquisitors take advantage of these occurrences to learn that Abo has been harboring monks who once followed the condemned heretic Fra Dolcino. Bernard Gui is convinced that Salvatore and Remigio, former...

(The entire section is 666 words.)

The Name of the Rose Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

It is in late November, 1327, that the learned Franciscan William of Baskerville, student of Roger Bacon and friend of William of Occam, arrives at a Benedictine abbey in northern Italy, accompanied by his young Benedictine scribe, Adso of Melk. William had been assigned the difficult task of arranging a meeting between representatives of Pope John XXII and the leader of the Franciscans, Michael of Cesena, at a time of great religious, political, social, and economic upheaval. The pope held the entire Franciscan order responsible for the extremist position on poverty held by its most radical members. The emperor supported the Franciscans, an odd alliance until one realized his motive: to weaken the pope’s power. The Benedictines also supported the Franciscans, but for a very different reason: They feared that a strong centralized Church, especially one located in Avignon, would undermine the spiritual and economic control that individual monasteries had long exerted over surrounding areas.

When William arrives, he is informed by the abbot of a recent event that, although not directly related to William’s mission, could threaten both its success and the abbot’s sovereignty. The body of a young and handsome monk, a master illustrator named Adelmo, had been found earlier that day. The abbot charged William with clearing up the mystery surrounding Adelmo’s death—whether it was murder or suicide—before the arrival of the papal legation. Although allowed considerable latitude in conducting the investigation, William is barred from entering the monastery’s great library located on the Aedificium’s top floor. The prohibition only piques William’s interest, especially when the body of another monk connected with the library, the Greek scholar Venantius, is found head down in a great jar filled with pigs’ blood the very next day. The old monk Alinardo sees in the two deaths signs of the apocalypse announced in the book of Revelations. William does not believe that the end is near, but he does believe that the book of Revelations has something to do with the deaths. As a result, he becomes even more determined to penetrate the mysteries of the forbidden, labyrinthine library.

Adso finds his naïve faith just as challenged as William’s wits, first by his master’s revelations, then by his own curiosity. The abbey, he learns, is not a world apart from, but a microcosm of, the secular world outside its walls. Divine order and absolute truth give way to human-made, relativistic...

(The entire section is 1029 words.)

The Name of the Rose Summary

Naturally, A Manuscript

The novel The Name of the Rose begins with what appears to be a preface to the book...

(The entire section is 1189 words.)