Last Updated on December 12, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3062
Eco introduces the novel with a preface titled “Naturally, a Manuscript,” in which an unnamed scholar describes how he came into possession of the memoirs of a fourteenth-century monk called Adso of Melk. The scholar describes the difficulties he encountered in authenticating, researching, and translating Adso’s manuscript and presents it as a tale out of time, a “tale of books” into which the reader can escape the modern world.
In the prologue, Adso of Melk takes over as narrator. Adso lives at the Benedictine abbey in the city of Melk. Aware that he is close to the end of his life, he writes of events he experienced as a young novice. He relates how he was removed from the monastery of Melk by his father, a nobleman, so that he might see Italy and the crowning of Emperor Louis; he then wandered Tuscany by himself until his parents made him scribe and student of the British Franciscan monk William of Baskerville. Adso greatly admired, and continues to admire, his unusual master’s wisdom and learning, though he expresses some confusion at the fact that William seemed to embody several contradictions, including an admiration of the ideas of both William of Occam and Roger Bacon.
The story proper begins on a November morning in 1327, when William and Adso arrive after weeks of travel at an unnamed Benedictine abbey in the mountains of northern Italy. William has been summoned there in order to mediate talks between envoys of Pope John XXII and representatives of the Franciscan order, led by Michael of Cesena, who have the support of Emperor Louis IV. Michael has been summoned to the papal seat in Avignon to answer for the Franciscans’ belief in ecclesiastical poverty, which the Pope sees as having given rise to radical sects that pose a threat to the centralized authority, power, and riches of the Church. When William and Adso meet with the monastery’s abbot, Abo, they learn that a young illuminator, Adelmo of Otranto, has recently been found dead under mysterious circumstances—his body was discovered on the cliffside below the abbey. Abo asks William to solve the mystery of Adelmo’s death before the papal legation arrives and can become suspicious. William and Adso also learn from Abo of the supreme importance the monks place on the abbey’s library—said to be the greatest in Christendom—which occupies the top floor of the Aedificium and was constructed hundreds of years ago as a labyrinth. Only the librarian and assistant librarian are permitted to enter the stacks.
William, who loves an intellectual challenge, immediately begins his investigation of the mystery and tour of the abbey, taking Adso with him. The pair meet with William’s old friend and teacher, Ubertino of Casale, a member of the Franciscan sect known as the Spirituals who has come to the abbey fleeing persecution. They are also introduced to Severinus of Sankt Wendel, the master herbalist, and Nicholas of Morimondo, the master glazier. In the scriptorium, which occupies the floor below the library, they meet Malachi of Hildesheim, the librarian; his assistant, Berengar of Arundel; Venantius of Salvemec, a Greek and Arabic translator; Benno of Uppsala, a student of rhetoric; and the blind Jorge of Burgos, the abbey’s second-oldest monk, who, in opposition to the younger scholars, vehemently condemns laughter and comedy as dangerous forms of heresy.
The next morning during lauds, the dead body of Venantius of Salvemec, a friend of Adelmo’s, is discovered upside-down in a vat of pig’s blood in the courtyard. William deduces that Venantius must have died in the library and then been dragged into the courtyard to distract attention from the library. He and Adso continue their investigation, collecting clues and rumors. In the scriptorium, William finds himself debating...
(The entire section contains 3062 words.)
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