Summary

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 Melk monastery by his father, a nobleman, so that he might see Italy and the crowning of Emperor Louis, and how 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 value of laughter with Jorge and becomes convinced that there is something important hidden among Venantius’s papers. From Benno, he and Adso learn that Adelmo slept with Berengar in exchange for access to a forbidden book. William and Adso then meet with the abbot, who encourages William in his investigation. Adso reflects that Abo has agreed to collaborate with the Franciscans in order to oppose the overreaching authority of the Pope, which poses a threat to the power of the Benedictine monasteries. Afterward the two encounter the Italian monk Alinardo of Grottaferrata, the oldest member of the abbey, who is no longer quite in full possession of his wits. Alinardo tells them about a secret entrance to the library and theorizes that the deaths are following a pattern laid out in the Book of Revelation.

That night, William and Adso enter the scriptorium on their way to the library but discover the book William was looking for, which he believes both the dead monks had been reading, has been stolen from Venantius’s desk. They do, however, discover a sheet of parchment on which Venantius has written something in code—but as the two prepare to leave, someone rushes by in the darkness and steals William’s glasses from the table. Adso runs after the shadowy figure but is unable to catch the thief. He and William proceed to the labyrinthine library, where they attempt to solve the puzzle of its organization. Adso falls victim to visions produced by herbs that have been left smoking on a table, and he and William lose their way for quite some time before finally emerging from the stacks.

The next morning’s prayers are again interrupted, this time by the discovery that Berengar has gone missing and a bloodstained cloth has been found in his cell. Over breakfast, Adso listens to the life story of Salvatore, a monk who speaks in a strange gibberish made up of several different languages. He learns how Salvatore roamed the countryside and eventually joined up with an extremist sect who enforced their ideals of poverty through violence. He then fled persecution by joining a convent of Minorite monks. There he became the personal assistant of the man who is now the abbey’s cellarer, Remigio of Varagine. Adso next meets with William, who, after treating his scribe to a philosophical discussion of heresy, announces that he has succeeded in translating the first part of Venantius’s coded writing, which reveals how to open the secret room in the library. The monks call this room the finis Africae, and it is from here that the lost book Berengar, Adelmo, and Venantius were reading appears to have been stolen.

That evening, Adso seeks out Ubertino in the church in order to ask him about a heretic of whom he has several times heard mention: Fra Dolcino. Ubertino explains what he believes to be the difference between Dolcino’s violently heretical sect and his own Minorite order. He discusses the difference between earthly love, which he views as terribly dangerous, and holy love, which is purely spiritual. In a state of restlessness and some confusion, Adso then enters the library, where he is agitated by images in books he finds left out on a table, in particular an illustration of the Whore of Babylon. Upon arriving back downstairs in the kitchen, Adso sees a shadowy figure who immediately flees. Sensing that someone is still there, however, the novice approaches and discovers a beautiful young woman crying. Though the two cannot understand each other’s languages, they begin sweetly talking to one another, and before he knows it, Adso is having the first and only sexual experience of his life. It is a transcendent...

(The entire section is 3063 words.)

The Name of the Rose 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.)