Adso of Melk

Adso of Melk, our narrator, is a Benedictine monk who was born into the nobility and is writing as an elderly man of events he experienced as a teenage novice. These events began when Adso’s father, a baron, took him out of the monastery of Melk and brought him to Italy to see Emperor Louis crowned in Rome. When Adso’s father became absorbed in military affairs, the young novice roamed around Tuscany by himself until his parents placed him in the care of English Franciscan monk William of Baskerville. Adso then became William’s student, scribe, and traveling companion. Throughout his story, the young Adso appears intelligent, curious, and questioning, though he remains devout in his Christian faith and dedicated to his master, William. Innocent at the beginning of his tale, Adso gains often painful and confusing knowledge and experience as events progress. As an old man, Adso expresses a somewhat bleak and apocalyptic view of the state of the world, which he believes is descending into chaos. Now close to death, he yearns for the ecstasy of oblivion he believes he will experience when he is reunited with God.

William of Baskerville

An English Franciscan monk known for his wisdom and learning, William of Baskerville is Adso’s master. Adso describes him as about fifty years old, tall and thin, with sharp eyes, a beaky nose, and a long, freckled face. Though he is usually full of energy, William becomes silent and seemingly inactive when he needs to contemplate a problem. He was once an inquisitor but abandoned the position when he found himself unable to see things in morally black and white terms. William comes to the abbey to help bring about a reconciliation between Emperor Louis IV and Pope John XXII and is asked by the abbot to investigate the death of one of the monks. As monks continue to die under mysterious circumstances, William endeavors to solve the mystery using Aristotelian logic. He has a great respect for philosophers and fellow Franciscans Roger Bacon and William of Occam. William of Baskerville is essentially a humanist, a free thinker who stands opposed to what he sees as the dangerous forces of authoritarianism, censorship, rigidity, and the kind of self-righteous piety that never laughs at or questions itself, as represented by Bernard Gui and Jorge of Burgos. After witnessing the destruction of the abbey, William comes to the conclusion that there is no order in the universe and that he was only able to solve the mystery by chance. He even seems to leave the question of whether or not God exists up in the air. William and Adso part ways after fleeing the abbey at the end of the novel, and Adso never sees him again. He later learns that William died during an outbreak of plague.


The abbot at the unnamed abbey where the story unfolds and, due to his position, a powerful man. Abo asks William to solve the mystery of the monks’ deaths at the abbey but dismisses him and Adso near the end of the novel when he fears William has discovered too much. Rather than being promoted from the position of librarian like other abbots at this particular monastery, Abo was appointed directly to the position of abbot. He was born into the local nobility, and rumor has it that as a youth, he carried the body of Thomas Aquinas down the stairs of a tower. Now an old man, Abo is proud of his power and wealth and wishes to protect the reputation of the abbey at all costs. He dies the night of the fire after being locked by Jorge in the secret stairwell that leads to the hidden room in the library the monks call the finis Africae.

Adelmo of Otranto

The first of the monks to be found dead, Adelmo was a talented and handsome young illuminator. His body was discovered on the mountainside below the abbey just prior to Adso and William’s arrival, and his death prompts their investigation. It is later revealed that Adelmo had a sexual relationship with Berengar of Arundel. It was the guilt and torment he felt over this relationship after receiving confession from Jorge that led Adelmo to leap to his death.

Remigio of Varagine

The abbey’s cellarer, Remigio is described as jolly but vulgar, with white hair and a small but strong build. He and his assistant, Salvatore, originally came to the abbey fleeing persecution as former Fraticelli, followers of the now-condemned heretic Fra Dolcino. Remigio has Salvatore bring him young women from the nearby village by night so that he can trade them scraps of food for sexual favors. He is later betrayed by Salvatore and tried by the inquisitor Bernard Gui. During his trial, he confesses to all manner of crimes and heresies, declaring his unwavering faith in the ideals of the Fraticelli. He is then taken to Avignon to be burned at the stake.


Salvatore stands out among the monks for his strange way of speaking, which consists of a hodgepodge of words from different European languages and regions. Described as an incredibly ugly old man, Salvatore acts as assistant to Remigio, the...

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