The Name of the Rose

by Umberto Eco

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Last Updated on January 25, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2101

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.

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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.

Abo

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.

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Salvatore

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 cellarer, with whom he came to the abbey. Salvatore was born into the peasantry and spent most of his life wandering the countryside before joining up with Fra Dolcino’s band. He eventually betrays Remigio, and together the two are arrested and taken to Avignon.

Ubertino of Casale

A Franciscan monk, mystic author, and old friend and mentor of William, Ubertino has come to the abbey fleeing persecution as a leader of the Spirituals, monks who advocate a life of poverty. He is a sixty-eight-year-old man with large blue eyes, and Adso describes him as resembling a withered maiden. Ubertino is passionate about his mystical beliefs; he urges William to abandon his scholarly ways and Adso to devote himself to holy love, or mystical communion with God. He flees the abbey after talks between the delegations from Emperor Louis and Pope John fall apart, and his death two years later is shrouded in mystery.

Severinus of Sankt Wendel

A learned herbalist about the same age as William, Severinus is in charge of the infirmary, balneary, and gardens and understands both the medicinal and harmful properties of countless plants. He also supplies Malachi with the herbs used to disorient intruders in the library. Severinus is murdered by Malachi when the jealous librarian hits him over the head with an armillary sphere, making him the fourth monk to die.

Malachi of Hildesheim

As librarian, Malachi is the only person at the abbey other than his assistant, Berengar, who may enter the library. He understands its labyrinthine construction and complicated system of organization. Adso describes him as tall, thin, middle-aged, melancholy, and resembling an old woman. Malachi has, or once had, a sexual relationship with his assistant, Berengar. He murders the herbalist Severinus in a fit of jealousy, convinced by Jorge that Berengar slept with Severinus in exchange for a forbidden book. Malachi then succumbs to the poison on the lost book of Aristotle and collapses during Matins, making him the fifth monk to die.

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Jorge of Burgos

At over eighty years old, Jorge is the second-oldest monk at the abbey and has been blind for at least forty years. He has the unsettling ability to sneak up on people in complete silence. He is also an incredibly grim figure who acts as confessor for the other monks, preaching against laughter, pagan learning, and immorality, and often warning of the coming of the Antichrist. Jorge holds particular influence over Malachi and seems to know more about the books in the library than the librarian himself. In his climactic confrontation with William and Adso, it is revealed that Jorge, believing that God had charged him with the task of preventing the spread of dangerous ideas, placed poison on the pages of Aristotle’s lost book on laughter, which he had had Malachi hide in the finis Africae decades ago. He is also responsible for the death of Abo, whom he locks in the secret passage from the refectory to the finis Africae, and can be seen as partially responsible for the deaths of Adelmo and Severinus. Jorge dies in the library after eating the poisoned pages of the book and throwing the rest into the fire he has accidentally started. He is then knocked into a bookcase by William and left to his fate in the conflagration.

Venantius of Salvemec

Venantius is a translator of Greek and Arabic and a devotee of Aristotle. He was close to Adelmo and learned of the existence of Aristotle’s lost book on comedy from Berengar. He is the second monk to die, and William discovers how to penetrate the finis Africae by translating the explanation Venantius wrote in code and left in the scriptorium. Though Venantius died in the kitchen after being poisoned, his body is found upside down in a jar of pig’s blood after having been placed there by Berengar.

Berengar of Arundel

Assistant librarian to Malachi, Berengar is a young monk described as pale, with the same eyes “of a lascivious woman” as his closest friend, Adelmo. Berengar is aware of the secret of the finis Africae and shared what he knew with Adelmo and Venantius prior to William and Adso’s arrival. He is the third monk to be found dead, drowned in the balneary after being poisoned. Berengar shared a sexual relationship with Malachi and later with Adelmo, for whom he had a great passion. Adelmo felt so much guilt over this relationship after confessing it to Jorge that he committed suicide. Berengar was the last person to see Adelmo alive, although he believed he was seeing a ghost.

Nicholas of Morimondo

The abbey’s master glazier. Nicholas is impressed by William’s spectacles and makes new ones for him after the originals are stolen by Berengar. He also tells William and Adso of rumors in the abbey that the library is protected by magic and that monks who venture into it at night are driven mad by visions. After the arrest of Remigio, Nicholas becomes the new cellarer.

Alinardo of Grottaferrata

The oldest monk at the abbey, Alinardo is frail and absentminded. He is at the center of a group Adso refers to as “the Italians”; they sympathize with Alinardo’s long-held grudge against Jorge and agree that as a foreigner, Jorge should not have been  appointed librarian—and therefore future abbot, had Abo not been given the position—instead of Alinardo. Alinardo dies after being knocked down by the horse Brunellus during the fire.

Benno of Uppsala

A young Scandinavian student of rhetoric with an appreciation for the pagan writers. Chosen by Malachi as the new assistant librarian after the death of Berengar, Benno is driven by a lust for knowledge and a passion for books. Benno later reveals that he stole the lost book of Aristotle from the infirmary after Severinus was found murdered and returned it to Malachi, thus securing his appointment to the recently vacated post of assistant librarian. During the fire at the novel’s end, Benno dies after rushing into the burning library.

The peasant girl

Adso has the first and only sexual or romantic experience of his life with a beautiful girl from the nearby village whom he encounters in the kitchen after making a nighttime trip to the library. She had been brought there by Salvatore for Remigio, who would have traded her scraps of food for sexual favors. Salvatore, however, flees the scene, and Adso and the girl, who remains unnamed, sleep together. It is a transcendent experience for Adso, who sees her as pure and holy. Tragically, the girl is accused of witchcraft by Bernard Gui and taken to be burned at the stake in Avignon along with Salvatore and Remigio, causing Adso to reflect that the “simple folk” will always be made to unjustly suffer when the powerful quarrel.

Bernard Gui

A seventy-year-old Dominican monk and inquisitor who arrives with a delegation from the Pope in Avignon. Adso is struck by Bernard’s gray eyes, which Bernard can make seem expressionless or use to express certain emotions at will. As he reveals during his trial of Remigio, Bernard is a skilled inquisitor, manipulating the cellarer into confessing all manner of sins. He has a particularly antagonistic relationship with William and does not hesitate to convict Remigio, Salvatore, and the village girl of murder, heresy, and witchcraft.

Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 330

The narrator of The Name of The Rose is Adso of Melk, a young novice at the time of the events he relates, an old man by the time he records those events. There is a naive, ingenuous quality to Adso the novice. His mind is open, his heart vulnerable, and his soul pure. He, like William, is curious in a disinterested, honest way. Allied with no faction, Adso is devoid of the prejudices of many of the older characters. He also lacks the patience of many of the other characters. Unlike William, who repeatedly stresses his own limitations and indebtedness to God for all learning and wisdom, Adso is often pleased or frustrated by what he and William discover. Adso plays Watson to William's Sherlock Holmes.

The Franciscan monk, William of Baskerville, is the central figure — the detective — of The Name of The Rose. A friend of Roger Bacon and William of Occam, William initially comes to the monastery as the representative of the Franciscan order and the Emperor Louis IV to make arrangements for a meeting with a papal legation. William is soon recruited by the Abbot to investigate the mysterious death of a monk.

More deaths follow and William is spurred on to his task fearing that a single murderer might be responsible, as the deaths seem to follow the last days described in the Book of Revelations. William quickly realizes that the death of each monk is somehow connected to a manuscript housed in the monastery library. The library itself, like Eco's novel, is a labyrinth; its truths are protected by an elaborate puzzle. William, some critics have argued, is clearly Eco's hero and perhaps his spokesman as well. Indeed, William is a medieval semiotician who describes his method of investigation to Adso: "The idea is sign of things, and the image is sign of the idea, sign of a sign." More importantly, both William and Eco convincingly argue for the importance and power of laughter.

List of Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1495

Abo

Abo is the abbot of the Benedictine abbey who asks William to investigate the murders of several monks. Abo is more interested in the good name of the abbey than he is in the truth. At the end of the novel, Abo has died, the victim of murder himself.

Adelmo of Otranto

Adelmo is a young illustrator of manuscripts. Before the book opens, he has engaged in a homosexual affair with Berengar, perhaps in order to gain access to an important, yet sequestered, book. As a result, he has committed suicide just before William and Adso’s arrival at the abbey.

Adso of Melk

Adso of Melk is an elderly Benedictine monk who writes of his experiences as a young novitiate who accompanies William of Baskervilles on his trip to a northern Italian abbey in 1327 where they encounter a series of murders. Adso thus plays two roles in the novel: in the first place, his is an older voice, one that has had time to consider and reflect on the events of which he writes. In the second, he is young, innocent and naïve, the younger son of a wealthy nobleman, pledged to the church. The Name of the Rose is very much the story of Adso’s coming of age; he loses his virginity to a young peasant girl, and he grows from ignorance to knowledge. He encounters the most pressing theological debates of his day at the abbey, as well as a thirst for knowledge that leads several other young monks to their deaths. He also plays “Watson” to William’s “Sherlock” in the investigation of the murders. Eco’s intention that readers connect Adso to Watson is clear: “Adso” in Italian and French is pronounced nearly identically to Watson in those languages. Adso’s simple questions allow William to expound on his hypotheses and methodology in solving the crimes, mirroring the relationship between Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes in the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Ironically, chance comments from Adso provide the key clues for William.

Benno of Uppsala

Benno is a rhetorican, someone who studies the figures of language. He dies by rushing into the library to save books and becomes engulfed in flames.

Berengar of Arundel

Berengar is the assistant librarian at the abbey and is thus privy to many of the secrets of the place. He is also a homosexual who has engaged in affairs with both Malachi, the chief librarian, and Adelmo. Berengar is murdered (by being poisoned with a poisoned book).

Bernard of Gui

Bernard is a real historical figure who was an important judge in the Inquisition, sentencing many heretics to their deaths by fire. In this novel, Eco portrays Bernard as an inquisitor who, in his obsessive pursuit of the Truth, subjects suspects to torture and the threat of horrible death. His inquisitorial techniques lead to confessions; yet it seems clear that, while he arrives at confessions, he fails to arrive at the truth of the murders. His chief role in the novel is as a mirror for William, whose ideas about truth, orthodoxy, and heresy stand in direct contrast to Bernard’s.

Jorge of Burgos

Jorge is a blind, elderly monk who knows a great deal about books and the library. (Late in the book, William deduces that he was even the head librarian for a time.) In one of the most important passages in the novel, he and William enter into a heated debate over laughter. This debate reveals William’s position as an early humanist and liberal theologian, while Jorge is both conservative and strongly opposed to anything but a strict interpretation of the Bible. Toward the end of the novel, it is revealed that Jorge is the real power in the abbey. He has worked diligently across the years to prevent access to Aristotle’s lost book on comedy, even to the extent of poisoning the pages so that anyone who reads the book will die. Jorge believes that the book could cause the complete destruction of Christianity, and so feels that he is doing the will of God by first destroying those who would read the book and finally destroying the book itself.

In a mostly playful tribute, Eco models Jorge after Jorge Luis Borges, the influential Argentine writer. As Eco writes in his “Postscript to The Name of the Rose,” “I wanted a blind man who guarded a library. . . . and library plus blind man can only equal Borges, also because debts must be paid.”

Malachi of Hildesheim

Malachi is the chief librarian of the abbey. As such, he alone knows the exact location of every book stored in the library and all of the entrances and exits to the building. He has unrestricted access to the library and to the books, but can prevent others from entering or from reading books that he deems dangerous. Malachi serves a gatekeeper role, both to the library and to knowledge. He dies from reading the poisoned book.

Nicholas of Morimundo

Nicholas is the abbey’s glazier. That is, he is the monk in charge of glass in the abbey. He is fascinated by William’s glasses and learns to construct a new pair when William’s are stolen.

Remigio of Varagine

Remigio is the cellarer of the abbey. His job is to supply the abbey with food and to care for the storing of food. He is short, stout, and jolly, someone who clearly partakes of his position to supply himself well. He also satisfies his carnal appetites on peasant women with whom he trades provisions for sex. He was formerly a member of a heretical sect, and under Bernard’s inquiry ends up confessing to all of the murders and to heresy. As a result, he is condemned to burn.

Salvatore

Salvatore is an oddly-shaped and animal-like monk who speaks a pastiche of all the European languages. He procures women for Remigio and was also a member of a heretical cult.

Severinus of Sankt Wendel

Severinus is the herbalist at the abbey, and as such has both knowledge of and access to herbs of all sorts, including poisonous ones. He supplies Malachi with the herbs needed to create visions in anyone who attempts to enter the library, and he also unwittingly supplies Jorge with the poison that contaminates Aristotle’s book on comedy. Severinus is killed by Malachi, who steals Aristotle’s book from him.

Ubertino of Casale

Ubertino is an elderly Franciscan who has taken refuge at the abbey for many years. Many of those who followed him or his fellows bordered on heresy, according to the orthodox church, and thus Ubertino’s life is in danger as a result of the debate between the papal legation and the Franciscan brothers. Ubertino’s role in the novel is to provide a statement of the Franciscan position on love and poverty. His attachment to Adso, however, is not unproblematic. In several scenes, it is clear that Ubertino feels an unseemly attachment to the young man.

Venantius of Salvermec

Venantius is a young translator of manuscripts who recognizes Aristotle’s book on comedy for what it is because of his knowledge of Greek. He dies, poisoned by the book.

William of Baskervilles

William is a Franciscan monk sent by the emperor to mediate the debate between the papal legation and the Franciscan order on the question of Christ’s poverty. William is a former inquisitor; however, he has given up this role as he realizes that the line between heresy and orthodoxy is very thin. He is heavily influenced by the teachings of Roger Bacon, a rational empiricist. This means that William uses his observations to test his hypotheses rather than appealing to either pure reason or authoritative text. Like his teacher, William of Occam, William of Baskervilles is a nominalist and rejects the notion of universals. That is, he believes that only individual things exist, and that abstract general concepts only exist in the mind and nowhere else. For example, a nominalist would say that while there are many individual chairs, there does not exist in reality a universal chair from which all individual chairs are copied.

William is a wonderfully complicated character. In some ways, he is clearly modeled after Sherlock Holmes in his name, his appearance, and his method. In other ways, he seems to be modeled after Eco himself. William often seems to be a modern semiotician who finds himself struggling within the confines of medieval debate. He is remarkably intelligent, and yet he arrives at his final solution to the mystery of the murders purely by chance and not by his investigative method. William struggles with his own arrogance and his own thirst for knowledge, the very attributes which lead others in the book to their deaths. Ultimately, it is William’s interference in the case that leads to the destruction of Aristotle’s book on comedy, which is the very thing William seeks.

 

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