The Name of the Rose

by Umberto Eco

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Last Updated on September 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1915

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This was beginning with God and the duty of every faithful monk would be to repeat every day with chanting humility the one never-changing event whose incontrovertible truth can be asserted. But we see now through a glass darkly, and the truth, before it is revealed to all, face to face, we see in fragments (alas, how illegible) in the error of the world, so we must spell out its faithful signals even when they seem obscure to us and as if amalgamated with a will wholly bent on evil.” (Prologue)

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“In the past men were handsome and great (now they are children and dwarfs), but this is merely one of the many facts that demonstrate the disaster of an aging world. The young no longer want to study anything, learning is in decline, the whole world walks on its head, blind men lead others equally blind and cause them to plunge into the abyss, birds leave the nest before they can fly, the jackass plays the lyre, oxen dance. Mary no longer loves the contemplative life and Martha no longer loves the active life, Leah is sterile, Rachel has a carnal eye, Cato visits brothels. Everything is diverted from its proper course. In those days, thank God, I acquired from my master the desire to learn and a sense of the straight way, which remains even when the path is tortuous.” (Prologue)

“For architecture, among all the arts, is the one that most boldly tries to reproduce in its rhythm the order of the universe, which the ancients called ‘kosmos,’ that is to say ornate, since it is like a great animal on whom there shine the perfection and the proportion of all its members. And praised be our Creator who, as the Scriptures say, has decreed all things in number, weight, and measure.” (First Day, Prime)

“If God has now given our order a mission, it is to oppose this race to the abyss, by preserving, repeating, and defending the treasure of wisdom our fathers entrusted to us. Divine Providence has ordered that the universal government, which at the beginning of the world was in the East, should gradually, as the time was nearing fulfillment, move westward to warn us that the end of the world is approaching, because the course of events has already reached the confines of the universe. But until the millennium occurs definitively, until the triumph, however brief, of the foul beast that is the Antichrist, it is up to us to defend the treasure of the Christian world, and the very word of God, as he dictated it to the prophets and the apostles, as the fathers repeated it without changing a syllable, as the schools have tried to gloss it, even if today in the schools themselves the serpent of pride, envy, folly is nesting. In this sunset we are still torches and light, high on the horizon. And as long as these walls stand, we shall be the custodians of the divine Word.” (First Day, Terce)

“For three things concur in creating beauty: first of all integrity or perfection, and for this reason we consider ugly all incomplete things; then proper proportion or consonance; and finally clarity and light, and in fact we call beautiful those things of definite color. And since the sight of the beautiful implies peace, and since our appetite is similarly calmed by peacefulness, by the good, and by the beautiful, I felt myself filled with a great consolation and I thought how pleasant it must be to work in that place.” (First Day, After Nones)

“But it has often happened that I have found the most seductive depictions of sin in the pages of those very men of incorruptible virtue who condemned their spell and their effects. A sign that these men are impelled by such eagerness to bear witness to the truth that they do not hesitate, out of love of God, to confer on evil all the seductions in which it cloaks itself; thus the writers inform men better of the ways through which the Evil One enchants them.” (First Day, After Nones)

“ ‘We are dwarfs,’ William admitted, ‘but dwarfs who stand on the shoulders of those giants, and small though we are, we sometimes manage to see farther on the horizon than they.’ ” (First Day, Vespers)

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“ ‘But there are two forms of magic. There is a magic that is the work of the Devil and which aims at man’s downfall through artifices of which it is not licit to speak. But there is a magic that is divine, where God’s knowledge is made manifest through the knowledge of man, and it serves to transform nature, and one of its ends is to prolong man’s very life. And this is holy magic, to which the learned must devote themselves more and more, not only to discover new things but also to rediscover many secrets of nature that divine wisdom had revealed to the Hebrews, the Greeks, to other ancient peoples, and even, today, to the infidels . . . And Christian knowledge must regain possession of all this learning, taking it from the pagans and infidels tamquam ab iniustis possessoribus, as they had no right to hold it.” (First Day, Vespers)

“ ‘Because learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do.’ ” (First Day, Compline)

“I was not surprised that the mystery of the crimes should involve the library. For these men devoted to writing, the library was at once the celestial Jerusalem and an underground world on the border between terra incognita and Hades. They were dominated by the library, by its promises and by its prohibitions. They lived with it, for it, and perhaps against it, sinfully hoping one day to violate all of its secrets. Why should they not have risked death to satisfy a curiosity of their minds, or have killed to prevent someone from appropriating a jealously guarded secret of their own?” (Third Day, Terce)

“What is love? There is nothing in the world, neither man nor Devil nor any thing, that I hold as suspect as love, for it penetrates the soul more than any other thing. Nothing exists that so fills and binds the heart as love does. Therefore, unless you have those weapons that subdue it, the soul plunges through love into an immense abyss.” (Third Day, Vespers)

“There is a mysterious wisdom by which phenomena among themselves disparate can be called by analogous names, just as divine things can be designated by terrestrial terms, and through equivocal symbols God can be called lion or leopard; and death can be called sword; joy, flame; flame, death; death, abyss; abyss, perdition; perdition, raving; and raving, passion.” (Third Day, After Compline)

“ ‘Adso,’ William said, ‘you will have observed that here the most interesting things happen at night. They die at night, they wander about the scriptorium at night, women are brought at night into the abbey. . . . We have a daytime abbey and a nighttime abbey, and the nighttime one seems, unhappily, the more interesting.’ ” (Fourth Day, Prime)

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“How beautiful was the spectacle of nature not yet touched by the often perverse wisdom of man!” (Fourth Day, Terce)

“How great, I said to myself then, repeating the words of Vincent Belovacensis, the consideration of not only the modes and numbers and orders of things, so decorously established for the whole universe, but also the cycle of times that constantly unravel through successions and lapses, marked by the death of what has been born. I confess that, sinner as I am, my soul only for a little while still prisoner of the flesh, I was moved then by spiritual sweetness toward the Creator and the rule of this world, and with joyous veneration I admired the greatness and the stability of creation.” (Fourth Day, Terce)

“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.” (Fourth Day, Terce)

“There are words that give power, others that make us all the more derelict, and to this latter category belong the vulgar words of the simple, to whom the Lord has not granted the boon of self-expression in the universal tongue of knowledge and power.” (Fourth Day, Night)

“ ‘The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb. This library was perhaps born to save the books it houses, but now it lives to bury them.’ ” (Fifth Day, Vespers)

“ ‘Madmen and children always speak the truth, Adso.’ ” (Fifth Day, Vespers)

“I had always thought that dreams were divine messages, or at worst absurd stammerings of the sleeping memory about things that had happened during the day. I was now realizing that one can also dream books, and therefore dream of dreams.” (Sixth Day, After Terce)

“ ‘A dream is a scripture, and many scriptures are nothing but dreams.’ ” (Sixth Day, After Terce)

“ ‘The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt.’ ” (Seventh Day, Night)

“ ‘The hand of God creates; it does not conceal.’ ” (Seventh Day, Night)

“ ‘The Antichrist can be born from piety itself, from excessive love of God or of the truth, as the heretic is born from the saint and the possessed from the seer. Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them. Jorge did a diabolical thing because he loved his truth so lewdly that he dared anything in order to destroy falsehood. Jorge feared the second book of Aristotle because it perhaps really did teach how to distort the face of every truth, so that we would not become slaves of our own ghosts. Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make people laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.’ ” (Seventh Day, Night)

“ ‘It’s hard to accept the idea that there cannot be an order in the universe because it would offend the free will of God and His omnipotence. So the freedom of God is our condemnation, or at least the condemnation of our pride.’ ” (Seventh Day, Night)

“It is cold in the scriptorium; my thumb aches. I leave this manuscript, I do not know for whom; I no longer know what it is about: stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.” (The Last Page)

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