Symbolism is one of the more powerful tools Umberto Eco uses to make The Name of the Rose such a great masterpiece. Besides the detailed description of characters, the author challenges the reader to solve the mystery of the monksí death. Many characters resemble well-known real or fictional figures. Eco makes the reader uncertain, where in a typical mystery; the detective and the reader communicate a series of signs to find the identity and motive of the criminal. Eco gives certain clues, yet they can be understood in various ways and one can never be certain about the relation among them.
Eco uses a complex approach of writing in the Benedictine monastery of In the Name of the Rose. The Abbot’s display of the wealth of the monastery to William and Adso as they arrive exposes the Abbot’s pride, vanity and greed. “It is the most immediate of the paths that put us in touch with the AlmightyÖ” (p145). Similarly, as the monks use the finest materials available and work so hard to copy crumbling texts, the quality of the writing materials illustrate pride and vanity rather than devotion to God.
Adso’s apocalyptic vision, manifested in the doorway, and returned again and again throughout the novel, variously interpreted by William, Ubertino, Alinardo, and others. “…apocalyptic writers frequently present the history of the past right up to their own present time… this is always followed by a prediction of the End…” (p584)
The Name of the Rose is written in an apocalyptic seven-day sequence. Apocalypticism is the concept of an impending end, as John shows in the book of Revelation. God created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh day.
William of Baskerville is, in many ways, a prediction of “modern” man, or an symbol of modernism emerging from the Middle Ages. His historical exemplars are With regard to William’s proto-modernism, Adso does not follow in his path, although he finds much to marvel at in his master. William is ahead of his time, and therefore is unlikely to find a disciple who can follow in his But although Adso can only admire William’s logic, scientific knowledge, his love of learning, and his insight that it is wrong to persecute and kill people in the cause of a religious ideology. We are shown a fourteenth century detective with a spitting image of his later nineteenth century predecessor Sherlock Holmes. Eco leads us to this observation by having Adso point out, immediately preceding William’s description, that he will “not indulge in descriptions of persons” though he makes an exception for Brother William. Why the exception? It can only be to alert the reader to the resemblance.
As Eco points out in his Postscript “writing means constructing, through the text, one’s own model reader.” Who is this model reader? For one, it is the type of person who would enjoy Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but above all, one who would enjoy a gripping good read. Eco has gone on about his epiphany that literature can be both enjoyable and enlightening.
It is only the specific references to time and place that allow a reader to distinguish which passage refers to Brother William and which to Sherlock Holmes. What we are now given are two detectives, alike not only in appearance, but in self-control, in a kind of manic-depressive swing of energy and laziness, as well as in habit. Eco is toying with us. He wants us to see the very same detective, the cloth cap, the pipe, and the whole Basil Rathbone profile. His model reader is to see the famous detective of Baker Street in one of his illustrious disguises: that of a monk.
The monastery library of Melk is significant element in The Name of the Rose. A monastic library, a labyrinth with carefully restricted access. Jorge Luis Borges’ “wandering scholar” is the gatekeeper who will not let anyone in where an Aristotle manuscript lies at the heart of the conflict, necessitating three murders. The use of the library by monks and nuns was regulated by Benedictine Rule, which permitted only one borrowing per year, at the beginning of Lent. Otherwise, books were distributed each morning and returned each evening.
The time of year, identified as late November, is the last full week before Advent. Eco never makes this clear, but, in keeping with his concept of a novel as a game played between an author and a reader, he provides clues that let us to figure out the precise time and its significance. On Feria vii, Abbot Abo remarks that “it was necessary to prepare for the Christmas High Mass” (p39), and to that end, he solicits advice from the monks concerning the antiphons that should be used in preparation for Christmas which were poetic passages in Latin, usually drawn from or inspired by biblical passages, that were set to music and sung at Mass.
As they enter the monastery, William and Adso hear the sounds of pigs being slaughtered in the background. Abbot Abo assures them that this is not their concern, as it is a job for swineherds. When Abbot Abo says, “At this time of year they slaughter the pigs,” Three days later, the slaughter of pigs becomes William’s concern, when Venantius’ body is found in a tub of pigs’ blood that was being collected to make blood pudding.
Solving the mystery behind Adelmoís death is not an easy one. It appears that he has been thrown or out of a window. “But I have reason to think that another of them has stained himself with an equally terrible sin”(p33) says William after examining the scene. At first the monks do not want to consider the possibility of suicide, and so label the death as murder, burying Adelmo in hallowed ground. However, William finally comes to believe it was suicide. “The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Adelmo killed himself” (p91), he tells Adso. But in comparing suicide with another sin, we come to learn that the other equally terrible sin is that of sodomy. “…the same passion whose evils divine wrath had castigated in Sodom and Gomorrah” (137) Benno tells us how Berengar promised to reveal a mystery to Adelmo in a sexual gamble, which did not come off as planned.
When Berengar admits to seeing Adelmo just prior to his death, Adelmo speaks like a character from an apocalypse, saying “As you see me here, you see one returned from hell, to hell I must go back…The pains of hell are infinitely greater than our tongues can say” (p115). This hints that he has heard or read something because the obscure knowledge of apocalypses, by this time considered unorthodox text and kept from common view.
We must ask ourselves if it is, as Brother William would have it, costly for our minds to imagine Jorge mentioning such an obscure fact to Adelmo in the depth of his despair, possibly, as William also suggests “perhaps someone had frightened him, and perhaps had told him the very episode of the infernal apparition that he recited to Berengar” (116). The abbot has already explained to William that the existence of these books, is the reason that the literature is regulated by the librarian “Because not all truths are for all ears”(p 37).
Berenger’s story about seeing Adelmo’s ghost in the cemetery is one of the places where Eco, as author, is playing a game with the reader. Although Berenger’s account makes an impression on young Adso, William of Baskerville discounts the story as just Berenger’s recitation of “a page I have already read in some book conceived for the use of preachers. These monks read perhaps too much.”(p.117).
“I wonder…why you are so opposed to the idea that Jesus may have laughed” (p130) William and Jorge reveal two opposing opinions on the concept of laughter. Jorge believes that it is morally unacceptable to laugh, and he believes that Christ did not laugh. He says, “truth and good are not to be laughed at. This is why Christ did not laugh. Laughter ferments doubt” (p132). He sees evil as a sign of weakness, and that “laughing at evil means not preparing oneself to combat it” (p131). But, according to the Bible, “the Lord laughs at wicked men because he knows they will soon be destroyed”. Christ laughed at evil; He used laughter as a sign of judgment. William, on the other hand, believes that laughter is a natural human response. He says, “laughter is proper to man, it is a sign of his rationality” (p131) William perceives laughter as a liberation of the senses and the intellect from fear and in turn from ignorance, thus allowing the possiblity for discovering truth. In response to his indictment of laughter, William accuses Jorge of being the Devil and says, “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” (477).
ì… beware of the whore of Babylon…” (p. 230) Upon first reading the phrase by Ubertino during his conversation with Adso, the context implies that Ubertino meant to warn Adso against the temptation of intimate female companionship. During the lovemaking scene, Adso says, he used words that simply came out of his memory various saints, and that they originally referred to divine, rather than carnal, love (p 244).
When during the lovemaking Adso’s joy “was about to reach its zenith” (p247), he described his sensations not thinking at the time that his words came from Scripture and St. Bernard of Clairvaux; Adso says: “As a little drop of water added to a quantity of wine is completely dispersed and takes on the colour and taste of wine, as red-hot iron becomes like molten fire losing its original form, as air when it is inundated with the sun’s light is transformed into total splendour and clarity so that it no longer seems illuminated but, rather seems to be light itself, so I felt myself die of tender liquefactionÖ” After Adso’s sexual encounter with the girl in the kitchen, he unwraps the package the girl was clutching when he first saw her, the parcel, which she left behind in her haste to exit the kitchen. Inside is a throbbing heart. (p250)The heart symbolizes Adso’s sexual guilt. Other clues include the girl’s holding “the dark package” to her breast ìnear her heartî (p243)
With this quote, one cannot help being reminded not only of Adso’s recitation of much of the Song of Solomon in the kitchen scene, but also of Adso’s final comment on William of Baskerville: “I pray always that God received his soul and forgave him the many acts of pride that his intellectual vanity had made him commit” (p499).
When William uses a lamp to heat the manuscript page on which Venantiusís coded message was written, Adso describes the letters appearing ìslowly, as if an invisible hand were writing them.î These three words are an allusion to Daniel 5:24-28. According to the Biblical story, Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, held a great feast during which he made use of sacred gold and silver vessels plundered from the temple of Jerusalem. In the course of the festivities, the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on a palace wall the wordsì Mene, Tekel, and Peres.
After his court diviners and sorcerers are unable to decipher the message, Belshazzar interprets the words as follows: Mene- God has numbered the days of your kingdom, Tekel- you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting, Peres- your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the Persians. His interpretation can be applied to the events occurring at the monastery. The days of the monastery have been explicitly numbered in the text (the events of the novel occur over the course of seven days, at the end of which the abbey is destroyed).
The conduct of the monks is found wanting: they engage in murder, sodomy, suicide, and other unchristian acts. Jorge reveals the truth about the deaths (p463) that there was no premeditated pattern or plan behind them, although when William investigated them, he had expected to find a pattern.