Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco

(The name of this rose is "Cherry Parfait". This photo is from the Website.)

What kind of story do you imagine from the title of the book, The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco? It is a murder mystery set at the abbey in the northern part of Italy in 14th century. William of Vaskerville tries to solve why monks dying mysteriously one after another with Adso of Melk, a narrator. It's not as simple as just a detective novel due to rich layers of contents surrounding the central plot. At first I felt it very difficult and cruel for me to follow. It is difficult due to detailed historical religious background of the Middle Ages, Biblical analysis, and various arguments: it is cruel, bloody and grotesque not only because of serial murders but also barbarous lynching during the inquisition of the alleged heretics and witches. In the meantime, I was absorbed into the story.

The central argument is about Aristotle's book on comedy. According to William, Aristotle devoted his second book of Poetics on comedy as an instrument of truth. Some monks believe a monk shouldn't laugh because Jesus Christ never laughed (William asks if they can be so sure) and laughter is the instrument of Devil. So, successive monks as a head of the library have hidden it afraid of the book threatening to the faith. At last one monk's frantic desire for the book not to be discovered causes mysterious serial murders. How did he stop the spread of what he considers dangerous ideas? Victims were killed by reading the book. The hint is blackened fingers and tongues of the victims. Can you guess how?

I was impressed with William's rational thoughts in the chaotic times. He was once an inquisitor, but he recalls he saw evil in him during the inquisition to punish evil. He says many people tend to make mistakes for the sake of things they believe as truth and people must free themselves from insane passion for truth.

Umberto Eco starts the Prologue with the beginning of Gospel According to John, "When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was." I wonder if this phrases have something to do with Aristotle's book or the power of the written words?

The original book seems to contain lots of Latin phrases and in it's Japanese work of translation which I read, the Latin words are written with "katakana." One example is 過ギニシ薔薇ハタダ名前ノミ、虚シキソノ名ガ今ハ残レリ (The beauty of the past now disappeared, we hold only the name of the rose.)" This sentence is a key to understand the title "The Name of the Rose." So, what is the "rose"? I simply thought the lost "rose " is a beautiful peasant girl whose name is unknown and who Adso had only once earthly love with. According to the Japanese translator, the lost "rose" can be thought to be Aristotle's book on comedy because it is forever lost, that is, there is no contents now, only name remains.

I saw its film adaptation, too. It was fun to follow the plot, but rich contents are not revealed enough in the film. Having said that, I know I couldn't digest well the rich contents of the book but I only have a sense of accomplishment that I finished reading thick two volumes of the book.


  1. "What's in a name? that which we call a rose" is my association from name and rose. Joking aside,
    it's amazing you read those what is called quite difficult books in English! I saw the movie many years ago so I know the answer of what the victims died of. I just remember seeing that movie as the detective one set in a paticular, isolated, somehow closed institution. Now I know there seem lots of elements intertwined within it.
    Sometimes I think books are much better than movies or dramatized ones. When I am very impressed with books, I don't want to see those movie versions.

  2. Thank you for your compliments, cosmos, but actually I read "The Name of the Rose" in a Japanese version. Regardless of language, I think it a very challenging book.

    After reading, I saw the film and was amazed how such a complex story was made into such a simple one. The original book is like a "rose" made up of multiple petals.

  3. I don't know about this book but I remembered that you talked about this story before. So I know the reason why victims died of. This story seems to be fun and complex. I like reading and watching murder mysterys. But almost my reasoning miss. In the West,there are many books that involved monks and mystery from the past,aren't there? I read "da Vinci code" "Angels and Demons"by Dan Braun.And one more story that parodied "the Inferno""the purgatory""the Heaven" of Divina Commedia. Although these are recent books.

  4. I like murder mysteries, too, sarari. I heard "The Name of the Rose" was a detective story, so I borrowed it light-heartedly. When I started reading, I felt the book was not my cup of tea, but in the end I felt satisfied with that reading experience. I haven't read Dan Brown's; I only saw the film.


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