Short summary - The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

Italy literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco

The Notes of Father Adson from Melk fell into the hands of the future translator and publisher in Prague in 1968. On the title page of the French book of the middle of the last century, it appears that it is a transcription from the Latin text of the 17th century, allegedly reproducing, in turn, the manuscript , created by a German monk at the end of the XIV century. Investigations undertaken in relation to the author of the French translation, the Latin original, as well as the personality of Adson himself do not bring results. Subsequently, the strange book (possibly a fake that exists in a single copy) disappears from the publisher's field of vision, adding another link to the unreliable chain of retellings of this medieval story.

In his declining years, the Benedictine monk Adson recalls the events he witnessed and participated in in 1327. Europe is shaken by political and ecclesiastical strife. Emperor Louis confronts Pope John XXII. At the same time, the pope is fighting the monastic order of the Franciscans, in which the reformist movement of non-acquisitive spiritualists, who had previously been severely persecuted by the papal curia, prevailed. The Franciscans team up with the emperor and become a significant force in the political game.

In this turmoil, Adson, then still a young novice, accompanies the English Franciscan William of Baskerville on a journey through the cities and largest monasteries of Italy. Wilhelm, a thinker and theologian, a tester of nature, famous for his powerful analytical mind, a friend of William of Ockham and a student of Roger Bacon, performs the task of the emperor to prepare and hold a preliminary meeting between the imperial delegation of the Franciscans and representatives of the Curia. Wilhelm and Adson arrive at the abbey where it is to take place a few days before the arrival of the embassies. The meeting should take the form of a debate about the poverty of Christ and the church; its goal is to find out the positions of the parties and the possibility of a future visit of the Franciscan general to the papal throne in Avignon.

Having not yet entered the monastery, Wilhelm surprises the monks, who went out in search of a runaway horse, with accurate deductive conclusions. And the rector of the abbey immediately turns to him with a request to investigate the strange death that happened in the monastery. The body of the young monk Adelma was found at the bottom of the cliff, perhaps he was thrown out of the tower of a tall building hanging over the abyss, called Khramina here. The abbot hints that he knows the true circumstances of the death of Adelmo, but he is bound by a secret confession, and therefore the truth must come from other, unsealed lips.

Wilhelm receives permission to interrogate all the monks without exception and examine any premises of the monastery - except for the famous monastery library. The largest in the Christian world, capable of being compared with the semi-legendary libraries of the infidels, it is located on the top floor of the Temple; only the librarian and his assistant have access to it, only they know the layout of the store, built like a labyrinth, and the system for arranging books on the shelves. Other monks: copyists, rubricators, translators, flocking here from all over Europe, work with books in the room for copying - the scriptorium. The librarian alone decides when and how to provide the book to the one who claimed it, and whether to provide it at all, because there are many pagan and heretical works here. In the scriptorium, Wilhelm and Adson meet the librarian Malachi, his assistant Berengar, the translator from Greek, Venantius, an adherent of Aristotle, and the young rhetorician Bentius. The late Adelm, a skilled draftsman, decorated the margins of his manuscripts with fantastic miniatures. As soon as the monks laugh, looking at them, the blind brother Jorge appears in the scriptorium with a reproach that laughter and idle talk are indecent in the monastery. This man, glorious for years, righteousness and learning, lives with a sense of the coming of the last times and in anticipation of the imminent appearance of the Antichrist. Looking around the abbey, Wilhelm comes to the conclusion that Adelm, most likely, was not killed, but committed suicide by throwing himself down from the monastery wall, and the body was later transferred to Khramina by a landslide.

But on the same night, in a barrel of fresh blood from slaughtered pigs, the corpse of Venantius was found. Wilhelm, studying the traces, determines that the monk was killed somewhere else, most likely in Khramina, and thrown into a barrel already dead. But meanwhile, there are no wounds on the body, nor any injuries or signs of a struggle.

Noticing that Benzius is more excited than others, and Berengar is frankly frightened, Wilhelm immediately interrogates both. Berengar admits that he saw Adelm on the night of his death: the face of the draftsman was like the face of a dead man, and Adelm said that he was cursed and doomed to eternal torment, which he described to the shocked interlocutor very convincingly. Benzius also reports that two days before the death of Adelmos, a dispute took place in the scriptorium about the admissibility of the ridiculous in the image of the divine and that holy truths are better represented in gross bodies than in noble ones. In the heat of the argument, Berengar inadvertently let slip, albeit very vaguely, about something carefully hidden in the library. The mention of this was associated with the word "Africa", and in the catalog, among the designations understandable only to the librarian, Bencius saw the visa "the limit of Africa", but when, intrigued, he asked for a book with this visa, Malachi declared that all these books were lost. Benzius also tells about what he witnessed, following Berengar after the dispute. Wilhelm receives confirmation of the version of Adelm's suicide: apparently, in exchange for a certain service that could be associated with Berengar's abilities as an assistant librarian, the latter persuaded the draftsman to Sodom sin, the severity of which Adelm, however, could not bear and hurried to confess to the blind Jorge, but instead absolution received a formidable promise of imminent and terrible punishment. The consciousness of the local monks is too excited, on the one hand, by a painful desire for book knowledge, on the other hand, by the constantly terrifying memory of the devil and hell, and this often makes them literally see with their own eyes something that they read or hear about. Adelm considers himself already in hell and in desperation decides to take his own life.

Wilhelm is trying to examine the manuscripts and books on the Venantius table in the scriptorium. But first Jorge, then Benzius, under various pretexts, distract him. Wilhelm asks Malachi to put someone at the table on guard, and at night, together with Adson, he returns here through the discovered underground passage, which the librarian uses after he locks the doors of the Temple from the inside in the evening. Among the papers of Venantius, they find parchment with incomprehensible extracts and signs of cryptography, but there is no book on the table that Wilhelm saw here during the day. Someone with a careless sound betrays his presence in the scriptorium. Wilhelm rushes in pursuit and suddenly a book that fell from the fugitive falls into the light of a lantern, but the unknown person manages to grab it before Wilhelm and hide.

At night, the library is stronger than locks and prohibitions guarded by fear. Many monks believe that terrible creatures and the souls of dead librarians roam among the books in the darkness. Wilhelm is skeptical of such superstitions and does not miss the opportunity to study the vault, where Adson experiences the effects of illusion-creating distorting mirrors and a lamp impregnated with a vision-inducing compound. The labyrinth turns out to be more difficult than Wilhelm thought, and only by chance do they manage to find a way out. From the alarmed abbot, they learn about the disappearance of Berengar.

The dead assistant librarian is found only a day later in the bath, located next to the monastery hospital. The herbalist and healer Severin draws Wilhelm's attention that there are traces of some substance on Berengar's fingers. The herbalist says that he saw the same at Venantius, when the corpse was washed from the blood. In addition, Berengar's tongue turned black - apparently, the monk was poisoned before he drowned in the water. Severin says that once upon a time he kept an extremely poisonous potion, the properties of which he himself did not know, and then it disappeared under strange circumstances. The poison was known to Malachi, the abbot and Berengar. Meanwhile, embassies are coming to the monastery. Inquisitor Bernard Guy arrives with the papal delegation. Wilhelm does not hide his dislike for him personally and his methods. Bernard announces that from now on he himself will be investigating incidents in the monastery, which, in his opinion, smell strongly of the devil.

Wilhelm and Adson infiltrate the library again to plan the maze. It turns out that the storage rooms are marked with letters, from which, if you go through in a certain order, conditional words and names of countries are made up. The "limit of Africa" is also discovered - a camouflaged and tightly closed room, but they do not find a way to enter it. Bernard Guy arrested and accused of witchcraft an assistant doctor and a village girl, whom he brings at night to appease his patron's lust for the remains of the monastery meals; On the eve, Adson also met her and could not resist the temptation. Now the fate of the girl is decided - as a witch, she will go to the fire.

The fraternal discussion between the Franciscans and the representatives of the pope turns into a vulgar fight, during which Severin informs Wilhelm, who has remained aloof from the battle, that he has found a strange book in his laboratory. Their conversation is heard by the blind Jorge, but Bencius also guesses that Severin has discovered something left from Berengar. The dispute, which was resumed after a general reconciliation, is interrupted by the news that the herbalist was found dead in the hospital and the killer has already been captured.

The herbalist's skull was smashed in by a metal celestial globe that stood on the laboratory table. Wilhelm searches Severin's fingers for traces of the same substance that Berengar and Venantius have, but the herbalist's hands are covered with leather gloves used when working with dangerous drugs. At the scene of the crime, the cellar Remigius is caught, who tries in vain to justify himself and declares that he came to the hospital when Severin was already dead. Benzius tells Wilhelm that he ran in here one of the first, then followed the incoming and is sure: Malachi was already here, waiting in a niche behind the canopy, and then imperceptibly mixed with other monks. Wilhelm is convinced that no one could take the big book out of here secretly, and if the killer is Malachi, it must still be in the laboratory. Wilhelm and Adson embark on a search, but overlook the fact that sometimes ancient manuscripts were intertwined several in one volume. As a result, the book remains unnoticed by them among others that belonged to Severin, and ends up with the more perceptive Bentius.

Bernard Guy conducts a trial of the cellar and, having convicted him of belonging once to one of the heretical movements, forces him to accept the blame for the murders in the abbey. The inquisitor is not interested in who actually killed the monks, but he seeks to prove that the former heretic, now declared a murderer, shared the views of the spiritual Franciscans. This allows you to disrupt the meeting, which, apparently, was the purpose for which he was sent here by the pope.

To Wilhelm's demand to give the book, Benzius replies that, without even starting to read, he returned it to Malachi, from whom he received an offer to take the vacant position of an assistant librarian. A few hours later, during a church service, Malachi dies in convulsions, his tongue is black and on his fingers the marks already familiar to Wilhelm.

The abbot announces to William that the Franciscan has not lived up to his expectations and the next morning he must leave the monastery with Adson. Wilhelm objects that he has known for a long time about the sodomy monks, the settling of accounts between which the abbot considered the cause of the crimes. However, this is not the real reason: those who are aware of the existence of the “limit of Africa” in the library are dying. The abbot cannot hide the fact that Wilhelm's words led him to some kind of conjecture, but he insists all the more firmly on the departure of the Englishman; now he intends to take matters into his own hands and under his own responsibility.

But Wilhelm is not going to retreat, because he came close to the decision. At a random prompt from Adson, it is possible to read in the secret writing of Venantius the key that opens the “limit of Africa”. On the sixth night of their stay at the abbey, they enter the secret room of the library. Blind Jorge is waiting for them inside.

Wilhelm expected to meet him here. The very omissions of the monks, entries in the library catalog and some facts allowed him to find out that Jorge was once a librarian, and, feeling that he was going blind, first taught his first successor, then Malachi. Neither one nor the other could work without his help and did not step a step without asking him. The abbot was also dependent on him, because he got his place with his help. For forty years the blind man has been the sovereign master of the monastery. And he believed that some of the library's manuscripts should forever remain hidden from anyone's eyes. When, through the fault of Berengar, one of them - perhaps the most important - left these walls, Jorge made every effort to bring her back. This book is the second part of Aristotle's Poetics, considered lost and dedicated to laughter and the ridiculous in art, rhetoric, and the skill of persuasion. In order to keep its existence a secret, Jorge commits a crime without hesitation, for he is convinced that if laughter is sanctified by the authority of Aristotle, the entire established medieval hierarchy of values will collapse, and the culture nurtured in monasteries remote from the world, the culture of the chosen and initiated, will be swept away by urban, grassroots, areal.

Jorge admits that he understood from the very beginning that sooner or later Wilhelm would discover the truth, and he watched the Englishman approach it step by step. He hands Wilhelm a book, for the desire to see which five people have already paid with their lives, and offers to read it. But the Franciscan says that he figured out this diabolical trick of his, and restores the course of events. Many years ago, having heard someone in the scriptorium showing interest in the "limit of Africa", the still sighted Jorge steals poison from Severin, but does not immediately let him into action. But when Berengar, out of boasting before Adelmo, once behaved unrestrainedly, the already blind old man goes upstairs and impregnates the pages of the book with poison. Adelm, who agreed to a shameful sin in order to touch the secret, did not use the information obtained at such a price, but, seized with mortal horror after confession from Jorge, tells Venantius about everything. Venantius reaches the book, but he has to wet his fingers on his tongue to separate the soft parchment sheets. He dies before he can get out of the Temple. Berengar finds the body and, fearing that the investigation will inevitably reveal what was between him and Adelmo, he transfers the corpse to a barrel of blood. However, he, too, became interested in the book, which he snatched almost out of Wilhelm's hands in the scriptorium. He brings her to the hospital, where he can read at night without fear of being seen by anyone. And when the poison begins to act, he rushes into the pool in the vain hope that the water will extinguish the flame that devours him from the inside. So the book gets to Severin. The sent Jorge Malachia kills the herbalist, but he himself dies, wishing to know what such a forbidden thing is contained in the object, because of which he was made a murderer. The last in this row is the abbot. After a conversation with Wilhelm, he demanded an explanation from Jorge, moreover: he demanded to open the “limit of Africa” and put an end to the secrecy established in the library by the blind man and his predecessors. Now he is suffocating in the stone bag of another underground passage to the library, where Jorge locked him and then broke the mechanisms that control the doors.

“So the dead died in vain,” says Wilhelm: now the book has been found, and he managed to protect himself from the poison of Jorge. But in fulfillment of his plan, the elder is ready to accept death himself. Jorge tears up the book and eats the poisoned pages, and when Wilhelm tries to stop him, he runs, unerringly navigating the library from memory. The lamp in the hands of the pursuers still gives them some advantage. However, the overtaken blind man manages to take away the lamp and throw it aside. Spilled oil starts a fire; Wilhelm and Adson rush to fetch water, but return too late. The efforts of all the brethren raised in alarm lead to nothing; the fire breaks out and spreads from Khramina first to the church, then to the rest of the buildings.

Before the eyes of Adson, the richest monastery turns into ashes. The abbey burns for three days. By the end of the third day, the monks, having collected what little they managed to save, leave the smoking ruins as a place cursed by God.