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The Da Vinci Code | Prologue–Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Prologue

The book begins in Paris's Louvre Museum, where the 76-year-old curator Jacques Saunière is being questioned at gunpoint by an albino monk named Silas. Silas demands to know where something is located. The curator insists he doesn't know. Finally Saunière lies to Silas about what he wants to know. Silas shoots him anyway but does not kill him outright. Saunière staggers into a museum gallery. He wrenches a painting off the wall, causing a security gate to close on the gallery. Before he dies Saunière writes several mysterious messages on and around his spread-eagled body.

Chapter 1

Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of religious symbology, is visiting Paris to give a lecture. Langdon is awakened by a phone call from Paris policeman Lt. Jérome Collet. Collet insists Langdon come immediately to the Louvre to help police decipher mysterious messages left on and surrounding the murdered museum curator. Langdon had planned to meet Saunière for dinner, so he's shocked to learn of his violent death. Langdon goes to the Louvre and is shown photographs of the dead body. He is mystified by the strange messages on and near the body, as well as the body's position. He is skeptical that the curator has created these messages himself.

Chapter 2

Silas is a member of the extreme Christian sect Opus Dei. After the murder Silas returns to his Opus Dei residence. He removes the barbed cilice that cuts into the flesh of his thigh—an example of the Catholic Church's belief in the idea that pain leads to spiritual purification. Silas phones the Teacher to report that he has committed the fourth murder of a high-ranking Priory of Sion member. The Priory is believed to hold the secret of the Grail. The Teacher praises Silas, who reports the lie about the Grail's location told to him by Saunière and the three other murdered Priory members. The Teacher tells Silas to go to the Eglise de Saint-Sulpice, a church in Paris, to find the Grail. Before he leaves Silas flagellates his back until it bleeds.

Chapter 3

Robert Langdon races through Paris in a police car headed for the Louvre. He reflects on the immense knowledge lost by the death of Saunière. He notes La Pyramide, the modern addition to the museum, and its smaller version, La Pyramide Inversée (inverted, or upside down).

Chapter 4

Langdon meets Bezu Fache, the gruff chief police investigator. Fache questions Langdon about his relationship with the curator. He suspects Langdon may be the perpetrator. Fache leads Langdon to the gallery where Saunière's body lies. He tells Langdon not to touch anything.

Analysis

The motif of art and secrets appears with Saunière. He is the curator at the Louvre Museum, one of the world's premiere art museums. His murder occurs among world-famous artworks in a museum gallery. As he dies Saunière does not hesitate to pull an invaluable painting off the wall to lower the gallery gate and set off an alarm.

Saunière is killed by Silas, a monk who demands that the curator tell him a secret kept by the obscure organization to which the curator belongs, the Priory of Sion. This secret hints at the conspiracies for power that are to come. When Silas confirms the lie Saunière tells him, saying, "Yes. This is exactly what the others told me," he further emphasizes the idea of conspiracy. Saunière realizes that, as part of some conspiracy, Silas had killed three other members of the Priory; he also realizes that each member had told the same preconceived lie he has just told Silas.

The identical lie told by the four Priory members introduces the themes of truth and lies, as well as historical bias. In the case of the Priory, the bias contained within the lie is to protect a world-altering religious truth. It might be viewed as an acceptable lie intended to hide a vital truth from those who do not deserve it or would misuse it to gain power, such as Silas and the Teacher. Silas furthers the theme of lies and seeking truth to gain power when he returns to his residence and speaks to the Teacher. The Teacher instructs him to continue his mission. The whole episode suggests that a conspiracy is afoot to obtain a truth—by whatever means necessary—to gain power.

Before he dies Saunière struggles with a conflict between truth and lies. When he realizes he is the last Priory member to possess a vital truth, he knows he must somehow pass it on to a trustworthy person. He must tell this truth in such a way that it becomes clear to the right person while remaining hidden and unknown to those who would misuse it. Saunière "must find some way" to "pass on the secret" without compromising it. The curator's actions introduce the motifs of puzzles and secrets in art.

As a religious symbologist, Robert Langdon is the perfect person to unravel the puzzles Saunière uses both to hide and reveal his vital secret. When Langdon arrives at the Louvre, police captain Bezu Fache asks how he likes the new pyramidal additions to the museum. The mention of the pyramids foreshadows their symbolic meaning and the clues and ultimate revelation of the secret to come later in the book.

When Langdon contemplates Saunière's death in the museum, he thinks, "I'm trapped in a Salvador Dalí painting." This idea shows that he feels the surreal aspects of the situation (Dali was a surrealist painter). Langdon also muses on his and Saunière's lifelong interest in the sacred feminine and its symbols, which is the first time this theme arises in the book.

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