The Name of the Rose | Study Guide

Umberto Eco

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The Name of the Rose | First Day, Prime–Sext | Summary



First Day, Prime

William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk reach the abbey and immediately notice the towering Aedificium ("huge building") with its large windows and unusual form, made up of complex interrelated geometrical spaces. These geometries have a spiritual or biblical significance but make Adso feel "a subtle uneasiness." On the steep road up to the abbey, William and Adso meet an "agitated band of monks and servants." William tells Remigio of Varagine, the cellarer, where his runaway horse is. The cellarer is amazed, as William has not seen the horse but knows its whereabouts after noting signs of its passage along the road. William tells Adso how he used his keen awareness of subtle signs to figure out where the horse had gone. William says, "The world speaks to us like a great book."

When the pair reaches the entrance to the abbey they are greeted by Abbot Abo. William hands Abo a letter that explains what William is supposed to do on his visit to the abbey. Adso describes the many buildings and gardens of the abbey, and he feels that he "never saw an abbey more beautiful or better oriented." He notes that the Aedificium is a much older building than others at the abbey.

First Day, Terce

Adso of Melk overhears Abo talking with William of Baskerville, saying he must speak about a "serious matter" and honoring William's "reputation for great wisdom." Abo describes the death of a young monk, Adelmo of Otranto, who either threw himself or was pushed from a high window in the Aedificium and died. The abbot is certain it was suicide, though William points out that Adelmo's body was buried in the abbey cemetery, consecrated ground that does not allow for the burial of suicides. William makes Abo uncomfortable with his detailed questions and insights. The problem is, William explains, that the windows are so high it seems impossible either for Adelmo to have opened one and jumped out or for someone else to have opened one while holding Adelmo's dead body and then tossing it out. William bases his conclusions on the details and signs he noticed at the site where Adelmo fell. Abo then suspects Adelmo might have been murdered. Abo rules out a servant as the murderer, but admits that a monk might have been in the Aedificium at night, although he knows of no reason why a monk would want to kill the youth. He needs William to investigate what happened.

Abo grants William permission to move freely about the abbey during his investigation. Abo allows William to interview the monks (coram monachis) but prohibits him from visiting the top floor of the library in the Aedificium. That floor is off-limits because of the rarity of its books. The "world is growing old" (mundus senescit), so it is the abbey's mission to preserve as many books as possible before the end of days, or the "race to the abyss." To safeguard the rarest books, only the librarian has access to the top floor. Only he knows the secrets of the library, such as how the books are organized and how a volume can be found. The library is designed to be impenetrable. It is, Abo says, "a spiritual labyrinth [and] a terrestrial labyrinth. You might enter and you might not emerge." Finally, William asks to visit his old friend Ubertino of Casale, and the abbot agrees.

First Day, Sext

Adso describes the beautiful and terrible wonders of the abbey church's architecture and ornamentation. He is overcome by the images and symbols roiling on the walls and door of the church, many of which are mythical and demonic. Adso seems to hear a voice telling him to "write in a book what you now see."

As Adso and William gaze at this church, they hear a "creature ... [who] looks like a vagabond" approaching. It is Salvatore—the ugly, misshapen, and perhaps mentally unbalanced monk. "Repent!" (Penitenziagite!) he cries. He proceeds to speak in a bizarre and incomprehensible language. William and Adso later learn that Salvatore speaks a random mixture of all the languages he's ever heard, as well as words he's made up himself. Yet, Adso and William can discern some meaning in what Salvatore says. Salvatore understands William when he asks if he ever "lived among the friars of Saint Francis." The question frightens Salvatore, who runs away.

William and Adso find old Ubertino of Casale praying. Ubertino is a Spiritual (a Franciscan sect) monk who found refuge from the Church's persecution in the abbey. A papal bull (edict) condemned the Spirituals as heretics, commanding that they should be hunted and then burned at the stake. Ubertino had been a wandering vagabond (per mundum discurrit vagabundus) until he was taken in and hidden by the abbey. William and Ubertino discuss whether Ubertino was close to sainted women associated with a heretical sect, the Pseudo Apostles, who robbed people and believed in free love. Ubertino denies any involvement with the sinful order. Ubertino then confronts William about his lack of harshness as an inquisitor. William says there is "little difference between the ardor of the seraphim and the ardor of Lucifer," and that he "no longer know[s] how to distinguish" one from the other. Yet, Ubertino insists heresy is the Devil's work and should be punished by the Inquisition. Ubertino supports torture, but William says he no longer "believe[s] [inquisitors] can produce the truth with white-hot iron," which forces the accused to lie. Ubertino launches into a long exposition about the coming of the Antichrist. He advises William to stop "cultivating intellectual pride" and instead "mortify [his] intelligence."

William broaches the subject of the dead Adelmo, who Ubertino thinks had something "diabolical" about him, though he can't specify what. Ubertino seems to resent Adelmo's "pride of the intellect," which he feels is unseemly in a monk. Ubertino tells William to be on his "guard here at the abbey," to which William replies, "I want to know it better." As he and Adso begin to leave, William turns back for a moment to ask Ubertino about Salvatore. Ubertino says Salvatore is not a heretic. Then he reiterates, "The sickness of the abbey is something else." He tells William to "seek it among those who know too much, not in those who know nothing." Finally, Ubertino asks the pair to leave, saying, "Death is the traveler's rest—the end of all his labor" (Mores est quies viatoris—finis est omnis laboris).


As American book critic Merle Rubin states, the atmosphere of the abbey in which the story takes place is one "thick with hostility and intrigue ... [with] the mingled odor of blood and roses ... in the air." The images surrounding the church door represent an intermingling of holy Christian and Satanic signs that are somehow interrelated. The juxtaposition seems to use signs to convey some cosmic unity between the holy and the diabolical, but as William said earlier the interpretation of signs is not certain and often ambiguous. Adso is shaken by the profusion of conflicting signs. As American author Ray Browne notes, it is only later that Adso realizes the "danger of establishing an interpretation [of signs] which could overshadow events and come to substitute for reality."

Browne's insight also refers to William's investigative process. William sees the world as "a great book" that communicates with people through signs. God's worldly signs sometimes speak "in an obscure fashion" but for more worldly matters "quite clearly." William is aware that the correct interpretation of signs often depends on the viewer's perspective.

William abandoned the Inquisition because he opposed its methods of interrogation and one of its main purposes: to bolster Church dogma. Abo and Ubertino believe that anyone who replaces Church dogma with worldly knowledge is possessed by the Devil and should be burned at the stake as a heretic. Therefore, monks steeped in Church dogma are opposed to seeking knowledge. Ubertino believes William's pursuit of knowledge will lead him off the straight and narrow path of Christian orthodoxy. Ubertino even dislikes the dead Adelmo because he had "pride of the intellect," which is "consecrated to the pride of the word, to the illusion of wisdom."

William sees the Inquisition's use of torture as counterproductive. Torture forces the accused to parrot Church dogma whether the accused truly believes it or not. This raises doubts about the truth of the charge of heresy.

The abbey library is designed as a labyrinth intended to keep its rare books secret and hidden. The secret of the library and access to its upper floor are known only to two people—the abbot and the librarian—"because not all truths are for all ears."

Salvatore's language may represent spoken language as a confusion of signs. Yet, no matter how seemingly incomprehensible Salvatore's rambling is, William is able to discern meaning in his chaotic utterances.

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