Literature Study GuidesThe Name Of The RoseFirst Day Toward Nones Compline Summary

The Name of the Rose | Study Guide

Umberto Eco

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The Name of the Rose | First Day, Toward Nones–Compline | Summary



First Day, Toward Nones

William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk meet the monk Severinus of Sankt Wendel. Severinus is an herbalist who is also in charge of the balneary (bathing room) and infirmary. William and Severinus discuss their mutual interest in plants and herbs. The men talk about the wisdom of ancient books on herbalism. Severinus agrees to speak in greater depth with William, as the monastic rule prescribes "sacred reading" (lectio divina) but does not prohibit other topics of study. The men then discuss Adelmo's death. Severinus reports that Adelmo was not known to use plants to induce visions. Severino hesitates before stating that he's not in the habit of visiting the abbey library. Yet, he admits that Adelmo was close to those who had access to the library, including Berengar of Arundel, the assistant librarian.

Severinus agrees to show William and Adso the location of the library. Finding the library via the many winding and confusing paths through the abbey is challenging. Some spiral staircases lead to the library, but others lead nowhere.

First Day, After Nones

William carefully observes the size and location of the windows as the men approach the scriptorium where monks copy and illuminate manuscripts. He notes that the position of the windows "would make it difficult for a person to reach them." Adso is amazed at the scriptorium's enormous windows, which "suffused [the space] with the most beautiful light." For Adso, the light "implies peace," and the room seems "a joyous workshop of learning." While William and Adso admire the scriptorium, the librarian, Malachi of Hildesheim, approaches. His severe face chills Adso's heart. Yet, Malachi is "deeply devoted" to knowledge and "the study of the divine word" that goes on in the library. Adso especially admires monks who depict picturesque scenes (hypotyposis). As he bends over to closely examine a monk's work, William takes out his eyeglasses and balances them on his nose to better see the details.

William and Adso find manuscripts of works they never knew existed, most with Latin titles. William asks Malachi how such a vast variety of books is categorized and filed in the library. Malachi explains the book catalog annotates each book title and indicates where that volume is kept. When Adso asks for clarification, Malachi says, "Perhaps you ... have forgotten, that only the librarian is allowed access to the library." Malachi explains that each librarian memorizes the location of each volume and passes his knowledge on to the next librarian. Still, no book is given to a monk without the abbot's permission.

William asks about the death of Adelmo, who was a manuscript illuminator. He asks to see the last book Adelmo was working on. William is moved by the art Adelmo had created, for it was a "world reversed ... a discourse of falsehood on a topsy-turvy universe." It showed deer hunting lions, "humans with horses' heads," and other reverse wonders. A tiny book of hours depicts creatures "generated [by] one another as if by natural expansion." The images make Adso laugh because they "inspire merriment." Adso quotes from a German poem about the earth rising above heaven. After this recitation the other monks "laugh heartily," while the librarian frowns.

In the midst of this scene Jorge of Burgos enters, saying, "Speak not words which are idle or suitable for laughter" (Verba vana ... non loqui). The old monk speaks like a prophet and is described as "venerable in age and wisdom." Jorge and William engage in a debate about laughter and humor in books. Jorge insists humor is the work of the Devil and, further, that the Bible never mentions Christ laughing. William replies that Jesus was human, humans laugh, and the Bible never says that Christ did not laugh. Jorge rejects humor and inversion because they cause people to view the holy teachings "in a mirror and obscurely" (per speculum et in aenigmate). Thus, humor obscures God's word and "confers evil" on it. According to Jorge, laughter is "the way through which the Evil One enchants" Christians. The dispute leaves a feeling of "animosity" among those in the library. Jorge leaves them with a warning not to "waste [their] last days laughing."

First Day, Vespers

William asks Malachi if he'll be locking the library doors, and Malachi replies, "There are no doors that forbid access ... Stronger than any door must be the abbot's prohibition." But Malachi says he does lock the door to the Aedificium.

William and Adso stroll the abbey grounds and find the glazier's workshop. The monk Nicholas of Morimondo works mostly on glass repair. He comments that the centuries-old stained glass of the Aedificium has colors that are "impossible now to find." William shows the glazier his glasses, and Nicholas is impressed by the "eyeglasses with a frame" (oculi de vitro cum capsula), a new technological marvel. William explains that each pair must have a special shape matched to the vision of the wearer, so making glasses requires expert skill. His glasses are for reading (ab oculis ad legendum). William explains how the thickness of the glass determines the lens correction. Nicholas exclaims that the glasses seem like magic and therefore "the work of the Devil." William counters by saying, "This is holy magic ... Christian knowledge must regain possession of all this learning."

When William speaks of the "secrets of learning," he mentions the secrecy surrounding the Aedificium, which he says must be protected by "barred doors ... [and] threats." But Nicholas says it's protected by "more than that." He's heard "rumors ... strange rumors" about it. Nicholas repeats some of the superstitious gossip about what goes on in the Aedificium.

William tells Adso he thinks Adelmo committed suicide.

First Day, Compline

The monks are eating dinner in the refectory, or dining hall. William and Adso sit at the abbot's table, and William notes that the abbot eats with a fork, a newfangled implement. The abbot offers a fork to William, who uses it in a way that shows he's already quite familiar with it. While eating, Jorge and William become embroiled in a dispute over laughter. Jorge cites a theologian who wrote "Christ never laughed," to which William replies, "Laughter, as the theologians teach, is proper to man," and Jesus lived on Earth as a man. The argument goes around and around without resolution. The abbot then gets up and tells the assembled monks that William is at the abbey to investigate the death of Adelmo, so they should answer any questions he may ask.

As Adso and William leave the refectory with the abbot, William asks if this is the time the Aedificium is locked. The abbot says yes, the doors are barred from the inside about now. William is surprised and asks how the person who locks the door from the inside can then get out. At this the abbot becomes angry and upset, but he does not answer. "So another door does exist," William mutters, "but we are not to know about it."

William, Adso, and the monks enter the choir for prayers. From where they are sitting William and Adso notice Malachi "emerging from the darkness of a side chapel." William instructs Adso to watch that space, as it "could be a passage leading to the Aedificium" from under the cemetery, or from a place where the bones of dead monks are kept (ossarium).


As William and Severinus discuss herbs and plants, Severinus admits that even an "excess [of useful plants] makes them cause illness." This is perhaps the first intimation that herbs or plants, whether beneficial or poisonous, might be used to hurt or kill others.

A person must know the code to interpret the sign. The abbey library's code—the organization of its labyrinth and the books it holds—is known only to the librarian, and perhaps the abbot. The secret code keeps those who don't know it from accessing the library's books. Only the librarian understands the obscure code that indicates where a particular volume is located. To anyone other than the librarian, the library holdings show no sign of organization or logic and are intended to prevent unwanted access.

William's eyeglasses are introduced in this section when he takes them out to closely examine Adelmo's final manuscript. The eyeglasses represent not only William's embrace of science, innovation, and progress, but also his eager pursuit of knowledge. He wears the newfangled eyeglasses to glean knowledge from even the faintest marks on the manuscripts he studies. Yet, the other monks distrust the eyeglasses, suspicious of innovation as the work of the Devil. New ideas and technologies are thus equated with sin according to the orthodox dogma of Christianity. It must be noted, however, that the abbot seems to be proud of eating with a fork, a new utensil at the time.

Adelmo's paintings on his last manuscripts are allusions to the real world depicted in the inverse world of his images. His images are unnatural and fantastic, but its creatures resonate as strange signs that call forth the real world. Adelmo's minute paintings are so original, they make Adso want to laugh even though he detects "a profound, even if not evident, spiritual meaning."

Adelmo's creativity is viewed by most monks as evil or sinful because they cannot translate its signs into their opposite. They are mired in the literal and ignorant of the more fluid language of signs. Adso's humor is chastised by Jorge of Burgos, who expounds on the sin of laughter because the "ridiculous grotesques" that inspire laughter aim to present "a world that is the reverse and the opposite of that established by God." For Jorge, laughter symbolizes the subversion of Church teachings, of dogma, and of the holy work of God. If condoned, laughter would undermine the foundation of the Christian faith.

Jorge further argues that some theologians claim the Bible never says that Jesus laughed. For Jorge, the literal words of the Bible are the only signs that have value and meaning. William, in contrast, argues that deformation of signs may reveal God more truly.

William accepts the need for keeping some secrets. Although he is curious, he also understands that some things must be "veiled by arcane words." But the "learned must decide when and how" to reveal them. This implies that scientific discoveries and other innovations that would attract the ire of the Church perhaps should be kept secret from the clergy. For William, secrets are ideas that challenge dogma and orthodoxy and must be kept hidden from the Church.

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