Literature Study GuidesThe Name Of The RoseNaturally A Manuscript Prologue Summary

The Name of the Rose | Study Guide

Umberto Eco

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The Name of the Rose | Naturally, a Manuscript–Prologue | Summary


The author of The Name of the Rose divided the work into seven days. Each day is further divided into periods corresponding to liturgical hours (Matins, Lauds, Prime, etc.). This study guide breaks down each day into two separate parts containing groupings of liturgical hours.


Naturally, A Manuscript

The narrator acquires a manuscript in 1968 originally written by the 14th-century monk Adso of Melk. A French translation by Abbé Vallet was published in 1842, claiming "to reproduce faithfully" Adso's original work concerning a "terrible story" he lived through as a young monk. The narrator is fascinated by the book and fills notebooks with his own translation of it. He looks for the original at the Melk monastery in Austria, but they claim no knowledge of it. The narrator reads the Vallet book on a train, but his traveling companion walks away with it. Now only his notebooks recount Adso's story. The narrator finds a Vallet book in a library, but it's different from the earlier Vallet book and never mentions Adso of Melk. The narrator cannot even confirm that the earlier Vallet book ever existed. The narrator consults medieval scholars, but no one knows anything about the Vallet manuscript or Adso of Melk. The narrator is left only with his notebooks.

Later, the narrator finds a book in Buenos Aires, Argentina, written by a Georgian that includes quotes from Adso of Melk, "though the source [of the quotes] was [not] Vallet" but an earlier German scholar who, an expert insists, "never mentioned Adso of Melk." Yet the Georgian's book describes the same events as Vallet and even quotes Adso. For example, both books describe a labyrinth. The narrator doubts the book's reliability, but at least it confirms Adso of Melk's existence. The narrator is "full of doubts" about the provenance of all the books and manuscripts.

The narrator wants to translate and publish Vallet's version of Adso's manuscript, but isn't sure which version he should use. He feels certain that Vallet "took some liberties" with the original medieval manuscript when he translated it. The narrator is unsure that Vallet's or the Georgian's manuscript is authentic. Years later, he decides to write his book anyway because it's a good story.


The note explains that Adso's manuscript is divided into seven days, and each day is divided into periods representing the liturgical hours. Each of these hours corresponds to one of the divine offices, or religious services observed by the monks throughout the day. They are as follows:

Matins: Between 2:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m.
Lauds: Between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m.
Prime: Around 7:30 a.m., or just before daybreak
Terce: Around 9:00 a.m.
Sext: At noon, also the time of the midday meal in winter
Nones: Between 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
Vespers: Around 4:30 p.m., or at sunset
Compline: Around 6:00 p.m.


It is the waning years of the 14th century. Adso of Melk is an old monk working on a manuscript about events that occurred in 1327, when he was an 18-year-old novice monk. He writes about the ambiguity of signs and about the political and religious climate of the period, hoping this background will be "capable of connecting the threads of happenings so many and confused."

Adso describes the papacy abandoning Rome for Avignon, France. He explains the conflict that arises between two men fighting to become Holy Roman Emperor and how Louis IV is victorious. However, the newly elected pope, John XXII, enters into a feud with Louis and excommunicates him. Meanwhile, the Franciscan order proclaims "the poverty of Christ" and the need to live in imitation of Christ. The pope sees the Franciscans as a threat to the Church's wealth, but Louis allies with the Franciscans in opposition to the pope. In this turmoil, Adso leaves the Melk monastery and travels alone through Italy until his parents have him placed "under the direction of a learned Franciscan, Brother William of Baskerville." Adso becomes William's "scribe and disciple" and follows him to an unnamed abbey in Italy.

Adso describes William as a man with a great thirst for knowledge who is interested in uncovering the truth through logical reasoning. Physically, William is "very old," tall and thin, with sharp eyes and an expression "of a man on the lookout." William usually exudes great energy, but sometimes seems to fall into vacant "moments of inertia." He is also interested in "wondrous machines," some of which exist (clocks, astrolabes, magnets), and others that do not (flying machines). Clearly, William is a rational intellectual fascinated by science.


Confusion and doubt are everywhere in the opening section, "Naturally, a Manuscript." The authenticity of each version of Adso of Melk's text is doubtful. With every new discovery regarding the book the narrator only adds to his confusion. Each clue, or sign, seems to point in a different direction, making discovery of the truth increasingly problematic. The narrator uses this opening chapter to show how unreliable signs can be in determining reality or truth.

The search for the Vallet manuscript creates a web of related signs. Each book is a sign pointing to a different book, with each new book pointing to yet another book. As the narrator follows these signs, a web of confusion leaves him in grave doubt that he will ever find a text that reliably tells Adso's story. The narrator's search, like the search for truth, is "shrouded in many shadowy mysteries," as his tale will be.

The note continues to provide an air of verisimilitude, or truthfulness, to the text. Eco uses phrases such as "the following schedule is, I believe, credible" to suggest that his fictional author has actually found and researched a real manuscript. Eco has, of course, done his own careful research in this work of historical fiction. For instance, he notes that the hours assigned to Prime and Vespers correspond to sunrise and sunset in northern Italy at the end of November.

Adso opens his prologue with a clear reference to signs and their ambiguity. He explains that he won't "venture to seek a design [made up of] signs of signs" because he knows signs are unreliable and can be subject to interpretation. Because he writes only of the events he witnessed, Adso invites the reader into the narrative to interpret the signs presented along the way.

Adso's history lesson explains the power struggles in 14th-century Europe between the Church and secular leaders. The conflict over power, and the wealth that supports it, fuels much of the action in the novel. This is especially true regarding accusations of heresy and their purpose in fortifying ecclesiastical (of the church) power, while weakening the power of secular leaders.

Adso describes William of Baskerville as a man moved "solely by the desire for truth," although William recognized that "the truth was not what was appearing to him at that moment." What appears in one moment is a sign that leads to others, and at the end of this pursuit he may or may not find some semblance of truth. William is characterized by his continuous search for knowledge, and he takes great pleasure in the new scientific inventions of his day.

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