The Name of the Rose | Study Guide

Umberto Eco

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The Name of the Rose | Quotes


[You should] recognize the evidence through which the world speaks to us like a great book.

William of Baskerville, First Day, Prime

William of Baskerville tells Adso of Melk to keenly observe the world in order to decipher the signs that convey meaning about it. The quote implies that everything in the world can be viewed as evidence that leads to the creation of meaning. William likens the signs found in the world to a great book because these signs, when correctly interpreted, may lead to knowledge and even wisdom.


Let me tell you, the white heat of truth comes from another flame.

William of Baskerville, First Day, Sext

William of Baskerville is telling Adso that perhaps the most valuable truth arises from the pursuit of knowledge. The flame in the quote refers to the intense intellectual desire to find and absorb knowledge from books and other means. This leads to the realization of truth regarding the natural world. William utters these words to contrast the flame of the intellect's desire for knowledge with the Inquisition's flames that burn those found guilty of heresy. William insists that truth comes from knowledge, not from torture and agonizing death.


Knowledge is used to conceal rather than to enlighten.

William of Baskerville, Second Day, Night

William of Baskerville is referring to the extraordinary knowledge the architects of the Aedificium must have had in order to build such a complex, labyrinthine building. But he makes clear that these architects used their considerable knowledge to design a building intended to conceal knowledge. They designed the labyrinth to be so impenetrable that the knowledge contained in its many books could not be accessed and therefore kept secret.

Thus, one kind of knowledge is used to hide, rather than disseminate, another kind of knowledge.


The people of God cannot be changed until the outcasts are restored to [the Church's] body.

William of Baskerville, Third Day, Nones

William of Baskerville and Adso of Melk become acutely aware of the fact that the Inquisition targets and punishes the poor for being heretics, but not the rich. The outcasts mentioned here are those poor and rejected people, such as lepers, whom the Church does not care to embrace or include among the faithful. Because they are rejected and ignored by the Church, the outcasts seek religious teachings or a religious life elsewhere, often among those whose teachings are heretical, like Fra Dolcino.

William makes it clear that the lepers, or outcasts, don't necessarily believe in these heresies. They are just looking for a place where they are valued, welcomed, and accepted.


Heresy ... transforms the most upright thoughts and aims them at consequences contrary to ... God.

Abo, Third Day, After Compline

The abbot is condemning heresy as a transformation of orthodox Church doctrine—the upright thoughts—into doctrines contrary to the teachings of Jesus and against God's will. Although there may be some truth to this for some heretical sects, the Franciscans accused of heresy are in fact trying to live according to the example and teachings of Jesus, who extolled poverty and nonattachment to possessions.

Rather, it was the Church that transformed Christ's teachings so that it may retain the benefits of power and wealth. Abo thinks he's describing heretics when in reality he's describing his abbey and the Church.


Deceit is necessary ... to say one thing and mean another.

Venantius of Salvemec, Fourth Day, Terce

This is a line from the cryptic message Venantius of Salvemec wrote about the secret book, which he had obtained and read.

Here, Venantius is praising the use of deliberately misleading and deceitful signs or words to keep the forbidden book hidden from those who are, perhaps, not ready to read or understand it.


Not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves.

Adso of Melk, Fourth Day, Terce

Adso of Melk is a bit stunned by the confusion of messages and signs found in books. This quote echoes the essence of the introductory section, "Naturally, a Manuscript." Each book seems to point to, or speak of, another book, which points to yet another book, seemingly without end.

Adso envisions the signs within books as a type of constant conversation in which books collaborate or conspire to speak of or point to other books. Whether or not these signs eventually lead to some truth is questionable. It's the conversation, the pointing, that seems to be important, not the revelation of any ultimate truth at the end.


Such is the magic of languages, that by human accord ... the same sounds mean different things.

Adso of Melk, Fourth Day, Sext

Here again, Adso is amazed by the signs he begins to see and understand in language. Misunderstanding sounds or signs often result in illogical or nonsensical ideas. Even among those who speak the same language, the same sounds or identically pronounced words may have a drastically different meaning.


We mustn't ask ourselves what [a book] says but what it means.

William of Baskerville, Fourth Day, After Compline

William expresses a core truth in the interpretation of books and their meaning. He's stating that a reader cannot understand the true, deep meaning of a book by simply reading the words on the page. The correct interpretation of the meaning behind the words, of reading between the lines or behind the lines, is where the meaning lies. The words are therefore signs that point to a meaning that extends beyond the words themselves.


The question is not whether Christ was poor: it is whether the Church must be poor.

William of Baskerville, Fifth Day, Prime

William makes this statement to the assembled papal delegates at the meeting. He's clarifying previous Franciscan speakers who muddied the argument by trying to show that Jesus was poor and had no possessions.

As he often does, William gets to the essence of the issue: whether the Church, the representative of Christ on earth, should be poor and give up the immense wealth it has accumulated.


The library was ... born to save the books ... but now it lives to bury them.

William of Baskerville, Fifth Day, Vespers

William states explicitly how the library's form and function have become a perversion of its original purpose. The library clearly was founded as a repository for the greatest books ever written. The purpose of the library had been to preserve these invaluable, ancient books for the future.

Now, William rightly condemns the library for its self-inflicted role reversal. Its purpose seems no longer to preserve books, but to bury them within its impenetrable labyrinth so no one can access them. This is especially true for books that do not support orthodox Catholic doctrine.


There is no progress ... in the history of knowledge, but ... a continuous and sublime recapitulation.

Jorge of Burgos, Fifth Day, Compline

Jorge of Burgos is fanatical in his belief that progress is a continual restating of orthodox Church dogma. History is stagnant and unchanging because true progress implies potential challenges to the absolute, inerrant truth contained in the Bible. And Jorge will never sanction such a thing.


This crypt is a beautiful epitome of the debates on poverty you have been following.

Nicholas of Morimondo, Sixth Day, Prime

Nicholas of Morimondo is showing William and Adso the abbey crypt when he makes this remark. The crypt is stuffed with precious jewels and metals that are the pride of the abbey and, especially, its abbot.

In this statement, Nicholas is right on target about what the debate on poverty versus wealth is all about. The subject of that debate is the vast wealth heaped all around the men.


This book could teach that freeing oneself of the fear of the Devil is wisdom.

Jorge of Burgos, Seventh Day, Night (1)

Jorge of Burgos is speaking of Aristotle's lost second book of his work Poetics, containing Aristotle's thoughts on comedy and laughter. Jorge's deranged obsession is that if laughter is allowed or encouraged it will lead to Christians laughing at the teachings of the Bible and the Church. He believes that once people are free to laugh at anything, including the Bible, the Devil will have won the day because people will no longer be afraid of him. The Church depends on instilling fear of Satan into the faithful as a means of keeping them in line. Once this fear can be laughed away, Jorge says, the Devil and the Antichrist have won and the Church will be destroyed.


I ... [pursued] a semblance of order, when I should have known ... there is no order in the universe.

William of Baskerville, Seventh Day, Night (2)

William is admonishing himself for misinterpreting signs and letting himself be convinced that the murders were committed according to a pattern found in the Book of Revelation. He is wise enough to know that a series of seemingly related events can rarely be explained by logic or order. William is adept and knowledgeable enough to understand that worldly events, like cosmic ones, emerge out of disorder, no matter how much people want to impose a logical, human order on them.

Although William is speaking of the time he wasted pursuing an incorrect interpretation of events, his remarks may also refer to the destruction of the abbey. The abbey represents order, the ordered life of the monks. The burning of the abbey represents the destruction of that order, the triumph of entropy (the tendency of matter and energy to break down) over worldly things and human vanity.

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