The Name of the Rose | Study Guide

Umberto Eco

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The Name of the Rose | Symbols


The Labyrinth

The abbey library represents deception, secrecy, and the mistrust of knowledge. It is designed as a labyrinth to prevent unauthorized readers from accessing its books and therefore its knowledge. Unread books are mere marks on parchment, devoid of meaning and incapable of conveying knowledge—which is exactly what Jorge of Burgos intends. The labyrinth is a trap designed to confuse and to deflect anyone who seeks the knowledge the books and manuscripts might reveal.

The labyrinth also represents the inherent difficulty in trying to interpret signs. It has rooms that seem to lead to other rooms but end up leading nowhere. The labyrinth's rooms are marked with obscure sayings that must be interpreted to understand each room's contents. The inscriptions are also signs, or clues, to how the labyrinth is organized and how to navigate its confusing space. With the exception of William of Baskerville, no one save the librarian can navigate the labyrinth because its signs are all but indecipherable.


William of Baskerville's eyeglasses are, in one sense, symbols of his keen observational skills. It is noteworthy that Berengar of Arundel steals William's eyeglasses to prevent him from reading, thereby preventing him from accessing the information in any of the library's books that might help him in his investigations.

In another sense, eyeglasses represent William's knowledge and acceptance of scientific innovation. In the 14th century, eyeglasses were cutting-edge technology. That William adopts new technology testifies to his thirst for and appreciation of progress through knowledge. William is also knowledgeable about how eyeglasses are made, for he instructs the glazier in the process of making him a new pair.

Hidden Room, or the Finis Africae

The hidden room in the library's labyrinth represents the lengths to which some will go in order to deny access to the knowledge contained in the books and manuscripts. The room serves to keep unorthodox ideas hidden from all who might seek to gain knowledge from them. The hidden room is therefore also a means to protect the orthodox dogma of the Church by keeping unorthodox ideas inaccessible.

Secret Book

The secret book represents knowledge and ideas Jorge deems blasphemous. It is a symbol of forbidden knowledge, or knowledge that contradicts, questions, or poses a threat to Catholic dogma and orthodoxy.

That the secret book is protected in a hidden room and laced with deadly poison reveals how threatening it is to the Church's authority. To Jorge, the secret book not only threatens Church dogma, it also embodies an existential threat to Christianity itself. Jorge sees Church doctrine as necessary for imposing God's order on the world. In contrast, he views the secret book as encouraging the faithful to laugh at Church dogma, unleashing chaos and disorder on the world. For Jorge, then, dissemination of unorthodox knowledge is the Devil's work and will bring about the reign of the Antichrist. Because of this fanatical belief, Jorge feels justified in keeping the book so secret.

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