When it’s cold, dark and rainy or I’ m just tired and I just want to cuddle up with a book and a blanket, I choose to read a book – preferably a novel – that I know and I like. In one of these dark, wet and rainy evenings, as I was looking for a book, the cover of The Name of the Rose caught my eye.
I first read Umberto Eco’s bestselling book in 1985, in Greek translation. I read it again, around 2000, the English translation this time, and, while I was learning Italian, I made an attempt to read it in its original language, albeit unsuccessfully. I don’t think I read more than 20 pages. I went back to Greek and English translations.
Needless to say, I love this book. A monastic library built as a labyrinth in Italy during the Middle Ages, a lost book of Aristotelian philosophy devoted to laughter and comedy, raging theological debates over the question of ownership of property by Christ and the apostles and a series of murders that the Franciscan monk, William of Baskerville attempts to solve with the help of his young student Adso of Melk. The highly intelligent, curious, and voracious reader William of Baskerville is essentially a medieval Sherlock Holmes in a monastery, and Adso, his Watson. What’s not to like!
The Name of The Rose is a book about books. It’s also about people, men in particular, with their weaknesses and failings, their desires and fears, their ambitions and passions, men who have dedicated their lives to knowledge and they are ready to do anything in order to put their hands on a certain, rare book.
“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”
The Name of the Rose is not an easy book. The first 100 pages are particularly difficult. You need a good Latin dictionary and some working knowledge of the politics of the papacy to understand the diversity and the complex political structure of Europe in the Middle Ages.
Celestine V was succeeded by Boniface VIII, and this Pope promptly demonstrated scant indulgence for Spirituals and Fraticelli in general: in the last years of the dying century he signed a bull, Firma cautela, in which with one stroke he condemned bizochi, vagabond mendicants who roamed about at the far edge of the Franciscan order, and the Spirituals themselves, who had left the life of the order and retired to a hermitage.
After the death of Boniface VIII, the Spirituals tried to obtain from certain of his successors, among them Clement V, permission to leave the order peaceably. I believe they would have succeeded, but the advent of John XXII robbed them of all hope. When he was elected in 1316, he wrote to the King of Sicily telling him to expel those monks from his lands, where many had taken refuge; and John had Angelus Clarenus and the Spirituals of Provence put in chains.
Reading this passage, I couldn’t help but wondering if I had I understood anything of this when I first read the book, in 1985, without internet and google search to help me find information about certain people and places. Luckily, I had been taught Latin at school and I was able to understand some of the – many – Latin quotes.
The Name of the Rose is an amazing and enjoyable book. Read it as many times as you wish, in any language, it never disappoints. It is one of these book that makes you want to start reciting the words of Thomas à Kempis “In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro.”