The Ultimate Guide to The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

05.24.2023 // By Tome Tailor

Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose is a captivating historical mystery novel set in a 14th-century Italian monastery. The novel, which has become a literary classic, combines elements of detective fiction, historical fiction, and postmodern literary theory. In this Ultimate Guide, we’ll explore the novel’s complex plot, its rich cast of characters, and the themes that make it such a compelling and thought-provoking read.

Plot Summary

The Name of the Rose follows William of Baskerville, a Franciscan friar, and his young apprentice, Adso of Melk, as they arrive at a Benedictine monastery in northern Italy to attend a theological debate. Shortly after their arrival, they discover a mysterious death in the monastery, which is soon followed by more. As William and Adso investigate the series of deaths, they uncover a labyrinthine library, a forbidden book, and a complex web of secrets and intrigues within the monastery.

The novel’s structure is based on the seven days of the week, with each day corresponding to a stage in the developing mystery. Throughout the week, William and Adso navigate the politically charged atmosphere of the monastery, as factions vie for power and influence. As they delve deeper into the mystery, they uncover the connection between the deaths, a secret society, and a lost book by the ancient philosopher Aristotle.


William of Baskerville

The protagonist of the novel, William is a Franciscan friar and a former inquisitor. He is summoned to the monastery to mediate the theological debate between the Pope and the Franciscans. He is an intelligent and rational man, often drawing on the scientific method and logical deduction to solve the various mysteries he encounters.

Adso of Melk

The novel’s narrator, Adso is a young novice accompanying William on his mission. As the story unfolds, Adso serves as both a sounding board for William’s ideas and theories, and as a proxy for the reader’s own confusion and curiosity. Over the course of the novel, Adso grows and matures, learning to question the authority figures and dogma that surround him.

Jorge of Burgos

A blind, elderly monk, Jorge is the novel’s antagonist. He views the pursuit of knowledge as dangerous and heretical, and jealously guards the monastery’s secrets. He is ultimately revealed to be the mastermind behind the series of murders, and his motivations are rooted in preserving both the status quo within the monastery and the church’s claim to absolute truth.

Abo of Fossanova

The monastery’s abbot, Abo is a proud and ambitious man, more concerned with his own image and reputation than the wellbeing of his monks. He initially tries to cover up the mysterious deaths to protect the monastery’s reputation, but as the turmoil escalates, he is forced to confront his own role in the events.

Other Monks and Characters

In addition to the main characters, the novel features a large ensemble cast of monks and other inhabitants of the monastery. These characters serve to illustrate the complex power dynamics within the church and the diverse perspectives on faith, knowledge, and authority that exist within the monastic community.


The Power of Knowledge

One of the central themes of The Name of the Rose is the power of knowledge, and the danger it poses to established systems of authority. The withheld knowledge of the monastery’s labyrinthine library and the forbidden book by Aristotle serve as symbols of this power, while the murders and the apparent curse on the library illustrate the lengths to which some will go to prevent the dissemination of dangerous ideas.

Faith and Reason

The novel also grapples with the eternal debate between faith and reason, as William and Adso wrestle with the implications of their discoveries and their own beliefs. William’s reliance on logic and empirical evidence often brings him into conflict with the more dogmatic elements of the church, and as Adso witnesses this conflict, he too is forced to confront his own beliefs about the nature of truth and the role of faith in his life.

Authority and Control

The struggle for control over the monastery, the theological debate, and the complex power dynamics within the monastic community all serve to illustrate the theme of authority and control. Throughout the novel, characters vie for influence and control, both within their own ranks and in the wider political landscape. This struggle is ultimately what drives the central mystery of the story, and unveils the true motivations behind the murders.

Language and Style

Eco’s language and style in The Name of the Rose is intricate and rich, often employing long, complex sentences and an extensive vocabulary. The novel is also notable for its use of Latin, both in the dialogues of the monks, and in the numerous quotations and references to ancient texts and authors. Eco’s masterful command of language and style imbues the novel with a sense of authenticity and historical richness that make it an immersive and intellectually stimulating read.

Historical Context

While The Name of the Rose is a work of fiction, much of the novel’s historical context is grounded in fact. The theological debates between the Pope and the Franciscans, as well as the larger political landscape of Europe in the early 14th century, provide a realistic backdrop for the novel’s events. Eco’s extensive research and knowledge of medieval history, philosophy, and theology allow him to weave a rich tapestry of ideas and conflicts that inform the themes and character motivations of the novel.

Literary Significance

Since its publication in 1980, The Name of the Rose has earned a reputation as a classic of modern literary fiction. Its fusion of genres, complex ideas and themes, and rich historical context make it a unique and compelling read for scholars, critics, and readers alike. The novel’s success propelled Eco to international fame, and established him as one of the foremost authors of postmodern literature.


The Name of the Rose has been adapted into multiple forms over the years, including a 1986 film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Sean Connery as William of Baskerville. Most recently, a television miniseries adaptation aired in 2019, starring John Turturro in the lead role.


The Name of the Rose is a captivating and intellectually stimulating read, combining elements of historical fiction, detective fiction, and postmodern literary theory. Its richly drawn characters, complex themes, and intricate plot make it a classic of modern literary fiction. Whether you are a lover of mysteries, history, or philosophy, The Name of the Rose offers something for everyone.

Embark on a journey through the labyrinth of the monastery’s library and uncover the secrets within by reading or listening to the book. Get your copy of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco here.

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