I was just cleaning my computer, and found this file with my favourite parts of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. The quotes below are incredibly thought-provoking, interspersed with sharp wit here and there. I remember being really struck by his mention of massacres in Syria, — as is always the case when seemingly unrelated works coincide with current events in one’s life or the world in general, — because I was reading it in 2011, when the civil war had just started and reports were breaking news every day. He wrote the book in 1980, and I guess the situation wasn’t too smooth then either, considering that the Hama Massacre took place in 1982. History is cyclical, and we repeat all the mistakes despite always swearing “never again”. Just like Eco says below, always fulfilling the oaths to the letter while violating their substance.
“…forces of oblivion – the enemy of truth…” (p.38)
* * *
“Often inquisitors create heretics. And not only in the sense that they imagine heretics where these do not exist, but also that inquisitors repress heretical putrefaction so vehemently that many are driven to share in it, in their hatred for the judges. Truly, a circle conceived by the Devil. God preserve us.” (p.50)
* * *
“…[W]hen the possession of earthly things is in question, it is difficult for men to reason justly.” (p.50)
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“And as for the heretics, I also have a rule, and it is summed up in the reply that Arnald Amalaricus, Bishop of Cîteaux, gave to those who asked him what to do with the citizens of Béziers: Kill them all, God will recognize his own.”
William lowered his eyes and remained silent for a while. Then he said, “The city of Béziers was captured and our forces had no regard for dignity of sex or age, and almost twenty thousand people were put to the sword. When the massacre was complete, the city was sacked and burned.” (p.153)
* * *
“One thing you must learn,” William said to him, “is never to trust his oaths, which he always maintains to the letter, violating their substance.” (p.291)
* * *
“Therefore, you don’t have a single answer to your questions?”
“Adso, if I did, I would teach theology in Paris.”
“In Paris, do they always have the true answer?”
“Never,” William said, “but they are very sure of their errors.” (p.306)
* * *
“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means, a precept that the commentators of the holy books had very clearly in mind.” (p.316)
* * *
“[B]ut then I read, again in Avicenna, that there were also other remedies [for love]: for example, enlisting the help of old and expert women who would spend their time denigrating the beloved – and it seems that old women are more expert than men in this task.” (p.325)
* * *
“And the children of that time [when the Antichrist comes] (which is this) will no longer have anyone to administer their goods and preserve their food in their storerooms, and they will be harassed in the markets of buying and selling. […]Syria will fall and mourn her sons.[…]” (p.402)
* * *
“Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.” (p.491)
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“In other words, I believe it will be possible to find elements of revolution and contestation in works that apparently lend themselves to facile consumption, and it will also be possible to realize, on the contrary, that certain works, which seem provocative and still enrage the public, do not really contest anything…Just recently I met someone who, because he had liked a certain work too much, had relegated it to a zone of suspicion. (p. 529, Afterword)
* * *
I’ll wrap up with the funniest scene, as opposed to a quip. It had me in stitches, just imagining all this (from p.346)
As we were speaking – and truly I do not know how we managed to hear each other – the dispute reached its climax. The archers intervened, at a sign from Bernard Gui, to keep the two factions apart. But like besiegers and besieged, on both sides of the walls of a fortress, they hurled insults and rebuttals at one another, which I record here at random, unable to attribute them to specific speakers, and with the premise that the phrases were not uttered in turn, as would happen in a dispute in my country [Germany], but in Mediterranean fashion, one overlapping another, like the waves of an angry sea.
“The Gospel says Christ had a purse!”
“Shut up! You people paint that purse even on crucifixes! What do you say, then, of the fact that our Lord, when he entered Jerusalem, went back every night to Bethany?
“If our Lord chose to go and sleep in Bethany, who are you to question his decision?”
“No, you old ass, our Lord returned to Bethany because he had no money to pay for an inn in Jerusalem!”
“Bonagratia, you’re the ass here! What did our Lord eat in Jerusalem?”
“Would you say, then, that a horse who receives oats from his master to keep alive is the owner of the oats?”
“You see? You compare Christ to a horse…”
“No, you are the one who compares Christ to a simoniacal prelate of our court, vessel of dung!”
“Really? And how many lawsuits has the holy see had to undertake to protect your property?”
“The property of the church, not ours! We had it in use!”
“In use to spend, to build beautiful churches with gold statues, you hypocrites, whited sepulchers, sinks of iniquity! You know well that charity, not poverty, is the principle of the perfect life!”
“That is what your glutton Thomas said!”
“Mind your words, villain! The man you call ‘glutton’ is a saint of the holy Roman Church!”
“Saint, my foot! Canonized by John to spite the Franciscans! Your Pope can’t create saints, because he’s a heretic! No, a heresiarch!”
“We’ve heard that one before! Words spoken by that Bavarian puppet at Sachsenhausen, rehearsed by your Ubertino!”
“Mind how you speak, pig, son of the whore of Babylon and other strumpets as well! You know Ubertino wasn’t with the Emperor that year: he was right here in Avignon, in the service of Cardinal Orsini, and the Pope was sending him as a messenger to Aragon!”
“I know, I know, he took his vow of poverty at the cardinal’s table, as he now lives in the richest abbey of the peninsula! Ubertino, if you weren’t there, who prompted Louis to use your writings?
“Is it my fault if Louis reads my writings? Surely he cannot read yours, you illiterate!
“I? Illiterate? Was your Francis a literate, he who spoke with geese?
“You’re the blasphemer! You know the keg ritual!”
“I have never seen such a thing, and you know it!”
“Yes, you did, you and your little friars, when you slipped into the bed of Clare of Montefalco!”
“May God strike you! I was inquisitor at that time, and Clare had already died in the odour of sanctity!”
“Clare gave off the odour of sanctity, but you were sniffing another odour when you sang matins to the nuns!”
“Go on, go on, the wrath of God will reach you, as it will reach your master, who has given welcome to two heretics like that Ostrogoth Eckhart and that English necromancer you call Branucerton!”
“Venerable brothers, venerable brothers!” Cardinal Bertrand and the abbot shouted.