Umberto Eco: Wikis


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Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco in May 2005
Full name Umberto Eco
Born 5 January 1932 (1932-01-05) (age 78)
Alessandria, Piedmont, Kingdom of Italy
Era 20th / 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Semiotics
Main interests Reader-response criticism
Notable ideas the "open work" ("opera aperta")

Umberto Eco (born 5 January 1932) is an Italian medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, literary critic and novelist, best known for his novel The Name of the Rose (Il nome della rosa, 1980), an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory. Eco is President of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, University of Bologna, and an Honorary Fellow of Kellogg College, University of Oxford.[1] He has also written academic texts, children's books and many essays. He was also voted 2nd in Prospect Magazine's 2005 global poll of the world's top 100 intellectuals.[2] He was voted 14th in 2008.



Eco was born in the city of Alessandria in the region of Piedmont (northern Italy). His father, Giulio, was an accountant before the government called upon him to serve in three wars. During World War II, Umberto and his mother, Giovanna, moved to a small village in the Piedmontese mountainside. Eco received a Salesian education, and he has made references to the order and its founder in his works and interviews.[3] His family name is supposedly an acronym of ex caelis oblatus (Latin: a gift from the heavens), which was given to his grandfather (a foundling) by a city official.[4]

His father was the son of a family with thirteen children, and urged Umberto to become a lawyer, but he entered the University of Turin in order to take up medieval philosophy and literature, writing his thesis on Thomas Aquinas and earning his Laurea in philosophy in 1954. During this time, Eco left the Roman Catholic Church after a crisis of faith.[5] After this, Eco worked as a cultural editor for the state broadcasting station Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) and also lectured at the University of Turin (1956–64). A group of avant-garde artists—painters, musicians, writers—whom he had befriended at RAI (Gruppo 63) became an important and influential component in Eco's future writing career. This was especially true after the publication of his first book in 1956, Il problema estetico in San Tommaso, which was an extension of his doctoral thesis. This also marked the beginning of his lecturing career at his alma mater.

In September 1962, he married Renate Ramge, a German art teacher with whom he has a son and a daughter. He divides his time between an apartment in Milan and a vacation house near Rimini. He has a 30,000 volume library in the former and a 20,000 volume library in the latter.[6] In 1992-1993 Eco was the Norton professor at Harvard University. On May 23, 2002, Eco received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Eco is a member of the Italian skeptic organization CICAP.[7]


General concepts

Biosemiotics · Code
Computational semiotics
Connotation · Decode
Denotation · Encode · Lexical
Literary semiotics · Modality
Representation (arts) · Salience
Semeiotic · Semiosis · Semiosphere
Semiotic elements & sign classes
Sign · Sign relational complex
Sign relation · Umwelt · Value


Commutation test
Paradigmatic analysis
Syntagmatic analysis


Charles Peirce · Thomas Sebeok
Ferdinand de Saussure
Mikhail Bakhtin · Jakob von Uexküll
Umberto Eco · Louis Hjelmslev
Algirdas Julien Greimas
Roman Jakobson · Juri Lotman
Roland Barthes · Marcel Danesi
John Deely · Roberta Kevelson
Eero Tarasti · Kalevi Kull
Michael Silverstein

Related topics


In 1959, he published his second book, Sviluppo dell'estetica medievale, which established Eco as a formidable thinker in medievalism and proved his literary worth to his father. After serving for 18 months in the Italian Army, he left RAI to become, in 1959, non-fiction senior editor of Casa Editrice Bompiani of Milan, a position he would hold until 1975.

Eco's work on medieval aesthetics stressed the distinction between theory and practice. About the Middle Ages, he wrote, there was "a geometrically rational schema of what beauty ought to be, and on the other [hand] the unmediated life of art with its dialectic of forms and intentions" — the two cut off from one another as if by a pane of glass. Eco's work in literary theory has changed focus over time. Initially, he was one of the pioneers of "Reader Response".

During these years, Eco began seriously developing his ideas on the "open" text and on semiotics, penning many essays on these subjects, and in 1962 he published Opera aperta ("Open Work"). In Opera aperta, Eco argued that literary texts are fields of meaning, rather than strings of meaning, that they are understood as open, internally dynamic and psychologically engaged fields. Literature which limits one's potential understanding to a single, unequivocal line, the closed text, remains the least rewarding, while texts that are the most active between mind and society and life (open texts) are the most lively and best — although valuation terminology is not his primary area of focus. Eco emphasizes the fact that words do not have meanings that are simply lexical, but rather, they operate in the context of utterance. So much had been said by I. A. Richards and others, but Eco draws out the implications for literature from this idea. He also extended the axis of meaning from the continually deferred meanings of words in an utterance to a play between expectation and fulfilment of meaning. Eco comes to these positions through study of language and from semiotics, rather than from psychology or historical analysis (as did theorists such as Wolfgang Iser, on the one hand, and Hans-Robert Jauss, on the other). He has also influenced popular culture studies though he did not develop a full-scale theory in this field.

Action in anthropology

Eco co-founded Versus: Quaderni di studi semiotici (known as VS in Italian academic jargon), an influential semiotic journal. VS has become an important publication platform for many scholars whose work is related to signs and signification. The journal's foundation and activities have contributed to the growing influence of semiotics as an academic field in its own right, both in Italy and in the rest of Europe.

Most of the well-known European semioticians, among them Umberto Eco, A.J. Greimas, Jean-Marie Floch, Paolo Fabbri, Jacques Fontanille, Claude Zilberberg, Ugo Volli and Patrizia Violi, have published original articles in VS. Articles by younger, less famous scholars dealing with new research perspectives in semiotics also find place in almost every issue of VS.

In 1988, at the University of Bologna, Eco created an unusual program called Anthropology of the West from the perspective of non-Westerners (African and Chinese scholars), as defined by their own criteria. Eco developed this transcultural international network based on the idea of Alain Le Pichon in West Africa. The Bologna program resulted in a first conference in Guangzhou, China, in 1991 entitled "Frontiers of Knowledge." The first event was soon followed by an Itinerant Euro-Chinese seminar on "Misunderstandings in the Quest for the Universal" along the silk trade route from Canton to Beijing. The latter culminated in a book entitled The Unicorn and the Dragon, which discussed the question of the creation of knowledge in China and in Europe. Scholars contributing to this volume were from China, including Tang Yijie, Wang Bin and Yue Dayun), as well as from Europe: (Furio Colombo, Antoine Danchin, Jacques Le Goff, Paolo Fabbri, Alain Rey...)[8][9]

In 2000 a seminar in Timbuktu (Mali), was followed by another gathering in Bologna to reflect on the conditions of reciprocal knowledge between East and West. This in turn gave rise to a series of conferences in Brussels, Paris, and Goa, culminating in Beijing in 2007. The topics of the Beijing conference were "Order and Disorder","New Concepts of War and Peace", "Human Rights" and "Social Justice and Harmony". Eco presented the opening lecture. The following anthropologists gave presentations: from India (Balveer Arora, Varun Sahni, Rukmini Bhaya Nair); from Africa (Moussa Sow); from Europe (Roland Marti, Maurice Olender); from Korea (Cha Insuk); from China (Huang Ping, Zhao Tinyang). Also on the program were scholars from the domains of law or science: (Antoine Danchin, Ahmed Djebbar, Dieter Grimm).[10]

Eco's interest in East/West dialogue to facilitate international communication and understanding also correlates with his related interest in the international auxiliary language Esperanto.


Eco's fiction has enjoyed a wide audience around the world, with good sales and many translations. His novels often include references to historical figures and texts and his dense, intricate plots tend to take dizzying turns.

Eco employed his education as a medievalist in his novel The Name of the Rose (1980), a historical mystery set in a 14th century monastery. Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, aided by his assistant Adso, a Benedictine novice, investigates a series of murders at a monastery that is set to host an important religious debate. Eco is particularly good at translating medieval religious controversies and heresies into modern political and economic terms so that the reader can appreciate their substance without being a theologian. The Name of the Rose was later made into a motion picture starring Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham and Christian Slater.

One notable fact about this book is that the underlying mystery of the murder is actually borrowed from the "Arabian Nights" - translated from the Persian by Sir Richard Burton.

The Name of the Rose is a creative and biographical tribute to Jorge Luis Borges, represented in the novel and the film by the blind monk and librarian Jorge of Burgos. Borges, like Jorge, lived a celibate life consecrated to his passion for books, and also went blind in later life.

Foucault's Pendulum (1988), Eco's second novel, has also sold well. In Foucault's Pendulum, three under-employed editors who work for a minor publishing house decide to amuse themselves by inventing a conspiracy theory. Their conspiracy, which they call "The Plan", is about an immense and intricate plot to take over the world by a secret order descended from the Knights Templar. As the game goes on, the three slowly become obsessed with the details of this plan. The game turns dangerous when outsiders learn of The Plan, and believe that the men have really discovered the secret to regaining the lost treasure of the Templars.

The Island of the Day Before was Eco's third novel. The book is about a man in the Renaissance marooned on a ship within sight of an island which he believes is on the other side of the international date-line. The main character is trapped by his inability to swim and instead spends the bulk of the book reminiscing on his life and the adventures that brought him to be marooned.

Baudolino, a fourth novel by Eco, was published in 2000. Baudolino is a knight who saves the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates during the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. Claiming to be an accomplished liar, he confides his history, from his childhood as a peasant lad endowed with a vivid imagination to his role as adopted son of Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, to his mission to visit the mythical realm of Prester John. Throughout his retelling, Baudolino brags of his ability to swindle and tell tall tales, leaving the historian (and the reader) unsure of just how much of his story was a lie.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is Eco's fifth novel and is about Iambo Bodoni, an old bookseller specialized in antiques who emerges from a coma with only memories to recover his past. In an interview during 2009 London Book Fair, Eco dismissed the rumors of The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana being his last novel, stating that he is a "young novelist" and may write more novels in the future.[11]

Eco's work illustrates the concept of intertextuality, or the inter-connectedness of all literary works. His novels are full of subtle, often multilingual, references to literature and history. For instance, the character William of Baskerville is a logically-minded Englishman who is a monk and a detective, and his name evokes both William of Ockham and Sherlock Holmes (by way of The Hound of the Baskervilles). Eco cites James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges as the two modern authors who have influenced his work the most (Source: 'On Literature').



  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Prospect Magazine Home Page
  3. ^ Don Bosco in Umberto Eco's latest book N7: News publication for the Salesian community p.4 June 2004
  4. ^ A Short Biography of Umberto Eco 22 March 2004
  5. ^ Umberto Eco (1932-) - Pseudonym: Dedalus 2003
  6. ^ Farndale, Nigel (2005-05-24). "Heavyweight champion". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-10-23.  
  7. ^ McMahon, Barbara (October 6, 2005), "No blood, sweat or tears", The Guardian,, retrieved July 28, 2009  
  8. ^ "A Conversation on Information" Interview with Umberto Eco by Patrick Coppock, February, 1995
  9. ^ Ur-Fascism (essay in The New York Review of Books, 22 June 1995)
  10. ^ "Vegetal and mineral memory", November 2003. Considers, among other things, encyclopedias
  11. ^ Professor Umberto Eco at The London Book Fair Part 1 June 2009

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.

Umberto Eco (Born 5 January 1932) is an Italian philosopher and novelist.

See also:

Foucault's Pendulum (1989)
The Island of the Day Before (1994)


A democratic civilization will save itself only if it makes the language of the image into a stimulus for critical reflection — not an invitation for hypnosis.
Wanting connections, we found connections — always, everywhere, and between everything. The world exploded in a whirling network of kinships, where everything pointed to everything else, everything explained everything else… ~ Foucault's Pendulum
Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry.
  • Not long ago, if you wanted to seize political power in a country you had merely to control the army and the police. Today it is only in the most backward countries that fascist generals, in carrying out a coup d'état, still use tanks. If a country has reached a high degree of industrialization the whole scene changes. The day after the fall of Khrushchev, the editors of Pravda, Izvestiia, the heads of the radio and television were replaced; the army wasn't called out. Today a country belongs to the person who controls communications.
    • Il costume di casa (1973); as translated in Travels in Hyperreality (1986)
  • Semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used "to tell" at all.
    • Trattato di semiotica generale (1975); [A Theory of Semiotics] (1976)
    • Variant: A sign is anything that can be used to tell a lie.
  • A democratic civilization will save itself only if it makes the language of the image into a stimulus for critical reflection — not an invitation for hypnosis.
    • "Can Television Teach?" in Screen Education 31 (1979), p. 12
  • I started to write [The Name of the Rose] in March of 1978, moved by a seminal idea. I wanted to poison a monk.
    • Quoted in Myriem Bouzaher's introduction to the French version of The Name of the Rose, Postille al Nome della Rosa, Page 18 (1985)
  • In the United States, politics is a profession, whereas in Europe it is a right and a duty.
    • Preface to the American edition of Travels in Hyperreality (1986)
  • The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else. If it had been possible he would have settled the matter otherwise, and without bloodshed. He doesn't boast of his own death or of others'. But he does not repent. He suffers and keeps his mouth shut; if anything, others then exploit him, making him a myth, while he, the man worthy of esteem, was only a poor creature who reacted with dignity and courage in an event bigger than he was.
    • "Why Are They Laughing In Those Cages?", in Travels in Hyperreality : Essays‎ (1986), Ch. III : The Gods of the Underworld, p. 122
  • To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative — the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time.
    • Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (1994) Chapter Four: "Possible Woods"
  • Reflecting on these complex relationships between reader and story, fiction and life, can constitute a form of therapy against the sleep of reason, which generates monsters.
    • Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (1994) Chapter Six: "Fictional Protocols"
  • After all, the cultivated person's first duty is to be always prepared to rewrite the encyclopaedia.
    • Serendipities: Language and Lunacy (1998)
  • I don't miss my youth. I'm glad I had one, but I wouldn't like to start over.
    • "On the Disadvantages and Advantages of Death" in La mort et l'immortalié, edited by Frédéric Lenoir (2004)

The Name of the Rose (1980)

Il nome della rosa (1980); The Name of the Rose (1983)
  • There are magic moments, involving great physical fatigue and intense motor excitement, that produce visions of people known in the past. As I learned later from the delightful little book of the Abbé de Bucquoy, there are also visions of books as yet unwritten.
  • A monk should surely love his books with humility, wishing their good and not the glory of his own curiosity; but what the temptation of adultery is for laymen and the yearning for riches is for secular ecclesiastics, the seduction of knowledge is for monks.
  • Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry.
    • William of Baskerville
  • "That man is ... odd," I dared say to William.
    "He is, or has been, in many ways a great man. But for this very reason he is odd. It is only petty men who seem normal."

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Umberto Eco (January 5, 1932 in Alessandria, Piemonte) is an Italian writer and professor for middle age history in Bologna.

Eco was born in 1932 in Northern Italy. After his school time he studied philosophy, history, literature and educational sciences. He finished his studies with a doctoral thesis about Thomas Aquinas in 1954. In 1962 he married.

His career as writer began with The Name of the Rose in 1980.



Eco was born in the 5th january of 1932 in the place of Alessandria in a family that had 13 sons, he studied philosophy and humanities in the University of Turin, where became a PhD. He has worked as professor in different centres having prestige and from the year 1971 occupies the chair of semiotics in the University of Bologna. The research of the world of the higher education does that he is a doctor honoris causa of thirty institutions.

He had been named satrap of the pataphysics for his humoristic works among which How to travel with a kangaroo is important, and for having perfected one of its areas, the cacopedia.

Other qualities come him to be member of the Council of Sages of the UNESCO. Received in the year 2000 the Prize Prince of Asturias of Communication and Humanities.

Has worked also in the mass media and make culture popular. His objects of interest have a centre in the Middle Ages, the languages and the classical. As is strange, he is also an expert at James Bond.

More famous works


  • Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose, 1980) - Historical novel that had been changed to be proper for the cinema and became a supervendes (?). It combines the elements of intrigue (i.e. a plot) with the knowledge in Middle Ages and make this epoch to be near to the present.
  • Il pendolo di Foucault (Foucault's Pendulum, 1988) - Work that shows as three workers of a publishing house are trapped in their own fiction.
  • L'isola del giorno prima (The Island of the day before, 1994) - A nobleman from the 17th century finds himself trapped in a yacht in one huso timetable and wonders on passing of the time.
  • Baudolino (2000) - Novel that explain the experiences of a young peasant taken as one's own child by an emperor, formed into a structure in a way similar to the picaresque novel (novel that takes a dishonest person or criminal for its central character, telling his or her story in episodic form).
  • La Misteriosa Fiamma della Regina Loana (The Mysterious Flame of the Queen Loana, 2004) - A man who loses his memory tries recover it, considering the times of the author's youth.

Other works

  • Opera Aperta
  • Minimal Diary
  • Kant and the Ornithorhynchus
  • Semiotics and philosophy of the language
  • The firm
  • Art and Beauty in the Medieval Aesthetic
  • The Limits of Interpretation
  • Six Walks for the Narrative Forests
  • Lector in fabula
  • Apocalyptics and Integrates
  • On Literature
  • Searching the Perfect Language
  • History of Beauty
  • On Ugliness

(The English translations of titles require checking)

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