“The Name of the Rose” or a Passion of Reality Toward Dogma

Let me say it in advance, this article contains some spoilers/contextual information about Umberto Eco’s novel titled “The Name of the Rose” dated 1980 and about the movie bearing the same name, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud back in 1986 based on the novel.

Umbert Eco (1932-2016) was one of the most important intellectuals/academicians of our age. Although he was essentially a specialist in the fields of Medieval philosophy, history, culture and the history of Christianity, his fundamental fields of study also included linguistics and philosophy. The academic heritage left behind by Eco within a large spectrum is of colossal dimensions. Nevertheless, among all these, the novel “The Name of the Rose” stands out a little more when analyzed in terms of both the power of its content and the currency it bears around the globe. As pointed out by the saying called “magnus opum”, which means “the greatest work”, sometimes the power of a single work can make a bigger impact than the sum of all the other works set forth.

The Name of the Rose, both a literary work and a movie, has already been perceived as a classic work. From the topic it discusses and traces to the acting (for the movie), dialogs, and the historical atmosphere created, this work is truly a masterpiece with its holistic focus. However, it also stipulates a specific level of background knowledge, as is the case with every work that is deemed to be a “classic”. Knowing the central problems discussed by the work with broad strokes also facilitates having a competent command of the topic it deals with as well. Unless you have any background knowledge about the discussions, it is highly probable that they seem nothing but meaningless symbols and words.  For instance, in the scene where Jorge burns the text found in the secret library compartment at the monastery’s tower, the text-reality discussion between the Franciscan priest William, the main character, and Jorge the senior priest, the representative of the “tradition” of the monastery, is the epitome of the discussion of the universals in the Medieval world of thoughts. It is a prerequisite to know the discussion of the universals down to the last detail in order to comprehend that dialog better.

The novel/movie – I will call it a “movie” hereof – focuses on the things happening in a monastery in 1327, in late Middle Ages. Mysterious homicides are being committed in the monastery, yet the reasons behind them and who the murderers are, cannot somehow be found. William, as well as his apprentice, has come to the monastery to clarify this matter. What’s waiting to be clarified is actually a series of homicides known and concurred to be kept concealed by all who hold the power in the monastery. There is an issue that they don’t want spread around or even wish to speak of. As a matter of fact, this is a chapter from the book.

The main issue is the comedy, which can be seen as a part or a continuation of Poetics, a book on aesthetics written by Aristotle, an Ancient Greek Philosopher. As is known, Aristotle’s texts were systematically created through various mediation processes in the Western Canon. In the meanwhile, it is seen probable that some texts were lost or purposefully hidden. Reading Aristotle only within the scope of the limitations and mediations imposed by the church and church researchers, leaves an open door for such problems. For instance, the church banned specific things, such as smiling, laughing and entertainment, etc., as they associated these things with devilry, which was disputed during that period. It is said that they based this ban fundamentally on Aristotle. Those who say “laughing is not something devilish”, emphasize that Aristotle wrote a comedy as well, yet nobody has ever seen or read that text. Thus, the text in the monastery’s library is believed to be one and only example of that text anywhere around the world. Nonetheless, this text is on the shelves of the labyrinth-shaped hidden library in the tower section, and its pages are covered with a poisonous ink. It is forbidden to enter this section; those who somehow manage to get in, hold the text in hand and turn the pages, are poisoned to death. Preserving this status of a “dogmatic” thing has now precluded the content itself.

The status quo of the church (or Papacy) does not even permit any grounds that would constitute hesitations about the ban of laughter it imposes. Even discussing something dogmatic is forbidden, let alone change its place. Yet at the same time, passionately chasing the truth, Franciscan William almost works like a detective and uses his agile mind to open Pandora’s box for the thing that has been agreed to be kept hidden in the monastery. Even though the dogma seems to be powerful, the passion for reality is a source of motivation that is as strong as the dogma itself. William and his apprentice deliberate over the mystery of the monastery, using various fundamental patterns of the history of culture and civilization.

The movie indeed has a strong style of storytelling accompanied by heavy symbols For instance: A poor peasant grabbing a stone to throw at the representative of the Inquisition at the moment of execution of those who are told to be guilty during the execution of the people who will be killed upon the allegations of collaboration with the devil; the monastery representative hopping in his carriage and running away as the monastery tower goes up in flames, and him asking the peasants for help when his carriage got stuck in the mud, and them throwing the carriage down the cliff instead of helping him…. and many other dramatic scenes can be seen throughout the movie. In this regard, this movie is a monumental work that cannot be truly comprehended without having any data on the history of civilization, religion and society. Even the fact that the monastery’s kitchen is full of food, as well as stockrooms full of wheat, despite the people being compelled to live in poverty is certainly a separate and bulky topic in its own. Despite the established gaudiness of the monastery, the people are racing one another to collect the rotten vegetables thrown away from the monastery. Right in this scene, a sentence uttered by William, as a typical Franciscan priest, is quite moving: “Here’s another generous donation made by the church for the poor (…) the devil is not needed anymore.”

Discussing all the symbols and problems of a specific era, the book and movie, The Name of the Rose, deserves to be a classic in all aspects. It is possible to witness a number of elaborated discussions, from the points of fractions in the perspectives of the schools of Christianity on the religion and world to the debates regarding how the information forms and changes, which is also the fundamental question of philosophy. While Priest Jorge persistently emphasizes that development and progression are not the aspects of the information, William speaks of development and progression. While one wing acts as the spokesperson of the dogma, the other wing pursues the reality and the passion it creates.

Eventually, the final scene of the movie, where the monastery is ravaged, the “dogma” is fully defeated, the poor peasants plunder the monastery, and the two Franciscans, the master and apprentice, get on their donkeys and go their paths with their colorless vestments, is a modest yet moving scene. The priests proceed with the serenity of clarifying the murders around a dogma and revealing the truth. The author and director clearly give this message: Getting rid of dogmas brings peace/serenity and liberates the individual.

Z. Soner Dinç
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