richard dixon



The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco [revised edition]
(Mariner Books, April 2014)

Note to the new edition

In this revised and corrected edition of my novel of thirty years ago, the various occasional modifications I have made to the original text do not change either the narrative structure or the style – which must inevitably be that of a medieval chronicler. I have removed various repetitions of the same word within a few pages and I have often worked on rhythm, since it is enough to get rid of an adjective or take out a parenthesis to make a whole sentence lighter. I have done what a dentist does when, having fitted a set of teeth, the patient feels he has a large boulder in his mouth, and he gives the teeth a very light drilling so that they seem to fit better.

I have eliminated a few mistakes due to an over-hasty translation of medieval sources; for example I had found mention of cicerbita (a type of chicory) in a herbal of the time and had read it as cucurbita, making it become a pumpkin – but the pumpkin wasn’t known in the Middle Ages, since it arrived later from the Americas. The same happened with an improper mention of peppers and of a violin – which at that time must have been a viella, a sort of viola. At one point Adso says that he did something in a few seconds whereas time wasn’t measured in seconds in the Middle Ages. It is true that, since the story appears as the translation of the nineteenth-century French version of a medieval text, the seconds could very well have been ascribed to my Abbé Vallet, and I could have left it at that. But as soon as the decision is made to revise and correct, one tends to become pedantic.

Perhaps the most substantial variations (but we are still talking about just a few lines) relate to the description of the face of the librarian, where I wanted to remove a glaring neo-Gothic reference, and certain Latin quotes and expressions. Latin was and still is fundamental in giving the story its monastic flavor and providing evidence that certain references to ideas of the time are reliable and authentic; there again I am always anxious to submit my reader to a little punishing discipline. But I was disturbed when several people told me they felt obliged to go to a Latin dictionary to look up certain phrases. That was too much, they were losing the flow of the story. I wasn’t worried then – nor am I now – whether the Latin references are understood, especially when they are simply the titles of books; they are there to give the feeling of historical distance. But I realized in some cases that if the Latin wasn’t understood then the story I was telling wasn’t entirely clear. The German editor felt it was necessary to add a glossary in the appendix with a translation of the Latin phrases, which seemed to me excessive. My American editor, Helen Wolff, pointed out to me that European readers, even if they haven’t studied Latin at school, have in mind the inscriptions read on the facades of palaces and churches, and have heard plenty of philosophical, legal or religious expressions, so that they are not frightened by words such as, let us say, dominus or legitur. American readers, on the other hand, would find themselves in much greater difficulty – in the same way as if a novel were published in English with abundant quotes in Hungarian. And so my translator Bill Weaver and I (and I’m talking about thirty years ago) set about lightening up the Latin passages, if only a little, sometimes leaving the quote but paraphrasing the most relevant part of it – and in doing so I had in mind the custom in the area I come from, where people talk in dialect but emphasize the most important things they have to say by repeating them in Italian. For example, William quotes Roger Bacon at a certain point and says “And Christian knowledge must regain possession of all this learning, taking it from the pagans and infidels tamquam ab iniustis possessoribus.” I have now made the following addition: “And Christian knowledge must regain possession of all this learning, taking it from the pagans and infidels tamquam ab iniustis possessoribus, as if not they but we alone had a right to these treasures of truth.”

Otherwise, as I have said, they are changes made not so much for the advantage of my readers but rather for my own benefit on a re-reading, to make me feel stylistically more comfortable at points where the words seemed to me rather breathless.

Umberto Eco