5 January 2016

Umberto Eco – novelist and semiotician

Prolific author became fascinated with signs and symbols

Academic and writer Umberto Eco was born on this day in 1932 in Alessandria in Piedmont.
Umberto Eco's novels, The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, were worldwide bestsellers
Umberto Eco
He is best known for his mystery novel, The Name of the Rose - Il Nome della Rosa, which was first published in Italian in 1980, but he is also a respected expert on semiotics, the branch of linguistics concerned with signs and symbols.

Eco studied medieval literature and philosophy at the University of Turin and after graduating worked in television as well returning to lecture at the University of Turin.

He has since been a visiting professor at a number of American universities and has received honorary doctorates from universities in America and Serbia.

As well as producing fiction, he has published books on medieval aesthetics, literary criticism, media culture, anthropology and philosophy. He has also helped to found an important new approach in contemporary semiotics and to launch a journal on semiotics.

Eco set his first novel, The Name of the Rose, in a 14th century monastery with a Franciscan friar as the detective. The book has been described as ‘an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory’. In 1986 it was made into a film starring Sean Connery.

Buy The Name Of The RoseFoucault's Pendulum and Numero Zero.

His novel Foucault’s Pendulum, published in 1988, is about three book editors who decide to have a bit of fun with what they think is a fictional plot to take over the world by a secret order descended from the Knights Templar. But when the story takes over and the deaths start mounting up they are forced to make a frantic search for the truth.

Eco’s most recent novel, Numero Zero, has now been translated from the original Italian by Richard Dixon. First published in English in November 2015, it has been described as being about ‘Mussolini, media hoaxes, gossip and murder’.

Now 84, Eco divides his time between living in his apartment in Milan and his holiday home near Urbino.

UPDATE - Umberto Eco died in Milan in February 2016.

Travel tip:

Alessandria is an historic city about 90 km south east of Turin in Piedmont. It is easy to reach as it is on the Turin–Genoa railway line and is a hub for six other railway lines. It has 14th and 15th century churches in the centre to look round as well as a museum devoted to the Battle of Marengo, which was fought near the town in 1800 between Austrian and French forces.

Umberto Eco has a home in Urbino in the Marche region
A view over the walled city of Urbino
Photo: Zyance (CC BY-SA 2.5)
Travel tip:

Urbino is a walled city in the Marche region with a remarkable legacy of Renaissance architecture. One of the highlights is the Palazzo Ducale, built in the 15th century for Federico II da Montefeltro and now home to one of the most important collections of Renaissance paintings in the world.


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