Farewell to semiotician Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose

written by Vittoria Zorfini

Eco died on February 19 at the age of 84 at his home in Milan. He was the author of the 1980 bestseller The Name of the Rose, which sold 30 million copies worldwide, and which was made into a film of the same name starring Sean Connery in 1986.

The father of semiology was a great interpreter of his time; an expert on mass media and a beloved professor. Today, Italy, and in particular Eco’s students in Bologna, grieve for one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century.

Even in the saddest times Eco’s irony provides consolation. This is demonstrated by his 1997 article published in L’Espresso magazine entitled, “How to calmly prepare for death. A few instructions for an eventual disciple.

“Recently, a pensive disciple (like Critone) asked me: ‘Professor how can one properly deal with death?’ I answered that the only way to prepare for death is to convince yourself that everyone else is an idiot.”






Also apparent are his reflections on the importance of life’s sufferings: “We must all learn to interpret the language of pain in order to accept its biological function. “Why is knowledge the cure for pain?” These are the words used by Umberto Eco during a graduation ceremony for Master students’ in palliative care of the Manifattura di Arti, Sperimentazione e Tecnologia’s (MAST) Corso universitario di Alta Formazione in Cure Palliative Pediatriche.

The professor does not forget to leave a “pills of wisdom” in his column, La Bustina di Minerva,” begun in 1985 and published in L’Espresso. The famous semiotician summarizes the 40 statistical and grammatical errors to avoid for speaking proper Italian with his characteristic irony.

Eco was also a strong believer of print media. He often tackled the relationship between the Internet and its sources and suggests the new role that newspapers should be holding today in the digital age. Eco explains that newspapers should have teams specialized in filtering sources because “no one is capable of understanding if a site is trustworthy or not.” And today, the role of print media should be to be the caretakers of truth in this vastness of Internet information, in which it is difficult to distinguish the truth from lies.

Farewells are never easy, but in certain cases irony helps us to understand and to laugh at ourselves without ever stopping learning.