Umberto Eco, semiologist, polyglot and renowned novelist, is dead at 84 | News | DW | 20.02.2016
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Umberto Eco, semiologist, polyglot and renowned novelist, is dead at 84

Renowned Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco has died at the age of 84. He shot to international fame with his best-selling novel 'The Name of the Rose.'

Umberto Eco, an internationally renowned philosopher who went on to become a best-selling novelist, died Friday at the age of 84, after a long bout with cancer.

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DW's Rainer Traube on the legacy of Umberto Eco

He shot to international fame with his groundbreaking historical mystery novel, "The Name of the Rose." Written in 1980, it has been translated into more than 40 languages.

As an academic semiologist he explored the link between fantasy and reality, and this infused his fictional novels.

Semiotics is a contemporary philosophy that analyzes the significance of various forms of communication, either spoken, written, scientific or artistic.

"Books are not meant to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry," Eco said on his website. "When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means."

Der Name der Rose mit Sean Connery

Sean Connery in "The Name of the Rose"

A medieval Italian monastery is where Eco sets "The Name of the Rose," a gothic murder mystery that combines semiotics, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory.

It has sold millions of copies, and was made into a film of the same name in 1986, starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater.

Academic and literary success

His academic career and literary success continued late into his life, with his final novel, Numero Zero, coming out last year. His other novels included: Foucault's Pendulum" (1988) about the lost treasure of a sect called the Knights Templar, "The Island of the Day Before" (1994), "Baudolino" (2000) and "The Prague Cemetery" (2010), a novel about the rise of modern anti-Semitism.

Rather than entering law school, as his father had hoped, Eco studied medieval philosophy and literature. He received his degree in 1954 after completing his thesis on the medieval philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas.

Two years later he published his first work, "The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas," which was an extension of his doctoral dissertation.

It was then that Eco abandoned the Roman Catholic Church after a crisis of faith.

"The first quality of an honest man is contempt for religion, which would have us afraid of the most natural thing in the world, which is death, and would have us hate the one beautiful thing destiny has given us, which is life," he said.

A polyglot, he was also the honorary president of the International Center of Semiotics and Cognitive Studies at the University of San Marino and a member of UNESCO's International Forum.

In 1975 he was appointed professor of semiotics at Bologna University and published "The Theory of Semiotics," laying out his theories in 1976.

His family name was reportedly an acronym of the Latin ex caelis oblatus, "a gift from the heavens," which was given to his grandfather by a city official.

bik/bw (AFP, dpa)

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