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Umberto Eco in 9 Quotes: Remembering His Greater Truths

Umberto Eco’s death at the age of eighty-four in 2016 also marked the passing of a philosopher, one who spent decades teaching and exploring the fields of semiotics and critical theory.

The Name of the Rose

by Umberto Eco

Eco’s career as a scribbler of fictions only began in his late forties, but these are the words most of us will end up turning to time and again whenever we miss that distinctive literary voice, spending quiet moments in thrall to that highly-organized mind playfully obscuring and revealing itself through a dense cloud of words — often in several languages at once. Here are a few highlights from the author’s bibliography, all the way up through Numero Zero, released just this past year.

1. Travels in Hyperreality, 1973 “The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.”

2. The Name of the Rose, 1980 “Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means.”

3. The Name of the Rose, 1980 “What is love? There is nothing in the world, neither man nor Devil nor any thing, that I hold as suspect as love, for it penetrates the soul more than any other thing. Nothing exists that so fills and binds the heart as love does. Therefore, unless you have those weapons that subdue it, the soul plunges through love into an immense abyss.”

4. Foucault’s Pendulum, 1988 “I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”

5. The Island of the Day Before, 1994 “It is necessary to meditate early, and often, on the art of dying to succeed later in doing it properly just once.”

6. Baudolino, 2000 “Yes, I know, it’s not the truth, but in a great history little truths can be altered so that the greater truth emerges.”

7. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, 2004 “Nothing can shake my belief that this world is the fruit of a dark god whose shadow I extend.”

8. The Prague Cemetery, 2010 “You don’t love someone for your whole life – that impossible hope is the source of adultery, matricide, betrayal of friends … But you can hate someone for your whole life – provided he’s always there to keep your hatred alive. Hatred warms the heart.”

9. Numero Zero, 2015 “Losers, like autodidacts, always know much more than winners. If you want to win, you need to know just one thing and not to waste your time on anything else: the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers. The more a person knows, the more things have gone wrong.”

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