The evocation of a rose is not, however, entirely random: in fact it is keyed closely with the end of this very complex book, which features a Latin hexameter by Bernard of Cluny that translates roughly as ‘The rose of the past endures only in its naked name.’ This hexameter is interesting because ‘rose’ here seems to be a misreading of the original text: earlier texts refer to ‘Rome’ ('Roma' as opposed to 'rosa', a one-letter slip). Eco realized this only later, and admitted the mix-up in a lecture of 1990. The full quote from the lecture is as follows:
An author who has entitled his book The Name of the Rose must be ready to face manifold interpretations of his title. As an empirical author I wrote that I chose that title just in order to set the reader free: ‘the rose is a figure so rich in meanings that by now it hasn’t any meaning: Dante’s mystic rose, and go lovely rose, the War of the Roses, rose thou art sick, too many rings around Rosie, a rose by any other name, a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, the Rosicrucians.’ Moreover someone has discovered that some early manuscripts of De contempu mundi of Bernard de Cluny, from which I borrowed the hexameter ‘stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus,’ read ‘stat Roma pristina nomine’ – which after all is more coherent with the rest of the poem, which speaks of the lost Babylonia. Thus the title of my novel, had I come across another version of Cluny’s poem, could have been The Name of Rome (thus acquiring fascist overtones).The Name of the Rose or The Name of Rome – which is better? (Harry Hill might have an answer to this.) In an alternative literary universe – where Nineteen Eighty-Four is called The Last Man in Europe and Catch-22 is called Catch-18, there is certainly a book called The Name of Rome. Perhaps it exists – in fact it most certainly exists – in Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘Library of Babel’.
Umberto Eco: ‘The Author and his Interpreters’, in Interpretation and Overinterpretation (1992)
See a clickable index of all titles covered