Saturday, February 20, 2016

"Farewell to Umberto Eco, the Man Who Knew Everything"

Umberto Eco at Simonopetra in 1988

Katerina Houzouri
February 20, 2016

"Addio a Umberto Eco, l’uomo che sapeva tutto." This is today's title of La Repubblica (, which is translated as "Farewell to Umberto Eco, the Man Who Knew Everything". The internationally renowned Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco, who lived with his wife and two children, died yesterday in Milan. He was born in Alessandria in the province of Piedmont, in 1932.

University Career

He was Professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologna since 1975, and since 1988 president of the International Research Center for Semiotics at the University of San Marino.


In the 1970s, he began writing his novels. The Name of the Rose won the Strega Prize in 1981 and the Médicis Etranger in 1982, selling millions of copies worldwide. Other works of his that were publishing successes: Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, Baudolino, Inventing the Enemy, Number Zero, and others. In Greece, the books are published by the publishers Γνώση, Μαλλιάρη, Ελληνικά Γράμματα and Ψυχογιό.

Umberto Eco knew five languages, including ancient Greek and Latin, and had won many honors.

At Simonopetra in 1988

From his last statements...

Umberto Eco was a philosopher, political, and sensitive to the major social issues of the time, on which he did not hesitate to take a clear and unequivocal position. Such as his views of the jihadists and Islamic State, but also migration.

"It doesn't seem right to talk generically about 'Muslims', just as it would not have been correct to judge Christianity on the bases of methods used by Cesare Borgia," he said in an interview with the Corriere della Sera daily, following the deadly terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo in France, in January 2015. "But we certainly can talk about Isis, which is a new form of Nazism, with its extermination methods and its apocalyptic desire to take over the world. What is certain is that it has changed the mode of war. There's a war going on and we're in it up to our necks. It's like when I was small and lived my days with the risk of bombs which could arrive from one moment to the next," said Eco, who was evacuated during the war to a village in northern Italy. "With this type of terrorism, the situation is exactly what we lived through during the war. Back then I wrote that until we found a new balance, a lot of blood would be spilled." ... "Thirty years ago, I wrote an article for La Repubblica in which I said that we were no longer facing an emigration as Italians going to America or Switzerland, but in a global migration, which is much bigger in space and time. Even then I wrote that until it came to a new equilibrium, a lot of blood would be shed. Western civilization, which has or has not the strength to sustain itself, is facing a massive migration, as happened centuries ago to Ancient Rome."1

Honorary Doctorate from the University of Athens

He visited Greece, by the proposal of the then Philosophy professor Theodosis Pelegrinis. Umberto Eco received an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy - Pedagogy - Psychology from Athens University in March 1995. Mr. Pelegrinis had given a speech about the honoree titled "Umberto Eco Watching the World from the Perspective of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance." The speech was followed by the proclamation, in which he read the resolution of the Department of Philosophy - Pedagogy - Psychology. Eco then spoke on "The University and Mass Media".2

At Karyes in 1988 with Abbot Elissaios of Simonopetra

His Relationship With Mount Athos

Before writing The Name of the Rose, he visited the Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi and its Library, which contained a copy of the "Geography" of Claudius Ptolemy, one of the rarest manuscripts in the world, dating from the 13th to early 14th century, and includes the sections "The Geographical Guidance" of Claudius Ptolemy, "The Epitome of the Geography of Strabo", and the "Geography" of Strabo.3

Regarding the visit of Umberto Eco to the Holy Monastery of Simonopetra, Theodoros Ioannidis wrote (in issue 33, December 1988) in the magazine To Tetarto (The Quarter):4

".... At the port of Daphne we are still in the outside world. Ours. But, after the last turn of the uphill road we see the Monastery of Simonopetra, and we understand that soon we will have to accept that here some other different measures apply.

You can stay silent for hours on the balconies of the Monastery or be carried away in endless chatter. And Umberto, multilingual and usually talkative, tries in the shortest amount of time possible to chat with the monks and meet as many as possible. And naturally, in a discussion without a theme the issues begin with the infallibility of the Pope and they reach all the way to May of 1968, and there will pop up at some point a subject that always fascinated him: heresy. And, quite spontaneously, it will 'escape' him that in his new book (Pendulum) there are several pages devoted to this subject.

In Karyes, after a short visit to the Monastery of Iveron, at the lodgings of Simonopetra, Monk Elissaios is not only a perfect host. He is very young in age, serious and tolerant, having studied the Latin ecclesiastical writers, speaking slowly and calmly, not impressed neither wanting to impress. He modestly comments on the views of Augustine or Thomas Aquinas and our daily small questions. The monks try raki - which Umberto Eco liked so much - when they make it. They do not drink, however, because alcohol alters their thinking. And as for the concerns of the famous professor on the level of the maintenance and preservation of the valuable manuscripts, he considers them almost unreasonable. Tradition is not preserved by preserving codexes or icons and displaying their treasures in order to solicit tourists. Such a tradition is not interesting. Living tradition, the only one worth preserving is located within each monk, since every one has within them, alive, the Nazarene ... ".






Translated by John Sanidopoulos.