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Umberto Eco (1932 - 2016)

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Umberto Eco (1932 - 2016)

Umberto Eco, the Italian author of “The Name of the Rose,” died Feb. 19, 2016, of cancer, according to The Associated Press. He was 84.

An intellectual and academic, Eco achieved the rare combination of acclaim and popularity with his breakout success, a medieval mystery novel, “The Name of the Rose.” The novel wove a detective story starring medieval monks with religious themes and an exploration of symbolism. The novel was an unexpected success and was translated into many languages, including English.

His follow-up novel, “Foucault’s Pendulum,” about editors who amuse themselves with a fictional conspiracy theory about the Knights Templar was so dense with puzzles that it was published with an annotated guide. However, this did not stop it from becoming a success with his fans, whom he sometimes described as “masochists.”

Eco thought of himself more as a philosopher than a novelist. He wrote academic texts, essays and even children’s books. He made lasting contributions to the field of semiotics, which can be described as the study of symbols and their use to convey meaning.

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Eco was born Jan. 5, 1932, in Alessandria, Italy.  He graduated from the University of Turin with a degree in philosophy in 1954. As a teenager, he wrote and illustrated comic books and fantasy novels.

“It was so tiring I never finished any of them. I was at that time a great writer of unaccomplished masterpieces,” he told The Paris Review in 1988.

He was a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna when he was approached by an Italian publisher who was looking for short thrillers. Eco wrote “The Name of the Rose” because he “felt like poisoning a monk.”

But with Eco, there was deep thought behind his humor and an ever-expanding web of meaning to be explored.

“I think that comedy is the quintessential human reaction to the fear of death,” he told The Paris Review, “If you ask for something more, I cannot tell you. But perhaps I’ll create an empty secret now, and let everyone think that I have a theory of comedy in the works, so when I die they will spend a lot of time trying to retrieve my secret book.”

He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Renate Ramge, a son and a daughter.

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