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Novels The Name of the Rose and Leo the African

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A comparison & contrast of the inquisitions and censorship of ideas in the novels the Name of the Rose & Leo the African


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     The novel ‘The Name of the Rose’ set in a monastic library, relates to the medieval times. Those who form part of the august library are posse of books, patrons, censorship, and the library itself. They are also the ‘characters’ of the book. The main story relates to “the year 1327, when Brother William Baskerville arrives to investigate heresy among the monks in an Italian Abbey; a series of bizarre murders overshadows the mission.

”(Library Journal…)The book contains details of the sincere efforts to investigate the genuine causes of tension between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. Brother William goes to the root causes of the murder, as murder within the holy precincts of the Abbey is a grave and noticeable event. He sees it as the challenge to truth and goes for the analytical approach from scholarly, historical, theological and philosophical perspectives.

The 50-year-old monk has reached the Benedictine monastery to carry out the specified responsibility. He is baffled with more murders, seven of them precisely, killed in a brutal but symbolic style, during the period of investigation, and they happen in bizarre pattern.

Baskerville meets Jorge Burgos, who is committed to destroy heresy. He is the blind monk. Baskerville works like the professional detective. But the tools of his investigation are compatible with the medieval times. They are coded manuscripts, secret symbols and the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where normally stoic silence prevails. “It is better to have the world united than the world divided; but it is better to have the world divided than the world destroyed,” said Mr. Winston Churchill at the time of II World War. Though this statement was made in the context of war, this it is applicable as well to the conditions obtaining in the medieval times in Europe, between the church and the secular forces.

The theological wars and its after effects on the psyche of the society were no less dangerous than the actual war. Why  the wars between the secular and divine forces were the recurring feature of the medieval era and under what compelling circumstances  Pope had to act  as a practicing politician and allow  Inquisitors and church officials to  stamp out the messiahs and prophets who disagreed with  the doctrines of church?  The negative and unreasonable ideas dominated the thinking process and the theological speculation was part of that violent era.  The Christian religion, as it was practiced then, was more about cross on the neck, than Christ in the heart. Umberto Eco and Amin Maalouf provide the graphic pictures of grim situations prevailing as part of the religious beliefs. Religious followers generally fight over the outer covering than the inner essence. Read this interesting observation:

“But why doesn’t the Gospel ever say that Christ laughed?” I asked, for no good reason. “Is Jorge right?”

“Legions of scholars have wondered whether Christ laughed. The question doesn’t interest me much. I believe he never laughed, because, omniscient as the son of God had to be, he knew how we Christians would behave. . . .”

(Eco, Second Day, Compline.)

Topic 1: Inquisition-The Name of the Rose:

     The book provides ample details, as to how Inquisition dominated the 14th century Christianity. The murders referred to above take place in the largest library in that Christian era. Plague, as foretold in the Book of Revelations, spreads at the same time. Do the murders have something to do this? Brother William is engaged in unearthing the mystery of several such issues. Christianity was practiced at its worst, with no holds barred as for satanic tendencies, and divinity was at discount.   Brother Bernard Gui was a diabolical Dominican inquisitor. Just because one wears the robes of a monk, one doesn’t become a monk in reality.  Brother William is shrewd enough to understand this aspect. Such a monk is as fallible as any other ordinary human being. As for Inquisition, “Even today, any mention of “the Inquisition” can produce a strong, visceral, negative reaction. The era of the Inquisition– which stretched across six centuries– is almost universally regarded as one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the Catholic Church.” (Catholic World …) But a Vatican Study does not condemn Inquisition outright. According to it, it is the fault of the era in which it is practiced. Inquisition is supposed to be the part of the evolution of religious and political institutions of the Western World. The study justifies Inquisition and concludes that many lessons that it tenders are relevant even today! Inquisition as it popularly understood, means death or severe torture of the individual put to enquiry. The Inquisition, according to the Vatican study, is a single phenomenon, and different European governments practiced it in different styles, as per the conditions then obtaining within the country. Though gradually it began to take the shape of demonic form, the purpose of its initial set up was much different. The religious problems of the 13th century were peculiar. The Holy See, to dispense proper justice, therefore, established special ecclesiastical courts, to fight heresies, which had taken hold many parts of Europe. The new religious orders were established during that era, the Dominicans and Franciscans, under the direct control of the Vatican, to exercise ‘judicial’ authority.

      Inquisition began to take concrete shape. Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254), for the first time, authorized examination of persons suspected of heretics by civil judges. The purpose was to bring them back to the Catholic fold. In such investigations (or inquisition), no torture was involved or encouraged.  None supported it, even though as per the customs prevailing then, torture in public trials was the accepted procedure. Even in the present enlightened society, torture is prohibited by law, but people know how the police functions and how prisoners of war are looked after. Umberto Eco mentions his views about Inquisition in clear terms He writes, “For what I saw at the abbey then (and will now recount) caused me to think that often inquisitors create heretics. And not only in the sense that they imagine heretics where these do not exist, but also that inquisitor repress the heretical putrefaction so vehemently that many are driven to share in it, in their hatred for the judges. Truly, a circle conceived by the Devil. God preserve us.”(Eco, First Day, Sext) The initial expectations as for the procedures of Inquisition were noble. The preacher was the most eminently suited individual to persuade heretics to see through their errors and retrace steps to return to Catholic faith. His job was not to extract confession by applying undue pressure. The preacher has the vast experience in dealing with people and delivers sermons day after day. If a heretic is convicted and executed, that was regarded as a failure of the preacher.

     No point in blaming the Inquisitors for their style of functioning. They owed no individual responsibility as for the final outcome of the Inquisition. They just followed certain procedures that they were required to comply. Their sweeping powers so as to decide about the life and death of the person put on enquiry amazed as well as disturbed them. But the Church faced a peculiar problem in that era and the papacy was afraid of being swept over by heresy that was fast gaining ground in the society. Drastic measures were considered necessary to curb this menace. Popular notion prevailed that Inquisition means death. In the initial stages at least, it was much lenient and administered with the constructive angle. The objective was to create awareness in the mind of the accused with the requirement that one should do some public acts of penance like wear a yellow cross, even public scourging or do a pilgrimage. Those who avoided Inquisition were awarded life-imprisonment. The unrepentant and those who would not admit their errors were handed over to public authorities for execution. “It is difficult to catalogue the victims of the Inquisition, because the source material is unclear,” says Jacques Chiffoleau. But some inquisitors did send many people to their death; the historian cites the case of Bernard Gui, who is mentioned in Umberto Eco’s book, The Name of the Rose; the records of the Inquisition show that he condemned 636 people in the 14th century.” (Catholic World….)

     Once the power of the ‘weapon’ of Inquisition was known it was seized by the political authorities as well. Vatican had set it out for some other purposes, allegedly to safeguard the religious interests. The religion of the politicians was self-aggrandizement and power. “The Spanish Inquisition, particularly under the zealous Dominican Torquemada (1420- 1498), was used against Jews, Muslims, and any other opponents of the Catholic monarchy. The institution of the Spanish Inquisition had a powerful hold on the Iberian Peninsula, which was not entirely loose until it was finally and definitively suppressed in 1833.”(Catholic World…) From the view point of the Church, “the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition” was set up in   1542, and given the responsibility to fight against heresy. What is the importance of the Middle Ages today? Eco writes, “The fashion for the Middle Ages, the medieval dream, cuts through all of European civilization. The Middle Ages were the crucible of Europe and modern civilizations: we’re still reckoning with things born then—banks and bank drafts, administrative structures and community politics, class struggles and pauperism, the diatribe between state and church, the university, mystic terrorism, trial based on suspicion, the hospital and the episcopate, the modern city, modern tourism, how one should respect one’s wife while languishing for one’s love—because the Middle Ages also created the concept of love in the West.”(The Medieval…)

Inquisition-Leo the African:

     The implied censorships on the life of women are described in chapter ‘The year of Salma al-Hurrah, 894 A.H.  5 December 1488-14 November 1489.’Maalouf in Leo the African writes, “ She and my father, cousins betrothed to each other since childhood, (this again is the  censorship on the life-choices)  had been married for four years before she conceived, and had felt around them as early as the second year the buzzing of defamatory rumors. To the point that Muhammad came home with a beautiful Christian girl, with black braided hair, whom he had bought from a soldier who had captured her in the course of a raid into the country near Murcia:”(Maalouf, 1994, p, 6) The above description shows how a series of censors worked in tandem to curtail or deny the rights of women in that era. How powerless were the women and how they were obliged to face the indecencies unleashed on them by men-censors, who had social/cultural authority and power, conferred on them by  traditions prevailing in that era! A soldier captures the girl during the course of a raid…..brings her forcibly and then sells her to Muhammad…does he marry her? Obviously not, just keeps her with him to fulfill his lustful sensuous desires…and the reason to bring her is, his lawful wife has not conceived even four years after the marriage…men do everything possible to cause damage to the psyche of the women, without caring for their tender feelings. What happens to the life of the woman in whose life another competing woman comes to stay with her husband, that too for the reason that she is unable to conceive? She faces the day-to-day twin tragedies of her life. That she is supposedly barren, and the fear that the woman that has arrived will conceive soon and once that happens, she will automatically relinquish the title, ‘slave girl,’ and shall enjoy all the rights of a lawfully wedded wife. She narrates her mental condition thus and this is another poignant situation as to how the social censors are at work. “I was free, and she was a slave,” said my mother, “so we were not evenly matched. She had all the wiles of seduction at her disposal; she could go unveiled, sing, dance, pour wine, wink her eyes, and take off her clothes, while I could never, as a wife, abandon my reserve, still less show the slightest interest in your father’s pleasures. He used to call me “My cousin”; he would refer respectfully to me as al-hurra, the free, or al-arabiyya, the Arab, and Warda herself showed me all the deference a servant girl owes to her mistress. But at night, she was the mistress.”(p, 6)Is this not censorship on her rights? How would a wife feel, when she knows that the nights are reserved for the other woman in the house? She has all the legal rights as wife, but she is not able to exercise those rights, because of fear and other implied gender-biased curbs.

Topic 2: Censorship-The Name of the Rose:

     Another condemnable method of imposing one’s ideas on others is censorship. The Name of the Rose contains how religiously based issues were tackled repressively through censorship. When mind-level individuals, may be philosophers, intellectuals or political personalities interact with each other, strong disagreement is inevitable. Every mind-level argument has another counter-argument. Permanent solutions can not be found for any issue by question-answer sessions, for intellect has its limitations. When one transcends the mind-barrier, bliss prevails, and all the dualities end. At that level, all the revelations by all the Realized Souls are identical, as it is an agitation-less, conflict less state. Censorship of the books was actively used as a tool to suppress alternative views, during the medieval times. Managing the exclusive and negation of all other knowledge was the common practice adopted by the authority in power. The medieval Church utilized this power to corner the people as it had dominating influence over them. The teachings of the Church, as interpreted by the clergy were considered final, and divergent views were not tolerated. Such books were banned. Benedictine monastery in around 1327 was the hub of censorship activities. With absolute intolerance for fresh ideas, the monks at the monastery spent their time by copying manuscript of books. Free-thinking and free-lance writing were sternly discouraged.

     Book industry was required too obtain the license for publication and this led to political control and censorship of the contents. The kings did not directly exercise this power but delegated it to junior and ordinary religious authorities. The Inquisition was not given the power of censorship, as its primary duty was not book censorship. The licensing system of books was not a success, in the absence of proper co-ordination between the different authorities. The book trade to America was also censored. The sale of history and profane books to America was not permitted. The need to obtain a license introduced political control and censorship in the Spanish book industry. However, it must be noted that the kings delegated the power to do so to civil and ordinary religious authorities; not to the Inquisition, which had been functioning for some time, but whose primary purpose was not, theoretically, book censorship.

Censorship-Leo the African:

Maalouf in his book Leo the African makes one marvel at the wonderful accounts of North African/Spanish events of the late 15th century, taking up each episodic year. One important aspect of the novel is the plight of women, how they live the life subjugating their personalities to various social authorities of censorship, from the cradle to the grave and from the womb to the tomb. This is nothing but the censorship of the worst order! Censored on all issues, with their back to the wall, how women fought to re-establish their identity by the procedures available to them? Maalouf describes such a situation thus: “Gaudy Sarah  came to see me…to sell amulets, bracelets, perfumes made from lemon, ambergris, jasmine and water lilies, and to tell fortunes….without lifting her eyes, she said these words, which I remember to this day. ‘ For us, the women of Granada, freedom is a deceitful form of bondage, and slavery a subtle from of freedom. Then saying no more, she took out a tiny greenish stopper bottle from her wicker basket. ‘Tonight, you must pour three drops of this elixir in to a glass of orgeat syrup, and offer it to you cousin (here husband) with your own hand. He will come to you like a butterfly towards the light. Do it again after three nights, and again after seven.”(p,6)

     If one goes through the pages of the medieval history of Europe, Middle East and some of the African countries, the day to day life of men and women seems to be adventurous living, full of uncertainties, wars, religious persecutions and many other conditions that are not conducive to peaceful living. The same is true of the characters in the novel ‘Leo the African.’ The followers of   Muslim and Christian faiths often clashed and censured each other in the name of religious injunctions. From his childhood in Fez Hasan had to flee to avoid Christian Inquisition. He journeyed to the East, encountered many a tensions and challenging situations, like pirates, princesses and slave girls, and faced all other odds to make his life miserable. He performed hadj to Mecca, thinking that it is the ultimate path to bliss and peace, and then converted to Christianity, again reverted to the Muslim faith. Hasan’s life had to be adventurous because the Mediterranean world allowed nothing else. That was the position of humanity in this region just five centuries ago. In these background major events of history happened, like the fall of Granada, Renaissance Rome and the Ottoman conquest of Egypt. The common man’s life was highly impacted in the light of such events, and one had to mold one’s life and that of the family members according to the circumstances.

     Intolerance for other faiths is the root cause of censorship of books and book-burning. “On 1499, while in Granada with the Catholic Kings, archbishop of Toledo Fray Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros managed to get the alfaquíes (Muslim judges) to bring out in the street their copies of the Qu’ran and other works written in Arabic and set up a bonfire that destroyed more than five thousand volumes “with ornamental bindings, even of gold and silver and of admirable artistry”. He refused to give some of them to Christian scholars who asked for them, and only allowed some works of medicine to be saved from the fire (books which were later on sent to the library of the University of Alcalá).” (Censorship…) Retaliatory action followed elsewhere in the Muslim ruled territories, and this sort of censorship of religious literature continued during the medieval era. Such acts had the sanction of the Pope.

Comparison and contrast:

     The topics of Inquisition and censorship in the books The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and “Leo the African” by Amin Maalouf can not be read and understood in isolation. Though the subject matters of the novels are entirely different, their perspective is different, but the ground realities as they concerned the common man, were the same.   Inquisition and Censorships were the responsive developments to the social conditions, and pressures that prevailed in the Mediterranean world about five centuries ago. The measures of Inquisition and Censorship were applied to administer and control the inter-religious issues, both by the Christians and Muslims. They were also practiced on account of intra-religious issues and for forced conversions from one religion to another.  Censorship has a broad definition and covers a wide area of human activities. “The term “censorship” comes from The Latin, censere “to give as one’s opinion, to assess.” The Roman censors were magistrates who took the census count and served as assessors and inspectors of morals and conduct. In contrast to that straightforward definition from Roman times, contemporary usage offers no agreed-upon definition of the term or when to use it.”(Culture Shock….) The issues that came under the purview of censorship during the medieval times, five centuries ago, are free issues today. So, the connotation of the word censorship changes in relation to historical, cultural and social contexts. In the modern times, censorship mainly refers to press and television/motion picture censorship by the government authorities. The Catholic Encyclopedia (a publication of the Catholic Church) defines censorship thus: “In general, censorship of books is a supervision of the press in order to prevent any abuse of it. In this sense, every lawful authority, whose duty it is to protect its subjects from the ravages of a pernicious press, has the right of exercising censorship of books.”(Culture Shock…)The definition provided by Academic American Encyclopedia comprehensively defines censorship thus: “Censorship is a word of many meanings. In its broadest sense it refers to suppression of information, ideas, or artistic expression by anyone, whether government officials, church authorities, private pressure groups, or speakers, writers, and artists themselves.” These concepts can not be treated as water tight compartments, as per their description in the books, elucidated by both the authors.  They are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive. Why issues like inquisition and censorship dominated the medieval times? When the revelations of the Realized Souls and Prophets are wrongly interpreted by the clergy and the so-called intellectuals, and also the common man, confusion prevails in the society as for the real nature of the truth. The following conversation between Brother William and Adso reveals the obvious. “I have never doubted the truth of signs, Adso; they are the only things man has with which to orient himself in the world. What I did not understand is the relation among signs . . . I behaved stubbornly, pursuing a semblance of order, when I should have known well that there is no order in the universe.”

 “But in imagining an erroneous order you still found something. . . .”

 “What you say is very fine, Adso, and I thank you. The order that our mind imagines is like a net, or like a ladder, built to attain something. But afterward you must throw the ladder away, because you discover that, even if it was useful, it was meaningless . . . The only truths that are useful are instruments to be thrown away.”(Eco, Seventh Day,  Night.)


     The concept of Inquisition in both the novels is dealt with, more or less, in an identical manner, whereas the concept of censorship needs to be viewed from different perspectives. The Name of the Rose is a historical mystery related to a 14th-century Benedictine abbey. Abbey is like the miniature replica of the society outside the abbey. The prevalent attitudes of the people and the process of inquisition, the so-called efforts to promote religious beliefs are analyzed. What a perverse way to preserve and protect religion! In the process of detecting the murder mystery several important social issues like separation of church and state, aggrandizement of wealth and greed for power, faith versus doubt, censorship and controlling knowledge etc are discussed, and a clear picture of the social, cultural, political ground realities prevailing then emerges.  The scholastic method was very popular in the 14th century to analyze any issue. Brother William exhibits the power of deductive reasoning, especially syllogisms. His answers to any profound query are brief, but thoughtful, as would be seen from this example. “What terrifies you most in purity,” I asked? “Haste,” William answered. (Eco, Fifth Day, Nones ) In both novels we find that the authors try to interpret the medieval controversies and heresies in to the modern thought process relating to politics and economics. This puts the reader in a proper position to arrive at appropriate conclusions as for the disposition of the characters and the purpose for which the novels are written.

     The definition and explanation of Inquisition according to the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia is thus: “In the Middle Ages, a judicial procedure that was used to combat heresy; in early modern times, a formal Roman Catholic judicial institution. Inquisito, a Latin term meaning investigation or inquest, was a legal procedure that involved the assemblage of evidence and the prosecution of a criminal trial.” The cruelty involved in the process of inquisition preceded by a method. The inquisitor upon being called upon to perform his duty, allowed a month’s grace to those who intend to confess to heresy and to recant. Such individuals were given a light penance, to enable them to recoup their original faith. Those who refused confession were brought to trial. A semblance of legality was stamped on the process of inquisition when the defendants were not informed about the names of their accusers, but they were allowed to name their enemies, and this would help to nullify the testimony by the complainants. Those found guilty had the right to appeal to the Pope. The trials were in-camera. A representative of the bishop and a few laymen remained present. Soon torture became the dominant part of the trial, though it was initially condemned by Pope. Finally, Innocent IV allowed torture in cases of heresy. The pages of religious history daubed in bloodshed over the issues of Inquisition and Censorship, the ripples of which are being experienced by the followers of  respective religions even today, ask the crying question. How to make this Planet Earth heaven-like? The answer is simple and direct. Eyes full of understanding, hearts full of love and the life that refuses conflicts-enough! These alone are enough. The same sentiments are  echoed in the book, The Name of the Rose, “ Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.”(Eco, Seventh Day, Night)The only message that needs go be taken from both the books is, where then humanity erred, and where it took wrong steps to create unnecessary complications.



Eco, Umberto: The Name of the Rose

 Hardcover: 512 pages

Publisher: Harcourt; 1st ed edition (June 9, 1983)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0151446474

ISBN-13: 978-0151446476

Maalouf, Amin: Leo the African

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (22 Sep 1994)

Language English

ISBN-10: 0349106002

ISBN-13: 978-0349106007

Catholic World News: Understanding the Inquisition

<www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=30226 – 44k –> Retrieved on August 8, 2008

The Medieval Dream: Umberto Eco and the Abbey Libraries

<www.etext.org/Zines/Critique/article/umbertoeco.html> Retrieved on August 8,2008

Eco – Quotations Below are some selected quotations from the works of Umberto Eco. …

<www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_quotes.html – 28k -> Retrieved on August 8, 2008


www.lehman.cuny.edu/ciberletras/v06/tofino.html – 32k – Retrieved on August 8, 2008


Cite this Novels The Name of the Rose and Leo the African

Novels The Name of the Rose and Leo the African. (2016, Oct 21). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/novels-the-name-of-the-rose-and-leo-the-african/

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