Umberto Eco

Annie Lee | Jul 8, 2022

Table of Content


Umberto Eco (Alessandria, January 5, 1932 - Milan, February 19, 2016) was an Italian semiologist, philosopher, writer, translator, academic, bibliophile and medievalist.

An essayist and intellectual, he has written numerous essays on semiotics, medieval aesthetics, linguistics and philosophy, as well as successful novels. In 1971 he was among the inspirers of the first DAMS course at the University of Bologna.

Also at the same university, in the 1980s he promoted the activation of the Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences, which was already active elsewhere. In 1988 he founded the Department of Communication at the University of San Marino.

Since 2008, he was professor emeritus and president of the School of Humanistic Studies at the University of Bologna. Since November 12, 2010, Umberto Eco was a member of the Accademia dei Lincei, for the class of Moral, Historical and Philosophical Sciences.

Among his most famous novels is The Name of the Rose, winner of the Strega Prize and translated into more than 40 languages, which has become an international bestseller having sold more than 50 million copies worldwide; a film and a television series have been made from this work.

High School and Catholic Action

The son of Rita Bisio and Giulio Eco, a railway employee, he graduated from the Giovanni Plana classical high school in Alessandria, his hometown. Among his classmates was accordionist Gianni Coscia, with whom he wrote revue shows. In his youth he was involved in GIAC (the then youth branch of Catholic Action-AC) and in the early 1950s was called among the national leaders of the AC student movement (progenitor of today's MSAC). In 1954 he left office (as had Carlo Carretto and Mario Rossi) in controversy with Luigi Gedda.

During his university studies (at the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy in Turin) on Thomas Aquinas, he stopped believing in God and left the Catholic Church for good; in an ironic note, he later commented, "it can be said that he, Thomas Aquinas, miraculously cured me of my faith."

Medieval philosophy and culture

Graduated with honors in philosophy in 1954 from the University of Turin (on exams he always reported 30

Among the "privateers" for RAI modernization.

In 1954 he participated in and won a RAI competition to hire commentators and new officials; Furio Colombo and Gianni Vattimo also entered with Eco. All three left the television corporation by the end of the 1950s. Emmanuele Milano, Fabiano Fabiani, Angelo Guglielmi and many others entered the next competition. The winners of the first contests were later labeled as the "privateers" because they took a training course directed by Pier Emilio Gennarini and were supposed, according to the intentions of manager Filiberto Guala, to "modernize" the programs.

With other later entrances, such as those of Gianni Serra, Emilio Garroni and Luigi Silori, these young intellectuals truly innovated the cultural environment of television, which was still very much tied to personalities from the EIAR, later being regarded as the true promoters of RAI's centrality in the Italian cultural system. From his experience working in RAI, including friendships with members of Gruppo 63, Eco drew inspiration for many writings, including the famous 1961 article Phenomenology of Mike Bongiorno.

Literary Criticism and Condirection Bompiani

From 1959 to 1975 he was co-publishing director of the Bompiani publishing house. In 1962 he published the essay Opera aperta, which, to the author's own surprise, had considerable international resonance and provided the theoretical basis for Gruppo 63, an Italian literary and artistic avant-garde movement that aroused interest in literary-critical circles also because of the controversy it aroused by strongly criticizing authors at the time already "consecrated" by fame such as Carlo Cassola, Giorgio Bassani and Vasco Pratolini, ironically referred to as "Liale," with reference to Liala, author of romance novels.

University career

1961 also saw the beginning of his university career, which led him to teach courses, as lecturer, at several Italian universities: Turin, Milan, Florence and, finally, Bologna, where he obtained the chair of Semiotics in 1975, becoming full professor. At the University of Bologna, he was among the founders of the first degree program in DAMS (this was 1971), then he was director of the Institute of Communication and Performing Arts at DAMS, and later started the degree program in Communication Sciences.

Finally, he became president of the School of Humanities, founded in 2000, which coordinates the activities of Bologna's doctoral programs in the humanities, and where in 2001 he conceived the Master's Degree in Print and Digital Publishing. Over the years he has taught as invited professor at New York University, Northwestern University, Columbia University, Yale University, Harvard University, University of California-San Diego, Cambridge University, Oxford University, Universities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, La Plata and Buenos Aires, Collège de France, École normale supérieure (Paris). In October 2007 he retired from teaching due to age restrictions.

Studies on mass media and mass culture

From the late 1950s, Eco began to take an interest in the influence of mass media in mass culture, on which he published articles in various newspapers and magazines, later largely merged in Diario minimo (1963) and Apocalyptic and Integrated (1964). Apocalyptic and Integrated (which had a new edition in 1977) analyzed mass communications with a sociological slant. The topic had already been addressed in Diario minimo, which included among others the short 1961 article Phenomenology of Mike Bongiorno. On the same topic, he conducted the seminar For a Semiotic Guerrilla in New York in 1967, later published in The Costume of Home (1973) and frequently cited in discussions of counterculture and resistance to mass media power.

Also significant was his focus on the correlations between dictatorship and mass culture in The Eternal Fascism, a chapter in the essay Five Moral Writings, where he identified the time-recurring characteristics of so-called "eternal fascism," or "Ur-fascism," viz: the cult of tradition, the rejection of modernism, the cult of action for action's sake, disagreement as betrayal, the fear of differences, the appeal to the frustrated middle classes, the obsession with conspiracy, machismo, "qualitative TV and Internet populism," and others; from them and their combinations, according to Eco, it is also possible to "unmask" the forms of fascism that have always been reproduced "everywhere in the world." In an interview on April 24, 2010, he highlighted his views with respect to Wikipedia, of which Eco described himself as a "compulsive user," and the world of open source.

Beginning of semiotic studies

In 1968, he published his first book on semiotic theory, The Absent Structure, which was followed by the seminal Treatise on General Semiotics (1975) and articles for the Einaudi Encyclopedia later combined in Semiotics and Philosophy of Language (1984). In 1971 he founded Versus - Quaderni di studi semiotici, one of the leading international journals in semiotics, remaining editor in chief and a member of the scientific committee until his death. He was also secretary, vice-president and since 1994 honorary president of the IASS

Newspapers, translations, debates

He was a contributor since its founding in 1955 to the weekly L'Espresso, on which from 1985 to 2016 he kept the column La bustina di minerva on the last page (in which, among other things, he claimed to have personally contributed to his own Wikipedia entry), to the newspapers Il Giorno, La Stampa, Corriere della Sera, la Repubblica, il manifesto, and to countless international specialized journals, including Semiotics (founded in 1969 by Thomas Albert Sebeok), Poetics Today, Degrès, Structuralist Review, Text, Communications (Paris journal of EHESS), Problems of Information, Word & Images, or literary and cultural debate journals such as Quindici, Il Verri (founded by Luciano Anceschi), Alfabeta, Il cavallo di Troia, etc.

He contributed to the series "Making Europe" directed by Jacques Le Goff with the study The Search for the Perfect Language in European Culture (1993), in which he advocated the use of Esperanto. He translated Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style (in 1983) and Gérard de Nerval's Sylvie (in 1999 both at Einaudi) and introduced works by numerous writers and artists. He has also collaborated with musicians Luciano Berio and Sylvano Bussotti.

His debates, often with an amused tone, with Luciano Nanni, Omar Calabrese, Paolo Fabbri, Ugo Volli, Francesco Leonetti, Nanni Balestrini, Guido Almansi, Achille Bonito Oliva or Maria Corti, just to name a few, added unwritten contributions to the history of Italian intellectuals, especially when they touched on topics that were not usual (or at least not considered such before Eco's intervention), such as the figure of James Bond, puzzles, physiognomy, television seriality, the appendix novel, the comic strip, the labyrinth, lies, secret societies or more seriously the age-old concepts of abduction, canon and the classic.

A great fan of the Dylan Dog comic strip, Eco was paid tribute to in issue 136 through the character Humbert Coe, who joined the investigator of nightmares in an investigation into the origin of the world's languages. He was also a friend of painter and comic book author Andrea Pazienza, who was his student at DAMS in Bologna, and wrote forewords to books by Hugo Pratt, Charles Monroe Schulz, Jules Feiffer and Raymond Peynet. He wrote the introduction to "Heart" in comics, by F. Bonzi and Alain Denis, published in "Linus" in 1975.

Literary debut

In 1980 Eco made his debut in fiction. His first novel, The Name of the Rose, found great success with both critics and the public, so much so that it became an international best seller translated into 47 languages and sold thirty million copies. The Name of the Rose was also among the finalists for the prestigious Edgar Award in 1984 and won the Strega Prize. A famous film starring Sean Connery was also made from the work.

In 1988 he published his second novel, Foucault's Pendulum, a satire of paranoid interpretation of true or legendary facts of history and conspiracy syndromes. This critique of uncontrolled interpretation is taken up in theoretical works on reception (see The Limits of Interpretation). Subsequent novels include L'isola del giorno prima (1994), Baudolino (2000), La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana (2004), Il cimitero di Praga (2010) and Numero zero (2015), all published in Italian by Bompiani.

A "revised and corrected" version of his first novel The Name of the Rose was published in 2012, with an endnote by Eco himself who, while retaining style and narrative structure, intervened to eliminate repetitions and errors, change the layout of Latin quotations and the description of the librarian's face to remove a neo-Gothic reference.

Theories of storytelling

Many works were devoted to theories of narrative and literature: The Mass Superman (1976), Lector in fabula (1979), Six Walks in the Narrative Woods (1994), On Literature (2002), Saying Almost the Same Thing (2003, on translation). He also pioneered and popularized the application of technology to writing.

Simultaneously with his appointment as "guest curator" at the Louvre, where he organized a series of cultural events and happenings in November 2009, Vertigo of the List was released by Bompiani, published in fourteen countries around the world. In 2011 Bompiani published a collection titled Constructing the Enemy and Other Occasional Writings, which collects occasional essays that span the author's various interests, such as that for narratology and nineteenth-century feuilleton. The first essay picks up on themes already present in The Prague Cemetery.


He died at his home in Milan on February 19, 2016, at 10:30 p.m., of pancreatic cancer that had struck him two years earlier.The secular funeral was held on February 23, 2016, in Milan's Castello Sforzesco, where thousands of people came to pay their last respects. Two compositions on viola da gamba and harpsichord were performed: Couplets de folies (Les folies d'Espagne) from Suite No. 1 in D major from the Pièces de viole, Livre II (1701) by Marin Marais and La Folia from the Sonata for violin and basso continuo in D minor, Op. 5 No. 12 (1700) by Arcangelo Corelli.

In his will, Echo asked his family members not to authorize or promote, for the ten years following his death (thus until 2026), any seminar or conference about him.

Eco's body was finally cremated. His wife, Renate Eco-Ramge, rejecting a proposal to bury his ashes in the Civico Mausoleo Garbin, a former private aedicule in Milan's Monumental Cemetery now provided with small cells intended for ashes or bone remains of distinguished artistic personalities, preferred his private preservation, with plans to build a family aedicule in the same cemetery.

In his novels, Eco tells real-life stories or legends featuring historical or invented characters. He inserts heated philosophical debates about the existence of the void, God or the nature of the universe into his works. Attracted by rather mysterious and obscure themes (the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, the Holy Shroud, etc.), in his novels scientists and men who made history are often treated with indifference by contemporaries.

Humor is the Alexandria writer's favorite literary weapon, inserting countless quotations and links to works of various kinds known almost exclusively to philologists and bibliophiles. This makes novels like The Name of the Rose or The Island of the Day Before a colorful whirlwind of historical, philosophical, artistic and mathematical notions. Central to The Name of the Rose is the question of laughter, post-modernistically declined.

In The Pendulum of Foucault, Eco deals with themes such as the search for the Holy Grail and the history of the Knights Templar, making numerous references to the mysteries of the ancient and modern ages, revisited in a parodistic key. In The Island of the Day Before, all of humanity is symbolized by the castaway Roberto de la Grive, who seeks an island outside of time and space. In Baudolino he gives life to a picaresque medieval character all dedicated to the search for an earthly paradise (the legendary realm of Priest John).

In The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana she reflects on the power and very essence of remembrance, addressed, in this case, to episodes of the 20th century. The Prague Cemetery focuses on the nature of conspiracy and, especially, on the "European" history of the Jewish people. His latest novel, Number Zero, taking up themes that have always been dear to the author (the fake, the construction of the conspiracy and the news) dwells on recent Italian history, narrating facts that really happened, but reread through a conspiratorial key.

In 1971 he was among the 757 signatories of the open letter to L'Espresso on the Pinelli case and later of the self-disclosure of solidarity with Lotta Continua, in which some 50 signatories expressed solidarity with some of the militants and editors in charge of the newspaper, who were indicted for incitement to commit crimes.

The signatories self-reported to the judiciary that they shared the content of the article. Moreover, Eco's severe criticisms of terrorism and various armed struggle projects are contained in a series of articles written in the weekly L'Espresso and Repubblica, especially at the time of the Moro case (articles later republished in the volume Sette anni di desiderio). Indeed, the weapon that has characterized Eco's political engagement has become the critical analysis of political discourse and mass communications.

This endeavor is summarized in the metaphor of semiological guerrilla warfare where it is argued that it is not so much important to change the content of messages at the source but to try to animate their analysis where they arrive (the formula was: no need to occupy the television, one must occupy a chair in front of every television set). In this sense, semiological guerrilla warfare is a form of social critique through reception education. Since 2002 he has participated in the activities of the Libertà e Giustizia association, of which he is one of the best known founders and guarantors, actively participating through its initiatives in the Italian political-cultural debate.

His book A passo di gambero (2006) contains criticisms of what he calls Berlusconian populism, Bush's policies, and the so-called clash of ethnicities and religions. In 2011, in the weeks of the Arab uprisings, during a taped press conference at the Jerusalem Book Fair, his response to an Italian journalist who asked him whether he agrees with the comparison between Berlusconi and Mubarak advanced by some sparked a political controversy: "The comparison could be made with Hitler: he, too, came to power through free elections"; Eco himself, from the columns of l'Espresso, denies this statement clarifying the circumstances of his answer.

Eco was a member of the Aspen Institute Italia association.

Italian honors

Eco has received 40 honorary degrees from prestigious European and American universities. In June 2015 on the occasion of his degree in communication conferred by the University of Turin, Umberto Eco made stern judgments about Web socials, which he said can be used by "legions of imbeciles" to put themselves on the same level as a Nobel Prize winner, but without giving both opinions equal weight. Eco's remarks elicited approval but also lively discussion.

Academic affiliations and sodalities.

Umberto Eco has been an honorary member (Honorary Trustee) of the James Joyce Association, the Academy of Sciences in Bologna, the Academia Europea de Yuste, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Académie royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique, the Polska Akademia Umiejętności ("Polish Academy of Arts"), a "Fellow" of St Anne's College, Oxford, and a member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Eco has also been an honorary member of CICAP.


Asteroid 13069 Umbertoeco, discovered in 1991 by Belgian astronomer Eric Walter Elst, was dedicated to him.

On April 12, 2008, he was appointed Duke of the Isle of Day Before the Kingdom of Redonda by King Xavier.

In 2016, the municipality of Milan decided that his name be inscribed in the Pantheon of Milan, inside the monumental cemetery.


Eco has also written numerous essays on philosophy, semiotics, linguistics, and aesthetics:


  1. Umberto Eco
  2. Umberto Eco
  3. ^ Pronounced /ˈɛkoʊ/; Italian: [umˈbɛrto ˈɛːko].
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Cosimo Di Bari, "A passo di critica: il modello di media education nell'opera di Umberto Eco", Firenze University Press 2009
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ 'Il nome della rosa' debutta su Rai1 e conquista gli ascolti della prima serata, su la Repubblica, 5 marzo 2019. URL consultato il 30 gennaio 2020.
  8. Термин «континуум» у Эко отсылает к «досемиотическому опыту», то есть к недифференцированному чувственному опыту, в котором отсутствует означаемое; в поздней работе о Канте Эко соотнёс «континуум» с кантовским многообразием ощущений[28].
  9. (it) « Umberto Eco è morto, addio al grande scrittore », sur, 20 février 2016.
  10. D'après Éléonore Sulser, « Umberto Eco, capitaine dans la tempête du langage », Le Temps,‎ 21 février 2016 (lire en ligne, consulté le 1er novembre 2016).
  11. Librairie la procure, « Umberto Eco », sur la (consulté le 5 février 2021)
  12. Philippe-Jean Catinchi, « Umberto Eco, auteur du « Nom de la rose », est mort », Le,‎ 20 février 2016 (ISSN 1950-6244, lire en ligne, consulté le 20 février 2016).

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