After morning prayers, Venantius’s dead body is found in a barrel of pig’s blood. Severinus determines that the cause of death was not drowning, since Venantius’s face isn’t swollen, and therefore he must have been dead before someone threw his body in the barrel. Looking at the footprints in the snow, William deduces that the body was dragged from the Aedificium, so he suspects that Venantius died in the library. Severinus admits that he has poisons in his infirmary that could have killed someone.
That the final resting place of Venantius’s body is a vat of pig’s blood is not just gruesome but highly unusual, suggesting that perhaps Venantius’s killer may be trying to convey a message through symbolism. What that message may be—or what the blood may represent—is unclear, but this new development provides Adso and William with yet another piece of confounding evidence.
Meanwhile, William questions Benno, who recounts a strange interaction that occurred in the scriptorium a few days earlier. During the argument about laughter, Venantius mentioned that Aristotle had dedicated the second book of his Poetics to comedy, but that the book was now lost. Benno then added that in his Rhetoric, Aristotle mentions the excellence and usefulness of riddles, particularly the African riddle of the fish. Jorge said that he did not think it wise to take the Africans as models. Berengar laughed and told Jorge that if he were to “seek among the Africans,” he might find a very different answer. Malachi became furious and sent Berengar back to his tasks. But this cryptic statement prompted both Venantius and Adelmo to approach Berengar separately and ask for a forbidden book labeled “finis Africae” in the catalogue.
Benno’s recollection of this conversation on laughter presents several questions. Why did Jorge and Malachi become so angry when Benno mentioned Aristotle and when Berengar made the joke about “seeking among the Africans?” Why did Venantius and Adelmo approach Berengar and ask for a book labeled “finis Africae”—“the end of Africa”—in the library catalogue? William and Adso do not yet know the answers to these questions, but this passage makes it clear that Jorge and Malachi are trying to prevent people from seeing the book with the designation “finis Africae.”
William then interrogates a distressed and guilty Berengar, who claims that he saw the ghost of Adelmo in the abbey’s graveyard. Berengar claims that Adelmo called him my “beautiful master” and told him he was suffering the pains of hell for his sins—for “believing my body a place of pleasures” and “having thought to know more than others.” Berengar says that Adelmo’s sweat burned his hand when they touched. Afterwards, William theorizes that what Berengar saw was not the ghost of Adelmo, but Adelmo himself, and that Adelmo had emerged from the chapel after confession carrying a candle, which was the wax that burnt Berengar’s hand. William suggests that someone must have said something to Adelmo in confession that had caused him to become guilty and despondent.
Here, again, William is able to correctly interpret some confusing and misleading signs. William learns that Adelmo and Berengar both felt very guilty about something—something that burdened Adelmo enough that he might have been led to kill himself. The further into the history of the abbey William and Adso dig, the more they find themselves ensnared in a complex web of scandal, lies, and emotions. This is perhaps not what readers would have expected them to find at an abbey, but William seems to understand already that things are never simply what they seem.
William and Adso witness an argument between Salvatore and Remigio, who call each other heretics, prompting Adso to reflect on the difficulty of distinguishing between what is orthodox and what is heretical. They then talk with Aymaro of Alessandria, a gossipy monk who suggests that Berengar and Adelmo had a sexual relationship. He complains that the abbey has been taken over by foreigners, when it’s the Italians who should be in charge.
Salvatore and Remigio’s argument confirms that they were once followers of a “heretical” movement, and have found shelter at the abbey. Aymaro’s comments confirm one of William’s other suspicions: that Berengar and Adelmo had a sexual relationship, which was why they both felt so guilty. The revelation of this fact adds a new set of possible suspects and motives in the murders.
Back in the scriptorium, William engages Jorge in another argument about laughter in order to try to learn more about the conversation in which Berengar had told him to “seek among the Africans.” He asks why Jorge is so opposed to the idea that Jesus ever laughed, since the Scriptures are silent on the subject—and in such cases “God demands that we apply our reason to many obscure things about which Scripture has left us free to decide.” William believes that laughter can be a weapon against liars and those who deny the truth of God by showing the absurdity of their propositions.
William’s statement that “God demands that we apply our reason” in cases of scriptural ambiguity demonstrates his emphasis on rational thought as an essential property of what it means to be human. William’s hunger for knowledge, which some of the monks characterize as intellectual vanity, sets him apart from Jorge, who believes that knowledge should be controlled and contained.
Jorge, however, argues that to laugh at evil means “not preparing oneself to combat it.” Christ didn’t laugh, he argues, because “laughter foments doubt.” William suggests that “sometimes it is right to doubt,” but Jorge replies that there is never any reason for doubt, since one can simply consult the authority of a learned man. William tries to prove again that Christ might have laughed, but Jorge becomes angry and accuses William of telling ridiculous stories. William points out that to call something ridiculous is to tacitly laugh at it, saying “you are laughing at laughter, but you are laughing.” At this, Jorge becomes angry.
This conversation demonstrates Jorge and William’s opposing attitudes to truth, authority, and judgment. Jorge believes that the truth of God is already known, and thus there is never any reason to doubt—one can always turn to “authority” in any ambiguous cases. For William, however, it is morally and intellectually “right” to doubt. He is always skeptical of making judgments, and sees doubt as a necessary part of faith.
William tries to examine Venantius’s desk for evidence, but is warded off by Benno, who asks to speak with him. Benno finally tells the whole truth of what he knows. It appears that Adelmo had agreed to sleep with Berengar in exchange for access to the forbidden book located in the “finis Africae.” From this information, William hypothesizes that a distressed and guilty Adelmo went to Jorge to confess and ask for absolution, which Jorge probably refused. Adelmo then went to the chapel, where he encountered Venantius and told him the secret of the forbidden book, before wandering into the cemetery, encountering Berengar, and eventually killing himself. Venantius must have then continued the search for the book on his own until someone murdered him. William suspects Berengar, Malachi, Jorge, or Benno himself. He tells Adso that they have to break into the library to try to find out more about this secret book.
Benno’s story confirms many of William’s hypotheses. The book labeled “finis Africae” is indeed supposed to be kept secret, and Adelmo had sex with Berengar in exchange for access to that forbidden book. Adelmo then confessed his sin to Jorge—who was judgmental and unforgiving—which was why he was so distressed and suicidal when Berengar encountered him in the cemetery and took him for a ghost. Venantius was also in pursuit of the book when he was murdered. However, the work of interpretation continues. Even as William pieces together more and more clues, the answer to what connects all these deaths remains elusive.
In the church, Abo shows off the vast wealth of the abbey—gold, silver, and jewels—which he believes brings the monks closer to God. William seems to disagree, but introduces a new topic of discussion: the upcoming debate on poverty. Adso wonders why Abo supports the Franciscan Spiritualists and their vow of poverty, when his abbey is so obviously wealthy, but comes to the conclusion that the Benedictines must want to limit the power of the Pope and maintain their own influence.
Adso begins to see a fuller picture of the reasons for the abbey’s views on poverty when Abo reveals the treasure the abbey has accumulated over the years. Like seemingly every other matter of religious debate in the book, this one has been overshadowed by money and politics, and is less a matter of right and wrong than it is about power and control.
Abo and William discuss the political situation. Michael of Cesena, a Franciscan leader, has been summoned to Avignon to see the Pope but fears he is walking into a trap. Thus, Abo and William have agreed to broker a summit between the Franciscans and the Pope’s envoys, in order to come to some preliminary agreements and guarantee Michael’s safety. However, the situation is very sensitive, and Abo fears that the Pope’s envoys (who are accompanied by armed French troops) will connect the crimes that have occurred at the abbey to the Franciscans. There are two options: either William solves the mystery before the papal envoys arrive, or they must confess everything and allow the abbey to be placed under military surveillance.
The Pope’s envoys are bringing an army to the summit, suggesting that they are providing for military defense, if it comes to that. This demonstrates the political contentiousness of the debates on poverty. At first, this seemed like a mere theological disagreement, but now it looks like a far more dangerous political gambit. Because religion and politics are so deeply intertwined, a theological debate could quickly turn violent.
William says that he can’t see how the actions of a single “madman” could disrupt the negotiations. Abo, however, confesses that the abbey is harboring some former Franciscan monks—including Remigio, the cellarer—who may have associated with Fra Dolcino, a leader of a popular religious movement, and his followers, the “Pseudo Apostles.” If the Pope’s men get wind of this, Abo fears that they might accuse someone like Remigio of the murders and associate the legitimate doctrine of the Franciscans with these dangerous heresies. William accuses Abo of conflating very different religious movements, but Abo maintains that there is no difference among heretics, because “heretics are those who endanger the order that sustains the people of God.” Adso is confused by all these shifting allegiances and accusations of heresy. He wishes that his father hadn’t sent him out into the world, because now he is “learning too many things.”
By asserting that there is no difference between heretics, Abo makes an uncompromising blanket judgment. Unlike William, he is happy to paint with a broad brush, lumping together a broad array of popular religious movements. This is because, for him, heresy is a political phenomenon. In his view, a “heretic” is anyone who threatens to upset the prevailing social order and religious orthodoxy. Heresy is not a doctrine so much as a general ideology of disruption. This suggests that heretics are persecuted because they represent a threat to the power of the church and the order of society.
Alinardo of Grottaferrata, the oldest monk at the abbey, tells William and Adso that they can enter the library—which he calls a “labyrinth”—via a secret entrance in the chapel crypt. He predicts that the Apocalypse is at hand, and that the deaths of Adelmo and Venantius were “sounding the trumpets” before the Last Judgment. William and Adso pass through the chapel crypt and into the Aedificium, following Alinardo’s instructions (fourth skull on the right, press the eyes). They hear sounds suggesting that someone is already inside. In the scriptorium, they find notes on Venantius’s desk written in Greek and in a zodiacal language that only reveals itself under the heat of a flame: William thinks that he can break the code, given time, because he has some knowledge gleaned from Arabic books on code-breaking. While they are distracted, someone steals a book from Venantius’s desk, along with William’s glasses. Adso pursues the thief, but he escapes.
William’s glasses have been previously associated with knowledge, learning, and progress. But when someone steals his glasses, William is robbed of a critical tool that aids him in learning and understanding the world. Without his glasses, he can’t read Venantius’s notes. The theft thus demonstrates the determination of some of the monks to obstruct William’s investigation and prevent people from having access to the books in the library. A library is usually thought of as a place that celebrates knowledge, but in this case, someone is going out of his way to ensure that knowledge remains inaccessible.
William and Adso decide to continue upwards into the library. They arrive in a room with seven walls and bookcases labeled with catalog information. Above the archway is a scroll reading “Apocalypsis Iesu Christi.” They pass through into other rooms with different words on the scroll, but similar except for their size: they are rectangular, whereas the first room was heptagonal. So each tower of the library seems to consist of five quadrangular rooms with one window each, surrounding a single heptagonal room with no windows. However, William and Adso quickly get lost: they can’t orient themselves by the scrolls above the archways, because the words repeat themselves. For example, there is yet another room labeled “Apocalypsis Iesu Christi.”
William and Adso quickly get lost because they don’t understand the library’s layout. The signs in the library make sense individually. The words on the scrolls above each archway are phrases from the Apocalypse of John, a text with which both William and Adso are familiar. However, they make little sense in context. Although they know the source of the phrases, it is not clear what logic is behind their arrangement. This demonstrates the need for context to interpret any given set of signs.
William and Adso’s progress is further obstructed by a room with a mirror that reflects distorted images. Adso is initially frightened of his own reflection. The scroll above this room reads “Super thronos viginti quatuor” (“The twenty-four elders on their seats”). Upon closer inspection, William and Adso see that the books in the room are Arabic. William guesses that they are in another tower, but they can’t find the heptagonal room at the center.
The mirror in the room with Arabic books reflects frightening images, suggesting that it is there to startle intruders. The fact that this room does not lead to a heptagonal room in the center implies that there may be a hidden or blocked-off room. William and Adso don’t understand the significance of these details yet, but the library is presenting many clues and confusing signs that they will have to interpret.
They see the glow of a candle in another room, and Adso goes to investigate, but is interrupted when he has a vision of Berengar and the Apocalypse and collapses. William finds him and concludes that someone has placed dangerous, vision-inducing herbs in the library to ward off intruders. He suspects that the library’s builders also placed slits in the walls so that the wind would make ghostly noises, further frightening unwanted visitors. William and Adso decide to leave the library for the night, and they spend hours trying to retrace their steps before they find their way out again. Back downstairs, Abo has been looking for them. He tells William that a new calamity has struck the abbey: Berengar has disappeared.
There are many traps guarding the library, including the mirror that reflects distorted images, the howling winds that come in through slits in the walls, and the vision-inducing herbs. This is a library that seems to be trying to keep people out by frightening and confusing them. People record knowledge in books so that their knowledge can be shared, and build libraries to help circulate that knowledge further, but this library seems to want to keep its knowledge secret.