The finis Africae is similar in shape to the other three heptagonal rooms inside the towers. Jorge is waiting for them in the room, sitting at a table covered with papers. He asks “is that you, William of Baskerville?” and says he has been waiting for them to arrive. William asks him to open the entrance in the secret passageway and save the abbot, but Jorge says that he has cut the rope that opens the passage, and Abo has probably suffocated by now.
Jorge is the murderer and the person who has been trying to keep the secret of the finis Africae. The fact that he knows it is William who has gotten into the room—despite being blind—shows that Jorge sees William as a worthy intellectual opponent. It also shows his keen intelligence and powers of perception. Jorge has managed to keep this secret for years, even in the face of many attempts by the other monks to bring that forbidden knowledge to light.
Jorge explains that he killed the abbot because Abo had asked him (spurred on by the Italian faction) to open the finis Africae and reveal the forbidden book. Jorge pretended to agree and said that he would kill himself in the secret room, so as not to compromise the reputation of the abbey. He then invited Abo to come to the finis Africae that night by the secret passageway to check. Instead, he trapped Abo in the passage and killed him.
Abo was undone by his zeal for protecting the reputation of the abbey. He knew that Jorge committed the murders, but wanted to deal with the matter quietly, so as not to cause a scandal. This allowed Jorge to trick and murder him. Rather than open the finis Africae, Jorge is prepared to kill any number of people, implying that there is something very dangerous in the forbidden book indeed.
William presents his hypothesis that it is Jorge, not the librarian, who has been the real power in the library for the past forty years. He directed Robert of Bobbio, and Robert’s successor, Malachi, was also under Jorge’s control. Since Malachi didn’t read Greek and Arabic, he was entirely reliant on Jorge, who alone could read all the books and understood the workings of the library. Alinardo knew this and tried to accuse “foreigners” of running the abbey (Jorge is Spanish), but no one paid him any heed.
The mysterious handwriting in the library catalogue belongs to Jorge. Although he has not officially been librarian, he has exerted control through the last few librarians. Since Malachi couldn’t read many of the books, he couldn’t take any action without Jorge. Alinardo was the only one who knew the truth, but people dismissed his rants against “foreigners” because he was so old. This demonstrates that the signs pointing to Jorge had been there all along, but William was unable to interpret them at first.
“How could you be sure I would arrive?” William asks. Jorge explains that he always knew William would discover the mystery, from his thirst for knowledge, from “the way you drew me to debate on a subject I did not want mentioned.” He knew William was on his trail when he figured out that he had been visiting the library by night, and when Severinus spoke to him about a “strange” book.
Jorge respects William because he is so persistent. He kept engaging Jorge in debates about laughter, which was a topic Jorge clearly did not want to discuss. He knew that William was the man who would finally be able to discover his deception and open the finis Africae. Jorge’s statement suggests that tenacity is a key skill in any intellectual endeavor, particularly when trying to learn something that people want to keep hidden.
Jorge explains how he orchestrated the murders. He stole the deadly poison from the infirmary and poisoned the pages of the book which killed Venantius, Berengar, and Malachi (explaining their blackened fingers and tongues). He convinced Malachi to murder Severinus by claiming that Berengar had been sexually intimate with him in exchange for the forbidden book from the finis Africae, prompting Malachi, who was in love with Berengar, to kill Severinus out of jealousy. Malachi had not known anything about the finis Africae. He brought the vision-inducing herbs from the infirmary every day, on Abo’s orders, which was why he was there in the first place. Jorge had ordered Malachi to bring back the book at all costs, telling him “it had the power of a thousand scorpions.” Malachi disobeyed his orders for the first time and tried to read the book, dying of poison as a result.
Jorge never directly murdered anyone, so the murders were the result of a chain of effects rather than a deliberate program of violence. The murders were not following an apocalyptic pattern, as William thought. Rather, everything Jorge did was designed to protect the secrecy of the forbidden book. William was looking for a grand design that would explain everything, but the murders were much more haphazard and even unplanned. Jorge set events in motion, but other factors intervened as well. This demonstrates the truth of William’s conviction that it is nearly impossible to establish a clear relationship between causes and effects.
Jorge asks William what he wants as a reward for his persistence and intelligence. William demands to see the volume containing the Coena Cypriani—and what William has guessed is the sole surviving copy of the lost second book of Aristotle’s Poetics, which deals with comedy. William surmises that Jorge found and brought this book on a mission back to Leon and Castile, because the Greek manuscript is written on linen paper—a rare technology manufactured near Silos, in Burgos, where Jorge was born. Jorge read the book and brought it back to the abbey to hide it, because “a man like you does not destroy a book, but simply guards it and makes sure no one touches it.” Jorge admits that all this is true, and gives William the book as his “prize.”
William knows that a librarian like Jorge would want to hide a book rather than simply throw it on the fire. This is because despite his hatred of laughter and Aristotle, Jorge recognizes the book’s importance. This function of libraries is, after all, to preserve and protect books. Thus, Jorge could not go so far outside his duty as a librarian as to physically destroy a book. However, Eco has repeatedly suggested throughout the novel that a book is useful only if it can be read, so a book without readers might as well not exist at all.
William puts on gloves before opening the book. It contains several texts on the subject of comedy: an Arabic manuscript “on the sayings of some fool,” a Syriac manuscript on alchemy, and a Latin summary of the Coena. Jorge is dismissive of all three texts, saying that “no one would lend an ear to the ravings of an African alchemist.”
Jorge’s comment on these three texts demonstrates his judgmental attitude to non-Western cultures. He believes that no one in Christian Europe would bother giving credence to works by Muslim and African authors. This contrasts with William’s more tolerant attitude to the books in the “Leones” section of the library, which contain important works of science.
It is the final and fourth text that Jorge finds most dangerous: as William predicted, it is a Greek copy of the lost second book of Aristotle’s Poetics, which deals with comedy and the useful purposes of laughter. The text begins by asserting that “alone among the animals…man is capable of laughter” and that, in “inspiring the pleasure of the ridiculous,” laughter produces catharsis.
Aristotle’s book on comedy is now lost, but Eco imagines what Aristotle might have written. In the book, Aristotle argues that laughter is cathartic, and a sign of humanity’s capacity for reason. These are arguments drawn from elsewhere in Aristotle’s Poetics. In this way, Eco demonstrates that books can be plausibly reconstructed by reading other books.
As William leafs through the text, he sees that some of the pages are stuck together and would thus require moistening his fingers with his tongue in order to detach one page from the next. This was how Venantius died, then: he broke into the finis Africae, and found the forbidden book. When he read it, he ingested the poison. He went downstairs into the kitchen for a glass of water to quench his burning tongue, where he died.
Venantius died of poison, but he poisoned himself. Once again, then, Jorge caused a death to occur without acting directly. The murder mystery has proven to be much less clear-cut than William and Adso predicted when they first arrived at the abbey. In a case like this, the relationship between cause and effect is not straightforward.
Berengar found Venantius’s body but didn’t know what to do, fearing there would be an inquiry, since after all, Venantius had only gotten into the finis Africae after he showed the book to Adelmo. He flung the body into the vat of pig’s blood, hoping everyone would be convinced Venantius had drowned, wiping his bloody hands on the cloth that he left behind in his cell the next night. He went to the infirmary to read the book himself, but died shortly afterwards from the same poison. Malachi killed Severinus, and then died after trying to read the book that Jorge seemed so intent on suppressing.
Jorge’s poison is ingenious because it enabled him to kill anyone who tried reading the book without having to murder them himself. Instead, people simply poisoned themselves when they tried to read the forbidden book. Jorge’s tactic of displaced responsibility is also demonstrated in the way that other people became unwitting collaborators. Malachi killed Severinus and Berengar hid Venantius’s body, but neither knew that what they were doing was in line with Jorge’s plan. In this sense, Jorge made other people share responsibility for his murders.
William now has an explanation for all the deaths, and he says he is a “fool” for thinking the murders were following the sequence of the “seven trumpets” in the Book of the Apocalypse. Jorge explains that he told Malachi that the book had the power of “a thousand scorpions”—one of the seven trumpets of the Apocalypse—because he heard that William found the theory persuasive, and he began to feel as well that “a divine plan was directing these deaths, for which I was not responsible.” By conceiving a “false pattern,” William observes wryly, even the guilty man began to believe the theory.
Because Jorge never actually killed anyone with his own hands, he thinks that the murders were following a “divine plan” and that he was not morally culpable, which speaks to the hypocrisy of his views. William points out that Jorge chose to believe this theory. There was no divine plan: the simple fact is that Jorge is a murderer who killed several of his fellow monks. That Jorge was able to convince himself of another reality attests to the depth of his hypocrisy and capacity for self-delusion.
Even though the apocalyptic pattern was a false one, it still helped William find the truth. One day, Alinardo was raving about an “enemy” who had been sent to seek books in Silos and who had returned prematurely “into the realm of darkness,” and William realized that Alinardo was referring to Jorge, who went back to Spain to acquire books for the library and who went blind at a young age. Jorge’s acquisitions included several Books of the Apocalypse along with the Greek book on linen paper (which turned out to contain the copy of Aristotle’s Poetics). By considering Jorge’s connection with the Apocalypse, William thought more about his hatred of laughter, the frequent references to Aristotle during the debates in the scriptorium, and the nature of the mysterious book on linen paper.
William admits that he sought a pattern to explain the murders, and that the pattern he identified turned out to be false. Still, it put him on the right trail, as he began to connect the dots between Alinardo’s comments, Jorge’s visit back to Spain, and the debates on laughter. Thus, even seemingly false or misleading patterns can prompt useful insights. Even if the relationship among signs is not always clear, there is a meaningful order to them. Eventually, after much misdirection, William arrived at the correct interpretation.
Jorge continues to insist that the apocalyptic pattern is true: “the Lord was sounding the seven trumpets. And you, even in your error, heard a confused echo of that sound.” William retorts that Jorge has convinced himself that this whole story proceeded according to a divine plan in order to “conceal from yourself the fact that you are a murderer.” Jorge claims that he hasn’t killed anyone, and that he was only the instrument of God. He hasn’t decided whether or not to kill William yet, he says.
Jorge is so convinced of the righteousness of his cause that he is unable to see that he is a “murderer,” as William tells him. He hypocritically murders people in the name of a faith that prohibits murder. By seeing himself as the instrument of God in a divine plan beyond his control, Jorge is able to avoid the guilt of what he’s done.
Jorge asks how William guessed that the forbidden book contained the second book of the Poetics. William explains that he recognized some of the seemingly nonsensical phrases in Venantius’s notes—“cicadas that will sing from the ground,” for example—as phrases from the first book of the Poetics. Eventually, by tracing Venantius’s reading, he “reconstructed” this lost book “by reading other books.” He is thus able to guess at Aristotle’s argument with great accuracy—that comedy is a “joyous celebration” that tells not of the famous and powerful, but the “simple” and “base.” Laughter is a “force for good” because it has an instructional value—that is, by showing an exaggerated and ridiculous view of the world, comedy suggests some truths that people might not have noticed before.
The idea that one can find a lost or hidden book by “reading other books” is repeated throughout the novel. Jorge tried to suppress this book of Aristotle’s Poetics, but traces of the book remained in other writings of Aristotle, in Venantius’s notes, and in references in other texts. By following those clues, William is able to guess what Aristotle has written about the merits of laughter without even having read the book. In this way, Eco suggests that perhaps a book can never truly be hidden. The lost text can always be found, if one follows the trail in other books.
William admires Jorge’s ingenuity in spreading the poison on the forbidden book while blind, and in coming up with such a subtle and untraceable way of killing people. The victims poisoned themselves only when they were alone, and only if they tried to read the book. Adso is somewhat disturbed by the mutual admiration between Jorge and William, calling it a “seduction,” as if each had acted to impress the other.
Jorge’s device is clever because people died only when they tried to read the book and ended up poisoning themselves. Thus, he saw the deaths as a punishment for seeking to know too much and trying to find out the secrets of the library. This is another demonstration of an oft-repeated idea in the novel (one that William refutes): that it is a sin to desire to know and read too much. The victims of Jorge’s poison paid the ultimate price for this “sin.”
William asks why Jorge chose to suppress this book in particular, when there are “many other books that speak of comedy, many others that praise laughter.” Jorge explains that he believes the Poetics is dangerous because Aristotle is respected by learned men, who have accepted what Jorge sees as the philosopher’s godless preoccupation with science and earthly matters, instead of heavenly things. Although the Book of Genesis says everything that needs to be known about the organization of the cosmos, Aristotle reconceived the universe in terms of “dull and slimy matter,” with his theory of atoms.
Jorge is afraid that people might give credence to what Aristotle has to say about laughter. Jorge hates Aristotle’s materialist philosophy (i.e. science) because it seems to put science in the rightful place of religion. This demonstrates his rigidity and propensity for judgment. Jorge cannot tolerate any threat to his worldview, so Aristotle’s philosophy is threatening to him. He reacts with violence to any theories that could undermine the church’s authority.
William points out that one cannot eliminate laughter by eliminating this single book. Jorge concedes the point, but argues that laughter in its present form—the sort of entertainment that people enjoy now at carnivals or after feasts—is considered “base” amusement for peasants and simple people. In Aristotle’s book, however, laughter is “elevated to art” and would become not just low entertainment but a subject of academic inquiry. The “simple” are already easily seduced by heresies, Jorge points out, but those revolts against “the laws of God and the laws of nature”—like Fra Dolcino’s Pseudo Apostles—come to an end quickly, like a carnival, and are easily suppressed by the church. This book is far more destructive than those momentary upheavals, however, because it could teach that “freeing oneself of the fear of the Devil is wisdom.”
For Jorge, the laughter of the learned is much more threatening than the laughter of the “simple,” because it has the potential to permanently alter the order of society. Everyone knows that revolts like Dolcino’s are short-lived, but if intellectuals embraced comedy as an art form, the consequences could be more long-lasting. This demonstrates that Jorge thinks laughter is dangerous for its subversive social effects. He believes that it is fear that keeps people in their proper place, but laughter encourages people to mock the authority that keeps them in their prescribed social position.
Laughter distracts one from fear, and fear of God is the only true law there is, Jorge asserts. “What would we be without fear?” he asks. The result would be nothing less than anarchy—a world in which “the rhetoric of conviction” is replaced by the “rhetoric of mockery,” in which “every holy and venerable image” was turned upside down. Jorge makes a final appeal, arguing that in such an unthinkable world, even William, with all his learning, would be swept away. William suggests that this would be a better world in which people could exchange ideas more freely. Jorge argues the opposite: if “the art of mockery were to be made acceptable,” someone could say “I laugh at the Incarnation,” and the church would have no weapons to combat blasphemy and atheism.
Jorge sees laughter as a subversive force that would destroy every “holy and venerable image” and transform society beyond recognition. Laughter undercuts the fear of God, and it is fear that maintains the stability of the social and religious order. For William, by contrast, a radically transformed world would be a good thing. Where Jorge sees an anarchic world in which the church would have no power over the people, William sees the potential for a more open and liberated society.
William calls Jorge the Devil, telling him that his zeal for truth has made him monstrous, since, in his view, the Devil is “faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt.” For Jorge, William argues, speaking the truth merely means parroting words written long ago. Jorge retorts that it’s William who is the Devil, because he comes from an order—the Franciscans—with a lax attitude about morality and a too-close relationship with peasants and the poor. Aristotle’s Poetics would teach that the voice of the “simple” is a vehicle of wisdom, when in reality “the simple must be kept from speaking,” Jorge asserts. William counters that God created everything, even lies and monsters, and “He wants everything to be spoken of.” But then why, Jorge asks, did God preserve only a single copy of this book, which he allowed to fall into the hands of someone who didn’t speak Greek, and which now lies abandoned in the secrecy of an ancient monastic library? For Jorge, this is proof that the will of God was at work: God does not want this book to be read.
William is sympathetic to the poor and “simple,” but Jorge believes that the simple should not be allowed to speak because it is not God’s will. Jorge is convinced that his point of view is the correct one, and that God is on his side. He believes that God orchestrated these murders and the suppression of the book, and that God does not want the lost book of Aristotle’s Poetics to come to light. By contrast, William points out that Jorge is hypocritical and arrogant to think that he knows what God intends or didn’t intend. Far from doing God’s work, William alleges that Jorge is the Devil. He is so certain that all truth is already known that he is unable to tolerate any doubts or challenges to his worldview. In his zeal for truth, he has become a monster.
William tells Jorge that it is over: he has found out the secret. But Jorge announces that another death will be of no consequence and begins to eat the poisoned pages of the forbidden book. He quotes the Book of the Apocalypse: “take it and devour it, it will make bitter your belly but to your lips it will be sweet as honey.” For the first time, Jorge laughs. William lunges at Jorge, but trips on his habit. Jorge turns out the lights, saying “now I am the one who sees best.” Jorge escapes the finis Africae in the dark, and William and Adso quickly realize that he is shutting the mirror door closed, and that once he shuts them in they will never escape, because they won’t be able to find the mechanism to open the door in the darkness. They escape the room just in time, but still can’t see in the darkness. Adso remembers that he has a flint, which he uses to light a lamp.
Jorge is uncompromising to the end. Rather than allow William to take the book and share it with others, Jorge would prefer to eat the poisoned pages himself. Jorge quotes the Apocalypse of John and taunts William that he, a blind man, is better able to see in the dark. His laughter demonstrates his hypocrisy by showing that laughter is human.
William and Adso pursue Jorge, hoping to catch him before he devours all of Aristotle’s book. They eventually find him in the Yspania room. In the ensuing struggle, Jorge knocks over a lamp, which falls onto a pile of books on the ground and immediately sets them aflame. The gusts of wind designed to frighten intruders make the flame worse. Adso tries to use his habit to put out the fire, but the flames consume the garment and simply get more ferocious. Jorge casts the Aristotle into the flames, burning up what remains of the only copy of the lost second book of the Poetics. William pushes Jorge into a bookcase, knocking him unconscious, then turns his attention to putting out the fire by throwing some books on the flames. But it does little good. The fire begins burning in several places, catching on to the rolls of parchment Malachi had left in the room.
In his desperate struggle to prevent Aristotle’s book from coming to light, Jorge accidentally starts a fire that destroys other books in the Yspania room. William is reduced to ineffectually throwing books on the fire, burning books to try to save other books. This demonstrates the truth of his prediction that the secrecy of the library will lead to its undoing and to the burial and destruction of books. The library catches fire so easily because of the devices the builders had used to try to prevent people from entering (such as the frightening gusts of wind designed to ward off intruders). Thus, secrecy is the downfall of the library.
William and Adso decide the room is lost and go down to the kitchen to raise the alarm and ask for water. Adso runs to the bell tower and rings the alarm until his hands bleed. The other monks begin to come outside, and Adso points wordlessly to the Aedificium, where the fire has spread to several other rooms. At first, the monks don’t understand what is happening. They were so used to “considering the library a sacred and inaccessible place” that it doesn’t occur to them that it could be subjected to the same dangers—a fire—that could afflict a “peasant hut.”
The monks are slow to realize what is happening, even when Adso raises the alarm. They are used to the idea of the library as a secret and impenetrable place, and so they can’t understand how it could be on fire. The library has cultivated an air of mystery, but it is just a building like any other—even a “peasant hut.” Again, the library’s secrecy sabotages it in its hour of need.
Nicholas begins directing the monks and servants to look for water and vessels of any kind. Confused, they don’t immediately obey him. Instead, they look to the abbot for orders, but he is dying or is already dead in the Aedificium. William emerges from the kitchen carrying a small pot of water, looking “pathetic.” “It is impossible,” William says. “The library is lost.” He begins to cry. The monks are able to carry larger amounts of water, but they don’t how to go up into the scriptorium. By the time they are given directions, it is no longer possible to enter the library. Benno cries out in despair and plunges into the smoke. Adso never sees Benno again, so assumes that he probably burned to death in the library.
Without the authority of the abbot, the abbey falls into chaos and is unable to organize an effective fire relief effort. Thus, over-emphasizing authority prevents people from being able to think for themselves. The library has kept its secrets too well, as the monks don’t even know how to enter the scriptorium to try to put out the fire. The library’s secrecy thus destroys not only itself, but other lives as well.
Since the library has so few entrances, the monks are unable to bring in enough water to contain it and the fire spreads rapidly. The fire then spreads to the church, barns, and stables, until soon there is no more water to try to put out the fire. Alinardo is trampled by Brunellus, one of the horses that have caught fire. The terrified horses spread the fire to the remaining buildings of the compound. The monks flee in confusion, Adso finds William near the cloister, where he has saved both of their traveling knapsacks
The library has tried for centuries to keep people out, but now it needs as many people as possible to come in and put out the fire. However, there are too few entrances to the library for effective fire-fighting. The fire spreads and burns down the rest of the abbey. The library’s secrecy destroys not only all its books but the entire abbey. This demonstrates that the library’s attempt to suppress the knowledge contained in its collections could only have led to destruction and violence.
Having given up any chance of saving the abbey, Adso and William watch the abbey burn. A despondent William tells Adso that “it was the greatest library in Christendom.” They have seen the face of the Antichrist tonight, he says, in Jorge’s uncompromising zeal for truth. He warns Adso to “fear prophets…and those prepared to die for the truth.” Jorge destroyed everything he held dear because he was too inflexible to consider alternative ways of viewing the world, and in this sense, “the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.” Adso tries to comfort William, saying that he found the truth in the end and exposed Jorge’s plot. But there was no plot, William says, and goes on to explain that his investigation failed because he was looking for a pattern that didn’t exist. All the murders were committed by a different person, or by no one at all. He pursued “a semblance of order,” when he should have known that there is no order in the universe.
William’s mistake was that he tried to connect the signs he saw into a grand design that would explain all the murders. However, such a pattern didn’t exist. There was no apocalyptic design. Many of the deaths had different causes, and even different perpetrators. William’s statement that “there is no order in the universe” suggests that the world is not necessarily like a book of signs that can be interpreted by the adept reader, as William suggested at the beginning of the novel. There are signs in the world, yes, but interpretation does not always produce clear and coherent results. Sometimes things happen for seemingly no reason, with no comprehensible explanation.
Adso tries again to help, saying that even by looking for a false order, William did find some truth. William compares the search for truth to a ladder that must be thrown away when we realize it is useless. Adso asks: what is the difference between chaos and the will of God? If God allows these terrible, senseless things to happen, doesn’t that prove God does not exist? William says that a learned man could not go on communicating, if God did not exist. Adso asks why: is it because the very notion of truth would not exist anymore, or because no one would accept what the man was saying, if he denied the existence of God? William declines to answer, saying that “there is too much confusion here.”
William is no longer convinced that the interpretation of signs offers a useful or valid way of understanding the world. Adso points out that to say there is no order to the signs of the universe is tantamount to denying the existence of God. William responds that such a premise is unthinkable. If there is no God, then there is no such thing as truth. This conversation suggests that the interpretation of signs has not yielded the results that William and Adso were hoping for, such that the whole endeavor of interpretation now appears hopeless.