Jorge of Burgos orchestrated the deaths of five of his fellow monks in order to protect the secrecy of a single book—a book that comes to symbolize the dangers of forbidden knowledge. This book is shrouded in many layers of secrecy and obscurity: it is concealed in a hidden room in the library, the finis Africae; it is a composite volume of several works including a text in Arabic, making it a challenge to interpret; it is written on linen paper, a new and still somewhat unfamiliar technology in medieval Italy; and most disturbingly of all, its pages have been contaminated with poison. In all, it is a book that seems to not want to be read. Rather than inviting the reader in by advertising its contents, the manuscript has mysterious features that work to conceal its true nature, such that when William of Baskerville sees the book in the infirmary, he doesn’t realize what he is looking at until it is too late. Even if someone manages to unravel the mystery, Jorge’s poison ensures that no one who attempts to read the book will survive to tell the tale: Berengar of Arundel and Venantius of Salvemec both died after ingesting the poison with their hands and tongues, underscoring the book’s function as a symbol of the risks of pursuing forbidden knowledge. Jorge believes that the manuscript—which contains the only surviving copy of the lost second book of Aristotle’s Poetics, on comedy—is a dangerous book that poses an existential threat to the authority of the church and the endurance of God’s intended social order. He also believes, as he tells Willam and preaches in his apocalyptic sermon, that it is a sin to desire to know too much. After Jorge has poisoned it, the book becomes physically as well as intellectually threatening. This is a graphic demonstration of Jorge’s conviction that knowledge is dangerous, as attempting to read the forbidden book has quite literally fatal consequences.
The Forbidden Book Quotes in The Name of the Rose
[O]nly the librarian knows, from the collocation of the volume, from its degree of inaccessibility, what secrets, what truths or falsehoods, the volume contains. Only he decides how, when, and whether to give it to the monk who requests it; sometimes he first consults me. Because not all truths are for all ears, not all falsehoods can be recognized as such by a pious soul.
This place of forbidden knowledge is guarded by many and most cunning devices. Knowledge is used to conceal, rather than to enlighten. I don’t like it. A perverse mind presides over the holy defense of the library.
There, I said to myself, are the reasons for the silence and the darkness that surround the library: it is the preserve of learning but can maintain this learning unsullied only if it prevents its reaching anyone at all, even the monks themselves. Learning is not like a coin, which remains physically whole even through the most infamous transactions; it is, rather like a very handsome dress, which is worn out through use and ostentation. Is not a book like that, in fact? Its pages crumble, its ink and gold turn dull, if too many hands touch it.
“But then,” I said, “what is the use of hiding books, if from the books not hidden you can arrive at the concealed ones?”
“Over the centuries it is no use at all. In a space of years or days it has some use. You see, in fact, how bewildered we are.”
“And is a library then, an instrument not for distributing the truth
but for delaying its appearance?" I asked, dumbfounded.
The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb. This library was perhaps born to save the books it houses, but now it lives to bury them.
“He wants me to leave tomorrow morning, does he? Very well, it’s his house; but by tomorrow morning I must know. I must.”
“You must? Who obliges you now?”
“No one ever obliges us to know, Adso. We must, that is all, even if we comprehend imperfectly.”