Adso of Melk describes William of Baskerville as very tall and thin, but perhaps the most striking feature of his physical appearance is that he wears glasses to help his eyesight. Reading glasses were a cutting-edge technology in early fourteenth-century Italy, and Nicholas of Morimondo, the master glazier, is astonished at the craftsmanship that went into William’s glasses: “What a wonder!” he exclaims. William’s glasses symbolize knowledge in the form of scientific progress and innovation. Although William admits that the innovations of his own age are built on the far greater innovations of earlier ages, he suggests that, when it comes to science, “we sometimes manage to see farther on the horizon” than earlier generations. Indeed, he envisions a world radically transformed by technology, in which people will one day have access to miraculously curative medicines and even “flying machines.” At the same time, however, the negative and prejudiced responses to William’s glasses also suggest that scientific progress is often met with resistance. Even Nicholas, who is impressed and longs to make a pair of lenses of his own, points out that “many would speak of witchcraft and diabolic machination.” William confesses that he avoided using his glasses when he worked for the Inquisition, since he knew that he might be accused of being in league with the devil. And when William and Adso break into the scriptorium to try to decipher the notes left behind by Venantius of Salvemec, the glasses are stolen by Berengar of Arundel, who wants to prevent William from discovering the truth. Nevertheless, the glasses survive the destruction of the abbey. Having recovered his “precious lenses,” William gives them to Adso, who continues to wear them for many years, even using them to write his book. After decades, then, the glasses continue to symbolize knowledge, learning, and progress.
William’s Glasses Quotes in The Name of the Rose
[The] divine plan will one day encompass the science of machines, which is natural and healthy magic. […] Unheard-of machines are possible.
But you must not worry if they do not exist, because that does not mean they will not exist later.