The Name of the Rose


Umberto Eco

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William’s Glasses Symbol Icon

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 The Name of the Rose quotes below all refer to the symbol of William’s Glasses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
"Naturally, A Manuscript" and Prologue Quotes

[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.

Related Characters: William of Baskerville (speaker)
Related Symbols: William’s Glasses
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
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William’s Glasses Symbol Timeline in The Name of the Rose

The timeline below shows where the symbol William’s Glasses appears in The Name of the Rose. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
"Naturally, A Manuscript" and Prologue
Knowledge and Secrecy Theme Icon
...unusual physical appearance: he is about fifty years old, very tall and thin, and wears glasses for reading. After some time traveling with William, Adso has gotten to know the quirks... (full context)
First Day
Knowledge and Secrecy Theme Icon
Judgement and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...and talk with Nicholas of Morimondo, the master glazier. Nicholas is very impressed with William’s glasses, and William praises the capacity of science to improve human life. Although he admits that... (full context)
Second Day
Knowledge and Secrecy Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Last Page
The Interpretation of Signs Theme Icon
Knowledge and Secrecy Theme Icon
William gives Adso the glasses that Nicholas had made him, telling him that they might come in handy someday. Indeed,... (full context)