The next morning, Berengar is not in his cell. It appears he is gone, leaving only a bloodstained cloth behind. Adso reflects on the “intellectual pride” that led to the recent tragic events: monks are no longer “content with the holy work of copying,” but instead want to produce new books themselves. He wonders whether the church will lose its place as the seat of learning in Europe, when universities now produce new and better books. In fact, he suspects that this is why the library is so secretive: it is trying to maintain its historic privileges by ensuring that learning remains the preserve of only a select few. He asks himself whether the answer is to “stop reading, and only preserve,” or open the library and subject people to the “risk of knowledge.”
Adso realizes that the abbey’s determination to keep its books secret is an attempt to maintain the church’s dominance in medieval European intellectual life. The church uses its power as a moral authority to protect its political power and wealth. It also uses violent and aggressive tactics—persecution, torture, and execution, for instance—in order to maintain its privileges. This demonstrates the hypocrisy of the church, which claims the moral high ground even when its motives are less than pure.
Adso goes to the kitchen to eat and encounters Salvatore, who recounts his days as a follower of various popular religious movements. He explains how he fled the poverty and starvation of his native village and wandered through Europe as a beggar and vagabond. He joined various heretical groups, “doing for the Lord what he had done till then for his belly.” He joined a group in Tuscany that persecuted Jews, saying by way of explanation that “when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies.” Eventually, he met Remigio and took refuge at the abbey. Adso asks him whether he ever knew Fra Dolcino, but Salvatore refuses to answer.
Salvatore’s backstory demonstrates why people from poor villages are drawn to the “heretical” movements of people like Fra Dolcino. He joined heretical groups because he was already a homeless beggar, and so had little to lose. He felt powerless, so he preyed on what he saw as a “weaker” enemy, the Jews. People like Salvatore are more likely to join popular religious movements because they are excluded from mainstream society.
Adso finds William at the forge, where Nicholas is making him another pair of glasses. Adso confesses that he no longer understands the “accidental differences” between heretical groups, and between what is heretical and what is orthodox. William explains that he thinks these movements are a symptom of larger social ills, because the majority of those who follow the reformers are the simple: “first comes the condition of being simple, then the heresy.” People like Salvatore—who are poor, outcast, and uneducated, like “lepers”—are easy prey for these movements because they are powerless and feel they have nothing to lose.
When William says that the condition of being “simple” comes before heresy, he means that the majority of those who follow the “heretics” are normal people of “common folk” who are downtrodden in some way. Thus, they fall into “heresy” because of larger social ills. People like Salvatore are more likely to join these movements because they are powerless and feel they have nothing to lose. Those who are excluded from mainstream society are more likely to rebel.
William argues that it doesn’t matter what the reformers preach; all that matters is that they offer hope and the possibility of changing the order of society. He suggests that perhaps it is not the church that will change the world, but rather science that will transform society and allow “an assembly of the people” to govern themselves.
Many “heretics” are not interested in the subtleties of theological doctrine. Rather, they are attracted to the reformers because they offer the possibility of changing society. This demonstrates the interrelation of religion and politics. People frequently join religious movements for politically-motivated causes.
After this conversation, William manages to decipher Venantius’s code, which reads “The hand over the idol works on the first and the seventh of the four.” He still, however, has no idea what it means. The abbot brings grim news: the Pope’s envoys are accompanied by a notorious Inquisitor, Bernard Gui, who hates heretics and is very quick to tamp down any unorthodox behavior. If William doesn’t solve the murders by tomorrow, Abo will have to turn the abbey over to Bernard’s control.
Venantius’s notes are clearly a sign related to the forbidden book, but William has no idea how to interpret them, since he has no idea what the “hand” or the “idol” is. This problem suggests that language does not always have clear referents or offer obvious interpretations. Like the physical evidence that William interprets, language too requires careful analysis to tease out its deeper meanings.
William comes up with a new idea: by constructing a compass, they could orient themselves in the labyrinth and know which direction they’re going. He soon dismisses this idea as too impractical in the short time that remains, but in his brief enthusiasm for the compass, he reminds himself that the builders of the library “thought in a mathematical fashion.” By observing the towers of the Aedificium from the outside, William begins to draw up a rough map of the labyrinth. There are fifty-six rooms, four of them heptagonal and the rest square. They can now move through the library without getting lost by always turning right, until they’ve arrived from the north to the west tower.
William finds a way out of the labyrinth of signs by simply thinking logically and “mathematically.” By deciphering the library’s physical layout, William gets closer to penetrating its mysteries. This demonstrates that seemingly inexplicable signs sometimes make sense in a broader context, as it’s only when he sees the bigger picture that William is able to begin to understand the mysteries contained within the library.
However, yet another problem remains: William and Adso still don’t understand the rules governing the distribution of the books among the rooms, or the meaning of the words written on the scrolls above each archway. But then William has a revelation. There are twenty-six phrases total, one for each letter of the alphabet. It’s not the text of the verse that matters, but the initial letters, which together form secret words. Some of the scrolls are in red, and those must be the first letters of the words. The next time they visit the library, Adso can mark down the beginning letter of each word. After this, they break for a meal, and Adso goes and talks to Salvatore, who claims that he can make the third horse (“tertius equi”) run faster by casting a spell on it. He then offers to make Adso and William cheese in batter.
After breaking the code, William and Adso are now armed to make sense of what seemed like a random and confusing pattern. Eco shows here that even unintelligible signs can sometimes have meaning when interpreted in the right context. When read as a code, the apocalyptic phrases suddenly make sense. Meanwhile, Salvatore refers to a horse as “tertius equi,” a detail that will become important later. Like the scrolls, “tertius equi” is a seemingly nonsensical phrase that will turn out to have a deeper significance.
Adso finds Ubertino praying, and asks him to tell him the story of the Franciscan heretic Fra Dolcino. Ubertino tells him that the story begins with a popular religious leader named Gherardo Segarelli, who wandered the streets shouting “penitenziagite!” (a vernacular translation of the Latin for “do penance”). Adso has heard Salvatore say this exact phrase. Gherardo came into conflict with the church for his preaching, which encouraged people to reject money and abolish private poverty by stealing from their neighbors. He and his “Pseudo Apostles” were accused of being beggars and vagabonds. After Gherardo was burned for heresy, Fra Dolcino continued preaching the same principles of absolute poverty, free love, and renunciation of property. Although Adso points out that Dolcino was preaching “the same things that the Franciscans had preached” on Christ’s poverty, Ubertino vigorously denies any connection. Eventually, Ubertino says, Dolcino was burned at the stake along with his lover, the beautiful Margaret of Trent.
Ubertino disapproves of the “heretical” movements of Gherardo Segarelli and Fra Dolcino, although he shares some of their views on the poverty of Christ. This is because the popular movements were much more socially radical than the doctrine of the church. Ubertino believes that churchmen should live in poverty, but Dolcino preached something even more radical: the abolition of all private property. This was much more potentially disruptive to the social order and the power of the church. So although Ubertino and Dolcino would seem to share many of the same principles, Ubertino strenuously denies any connection. However, Adso’s difficulty in distinguishing between “heresies” suggests how closely aligned they truly are.
Ubertino warns Adso to beware the snares of women like Margaret. He brings his attention to the beauty of a statue of the Virgin Mary, in order to “distinguish the fire of supernatural love from the raving of the senses,” but this makes Adso confused and restless. After his conversation with Ubertino, he feels rebellious and decides to visit the labyrinth alone, without William’s help.
Adso is confused by Ubertino’s attempt to distinguish between sensual and “supernatural” love. Problems associated with interpretation have only multiplied since Adso and William arrived at the abbey.
In the scriptorium, Adso reads a history of heretical movements and learns about the torture and execution of Fra Dolcino and Margaret. He remembers the time that he saw a heretic named Brother Michael burned for professing that Christ had been poor, and that the Pope was a heretic for denying it. At the time, he asked another person in the crowd why Brother Michael could not be allowed to live in poverty, and the man told him that “a monk who practices poverty sets a bad example.”
In contrast to Brother Michael’s poverty, the wealthy lifestyles of the churchmen would look hypocritical and un-Christian. The church must violently persecute those who preach the poverty of Christ because their example implies that the church establishment should also give up their treasured wealth and power.
Adso’s remembrance of Brother Michael becomes confused with the images of Dolcino and Margaret. Upstairs in the labyrinth, he enters the rooms with vision-inducing herbs. He reads the Book of Revelation and sees the images of the Virgin Mary and the Whore of Babylon, feeling that he can no longer understand what distinguishes them, or what makes them different from Margaret.
The interpretative work of distinguishing between good and evil is often surprisingly difficult for Adso. It is significant that the Virgin Mary and the Whore of Babylon look strikingly similar, because this demonstrates that signs can look the same but mean very different things.
Adso flees to the kitchen, where he realizes that someone else is already inside, a girl from the village. An older Adso intervenes in the narration, saying that perhaps he should just say that something evil took place and not elaborate any further, but he feels obligated to tell the truth, as a caution to others. The girl is about Adso’s age and speaks only the local dialect, so cannot communicate with him. He can tell, however, that she says he is handsome. Adso thinks of the words of the Song of Songs, forgetting that those words were meant to express “quite different, more radiant realities” and instead applies them to her beauty. They have a sexual encounter, but when Adso wakes up the next morning, she is gone, leaving only an ox heart behind.
Adso’s sense of the difference between the spiritual and the physical is lost in his sexual encounter with the girl from the village. He loses the ability to accurately interpret signs because of his physical attraction to the girl. Adso has never had sex before, and he is breaking his vow of celibacy as a monk. She leaves behind an ox heart, which perhaps symbolizes Adso’s own sense of heartache in the aftermath of his transgression.
Adso faints at the sight, and wakes up when William finds him on the floor of the kitchen. He tearfully confesses his sin to William, who absolves him. Although Adso sinned by breaking his vow of celibacy and must not do it again, William comforts him by saying that “it is not so monstrous that you were tempted to do it.” After all, William remarks, God shows favor to Eve and her daughters, so it is normal that Adso feels attraction to women. Furthermore, William says, there is a benefit to this experience of sin: he hopes that Adso will one day be able to be forgiving of those who come to him to confess their sins. William has a hypothesis that explains the girl’s presence. He suspects that Remigio trades food from the kitchens in exchange for sex with the peasant girls. On their way to the baths, Adso and William meet Alinardo, who again predicts the Apocalypse. In one of the tubs, they find Berengar’s dead body.
Adso is racked with guilt, but William comforts and forgives him. He hopes that Adso will take this as a learning experience and be more compassionate with other sinners in the future. Rather than punishing Adso for his “sin,” William asks him to be more understanding with others, demonstrating his preference for compassion rather than judgment. This is a stark contrast with Jorge’s harsh and unforgiving attitude when Adelmo came to him and confessed his sexual affair with Berengar.