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They say that those who live by the gun usually are destined to die by the same implement. However, it has never been said that those who live by the book die by the book. It is almost an accepted fact that books are always good because they contain knowledge. That was not the case in the Umberto Eco’s story. The men who vowed to protect the books: men who dedicated their lives to enhance knowledge; died by their own work. Just like the rose, the monks, their abbey and books were symbols of intellectual virility, brilliance and delicateness.
One can say that the Church considered the monks roses in the sense that these people represented the epitome of Christian knowledge and dedication. These people were at the tip of the religious war against evil, and the church saw them as a valued vanguard. The educated and committed monks projected the Church’s power and showed its beauty (Hadley, 2015). A visit to a monastery was supposed to usher one into the inner sanctums of Christian knowledge. The Church saw monasteries as the roses in its garden: roses deserving of tending.
The Roman Catholic Church, led by the Pope, was the gardener in this case. It was the entity which worked extremely hard to keep the monasteries going. Since the monks could not turn the monasteries into profit-making entities, they had to rely on Church largesse. They could get food, but they needed protection, books, supplies, and political support. Each Pope would come in and cultivate the roses that pleased him (Cantor, 2015). He would look for the ones who promised to bloom just for him and then support them. As the gardeners, the Church and Pope decided which monasteries would bloom and which would die.
A smart gardener interrogates his or her rose garden every day. He or she identifies the healthy flowers and tends them. Any infected plants get a different treatment: the gardener plucks them out and burns them. The monasteries were desirable roses as long as they bloomed for the Church and its head (Lynch, 2014). Once they began going against the Church, they were no longer useful. They were no longer beautiful jewels to be shown off. The Church would destroy them. The abbey in Eco’s story was accused of heresy and thus became a rose that needed to be uprooted.
One could assert that the monks considered the books to be their roses. These books needed to be nurtured and taken care of so that they could bloom. It is almost as if the books were the roses and the monks were afraid of letting them dry. One can see this care and attention in the way Eco describes the rituals and protections which surround the books in the monastery. For example, none of the books were supposed to be exposed to the sun. The monks understood that exposing the books would lead to their deterioration. To the monks, the books were as delicate as roses, and they needed to be protected from harm.
One can also draw an analogy of how roses are fragile: almost as delicate as the books themselves. One can destroy roses using too much water. The same happens when one exposes books to too much moisture. The author was right to use the rose as an analogy for the books: at least on the surface. He showed that he understood why it was necessary to use the world rose and not any other. The delicate nature of the flower flows neatly into Eco’s perception of how sensitive the books were. The monks looked at the fragility of the books and compared them to roses.
Finally, the books are akin to roses because they need to be nurtured and pampered to rise to their full glory. Wild roses are lovely and all, but they cannot be as aesthetically pleasing as those tended to carefully in a garden. The monks apparently subscribed to the belief that tender love and care brought out the best in everything. That is why they spend their lives reading, editing, cleaning, and generally taking care of the books. The monks were the gardeners for whom the books were the roses that needed tending.
What is the value of a rose? To an insect, the rose is just a source of food. The bees come in, take their nectar and are on their way. To the other, the rose is just like any flower which tries to perpetuate its life on the planet. Humans appear to be the only creatures who hold the rose in exalted regard. Humans look at a rose and see beauty; they see the vitality and the abundance of flowing poetry. The rose is just a flower until humans assign it a deeper meaning.
One can also use the same approach to books. What are books but pieces of bound paper? They are but scrawling to the people who do not understand their value. A book can be used as a paperweight, bug crusher, or even fuel for fires. One can also put the book to its proper use and read it. A text only has value to the person who understands what is written inside. It just has the value assigned to it by the people who write and read it (Lawrence, 2015). A book serves no meaningful purpose until it is in the hands of one who values it.
The monks in the abbey had assigned a value to the books just as one assigns a value to a rose. These books would not have had the same value to the villagers below. In fact, abbeys and monasteries around the world are responsible for the safety of millions of books. Monks have hidden, translated, edited, and curated books for centuries. They do this because they value the objects. Eco explains that the library had the most restricted access in the whole complex. It is a testament to the fact that the monks considered the books to be their most treasured possessions.
The novel also brings to light the fact that the monks had different attitudes towards the books and their own preferences informed them. They approached the books in the same way some people see roses as commercial items while others marvel at their beauty. Some of the monks were like the rose sellers and storers. They see the product as a commodity which should be preserved in as pure a state as possible. These are the people who would not deign to pick up a rose or turn the pages of a book for fear of damaging them.
Some of the monks truly delved into their work, and one can see that they loved the books as sources of knowledge: not just commodities to be preserved. These are the monks who would hide and go read the books. They are the monks, like Berangar and his colleagues, who see the value in reading the books. These monks are even willing to risk the ire of their peers by delving into forbidden books. They do not understand their role as being restricted to protection: they firmly believe that they should imbibe in the knowledge within the tomes.
As with every situation, the two approaches might lead to tension. The person who wants to preserve the rose does not want it to be touched. He or she will not be bothered by how beautiful the rose is: the flower’s utility is in its perfection and use. The same happens in the monastery. Jorge is the florist who does not look inside the flower. He despises its beauty and the effect it seems to have on other people. To Jorge, the books are just a means to an end: the knowledge inside is of no value to him.
When the rose is growing, it is full of promise and vigor. It is on the cusp of greatness, and all it wants to do is glow and manifest itself. It is in a hurry to show off its beauty. It is the same with human relationships. When the Abbot appointed William, it was with hope. He was sure that the man would serve his purpose and expose the murderer in the monks’ midst. The relationship was as hopeful as a rose’s initial bursts, and the bud was popping with possibility.
However, roses do not just mature into full flowers without some adversity. The flowers have to overcome extreme heat, insects, and malady. It has to stand up to adverse weather and predators. The same can be said of human relationships. Williams was sure that all he had to do was follow a few clues and make his case. He was also convinced that he would have the Abbot’s support since the man himself had requested William’s services. However, their relationship had to overcome adversity. It had to endure to the end if Williams was to achieve his objective.
If the rose makes it past its adversity, it will find itself glowing in its full bloom. It will attract the attention of admirers and make the audience swoon under its influence. In a way, the adversity helped the rose become what it is now. Williams relationship with the Abbott was a rose in every sense of the word. It resulted in a well-put-together conclusion. He is able to reward Abbott’s confidence quite well. The Abbot cannot help but see the case as a blooming flower deserving of attention and admiration. He had watched Williams overcome his adversity and make it out the other end.
The life was used to depict the richness and beauty of life both inside and outside the Church. One can see the flower in both Christian and pagan literature and art as a symbol of fertility and beauty all rolled into one (Parish, 2016). The monastery as a whole, and the monks, in particular, knew that their lives were like roses. They were fertile with knowledge, and it was their work to project it to the world. The problem with roses is that they do not bloom forever: they eventually wilt and die.
However, roses are fragile just like human lives. They go through their period of blossom and then faded away into nothingness. The monks had been roses who died. They had been poisoned by one of their own: a toxin that insidiously eats from the inside out. Their lives had been roses which offered a perfume of knowledge to the world. They wilted one by one like roses exposed to lime. They had dedicated their lives to knowledge, but it is the knowledge which eventually defeated them. They had sought to increase their effectiveness by reading about laughter, but they ended up wilting under the toxic influence of their peer.
The rose was and still is a symbol of fertility. It is an image of beauty and blooming radiance. However, it is also vulnerable and fragile. It can wilt and die at the tip of a hat. Roses also need to be tended and brought to maturity. The monks in the Abbey were roses who radiated knowledge across the land. Their books were roses to them and they, the gardeners who made them bloom. The monks were fertile with knowledge, and they developed it for the world. That said, the monks and monastery were at the mercy of the Church. Their lives were as fragile as roses, and they eventually wilted.
Cantor, N. F. (2015). Civilization of the Middle Ages: Completely Revised and Expanded Edition, A. HarperCollins.
Hadley, D. (2015). Masculinity in medieval Europe. Routledge.
Lawrence, C. H. (2015). Medieval monasticism: forms of religious life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Routledge.
Lynch, J. (2014). The medieval church: a brief history. Routledge.
Parish, H. L. (2016). Monks, miracles and magic: Reformation representations of the medieval church. Routledge.
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