Far from a Dilettante, He Was a Master of All He Did–Farewell, Umberto Eco
On special request from reader Sara Priebe, my tribute to Umberto Eco…
In a 2011 Washington Post review of The Prague Cemetery, Michael Dirda described him as half savant, half bon vivant. And he was every bit the scholar and proliferate author of nearly two dozen nonfiction books and another six highly popular novels. First on the best-selling scene was his The Name of the Rose, published in 30 languages and stealing the hearts of more than 10 million readers around the world.
According to the New York Times, he was a a semiotician who “sought to interpret cultures through their signs and symbols – words, religious icons, banners, clothing, musical scores, even cartoons – and published more than 20 nonfiction books on these subjects while teaching at the University of Bologna, Europe’s oldest university.” (Of course historically, the University of Bologna just happens to have been the first European university during the Middle Ages that offered a department chair for astrology.)
Eco was also a book lover who had amassed more than 50000 books that included his penchant for the occult and other subjects many people wouldn’t have had any desire to read. In fact, he had noted during a 2013 interview with New York Times’ Stephen Heymannov that he had Ptolemy’s works “because he was wrong,” but he didn’t have anything by Galileo.
In his teen years, he wrote fantasy novels and even comic books, a far cry from when he won Spain’s Prince of Asturias Prize for communications in 2000. By the same year, he’d been awarded 23 honorary degrees from that many institutions! The Washington Post quoted from his comments to The Paris Review in 1988, “I was a perfectionist and wanted to make them [his written works during his teens] look as though they had been printed, so I wrote them in capital letters and made up title pages, summaries, illustrations. It was so tiring that I never finished any of them. I was at that time a great writer of unaccomplished masterpieces.”
From that interview, I was particularly interested in this Q&A:
“Q. Your new book begins with a falsehood that has endured to the present: That people in the Middle Ages thought the earth was flat.
“A. Yes, and even cultivated people still repeat it to this day. The official culture in the Middle Ages was absolutely convinced that the earth was spherical and they accepted the Greek idea of the measure of the equator. It’s just intellectual and cultural laziness. We are also continuously told that during the Middle Ages they burned witches, when the real burning of witches started in the Renaissance.”
I haven’t read much of his work although I do have an interest in doing so (speaking of loads of books although I’m nowhere near the 50000-mark he was!) and have a couple of his books on my computer with the obvious intention of doing so. His The Name of the Rose, in fact, was set in a 14th century Italian monastery so it would seem to point to his love of this period. Whether or not that’s consistently true, I don’t know. I haven’t read all six of his novels.
He had a good sense of humor, judging from his having been selected as one of the living philosophers: “For mysterious reasons — probably because there is nobody else is around — they chose me for the next one. These are books of 1,500 pages. I am supposed to write 100 pages of philosophical autobiography. And there are 25 people, working at this moment, each writing a paper on my philosophical activity. And I am supposed to read all of them and to respond to each of them with at least three or four pages each. I think I have two years to work on it, and I am hoping to die before I have to do it.” I wonder whether he finished it before he had said his goodbyes on Friday. Whether or not he enjoyed the limelight, that Leo rising certainly would have had little issue with taking center stage if needed. I loved the Washington Post’s description of him: “Author of a wide range of books, Eco was fascinated with the obscure and the mundane, and his books were both engaging narratives and philosophical and intellectual exercises. The bearded, heavy-set scholar, critic and novelist took on the esoteric theory of semiotics, the study of signs and symbols in language; on popular culture icons like James Bond; and on the technical languages of the Internet.” It would indeed seem that Michael Dirda’s having painted him as half savant, half bon vivant was quite accurate. I would have expected him to have been more independent with that Leo rising, and yet he had a Western, 2nd quadrant below-the-horizon dominance, pointing to his being highly introspective and always focused on what more he could do with his work. Take note of his Sun in 1°18 of a tight square to his Uranus which was making a 1°02′ conjunction to the Midheaven (MC)! His Sun is the first in a 6th house stellium and therefore all of the stellium is forming a square to Uranus.
But that’s not all: His Sun and the rest of the stellium also opposes Pluto, therefore forming a Cardinal T-square. On February 19, the day he died, Pluto was at 16 Capricorn 37, establishing a 6-minute partile square to his Midheaven while Uranus, having recently made its return to natal Uranus, was still conjunct his MC at 17 Aries 47, forming a 1°16′ conjunction to the MC as well. Transiting Saturn at 15 Sagittarius 22 was also in a 2-minute partile approaching conjunction to his natal Moon. I’m not going to point to all of the antiscia that come alive with this chart as well, but take note of those involving the Sagittarius/Capricorn axis. It’s truly incredible–and then look at the antiscia for Aries and Cancer as just a little icing on the cake.
How I wish I had the time and place of his death! As it happens, when the news reports came out, no one seemed to know (or wanted to tell) in which of his two homes–Milan and Rimini–he had been at the time he died. Nevertheless, the aspects for this past Friday were absolutely uncanny! John Davenport expressed it well to me in a brief discussion earlier today when he said on my sharing these few points with him: “Sounds typical of the world going mad and he needed to get out.”
Indeed it does, John! What incredibly timed transits for his departure. Umberto Eco, wherever you are tonight, may your journey have been a sweet and enjoyable one–and may you find all of the books you had still planned to read while you’re there. Rest in peace, you brilliant man!