The Foucault pendulum

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The novel The Foucault Pendulum by Umberto Eco was published in 1988 in the Italian original as Il pendolo di Foucault [il ˈpɛndolo di fuˈko] . The German translation by Burkhart Kroeber was published in 1989. In a postmodern manner, he combines motifs from adventure , historical and crime novels with such numerous scholarly references to history , conspiracy theories , esotericism , philosophy and physics that the writer Anthony Burgess suggested that the book should be used as a Encyclopedia with an index.

The title refers to the well-known pendulum experiment with which the French physicist Léon Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the earth to laypeople in 1851 .

The novel is divided into ten parts, which are designated with the ten Sephiroth of Jewish mysticism . The story is about a fictional “grand plan”, which three friends create as a kind of satirical intellectual game, following on from one of them found through their daily work as a book publisher . The plan spans hundreds of years and combines elements from various conspiracy theories. However, this mega-conspiracy theory is believed by the supporters of the conspiracy theories that have been handed down until then, which has disastrous consequences for the protagonists .


The book begins with the first-person narrator Casaubon (an allusion to the humanist Isaac Casaubon and a first example of the intertextuality so valued by Eco ) hiding in the Parisian Musée des arts et métiers , a museum for handicrafts, in the evening after it closes Technology. He believes that the Knights Templar , who continued to exist in secret for nearly 700 years after their dissolution, kidnapped his friend Jacopo Belbo because of an existential secret.

The actual story is then told in changing flashbacks .

In the seventies Casaubon wrote a dissertation on the history of the Knights Templar as a history student in Milan . He expresses himself about the alleged continued existence of the order with the words:

The Templars were a monastic order of knights that existed as long as it was recognized by the Church. If the Church had dissolved the order, and it had done so seven hundred years ago, then the Templars could no longer exist, and if they still existed then they were not Templars.

Casaubon meets Jacopo Belbo in a bar, who works as an editor at the Garamond publishing house (an allusion to the French type caster and publisher Claude Garamond ; † 1561) and asks him to examine the manuscript of a book about the Templars. At the same publishing house, Casaubon meets Belbo's colleague Diotallevi, a Kabbalist .

In Casaubon's judgment, the manuscript turns out to be blatant nonsense. But he remains in contact with Belbo, Diotallevi and the Garamond publishing house. One day Casaubon happened to be back at Belbo's while a certain Colonel Ardenti was presenting his book project. He argues that an obscure, coded document contained a secret plan by the Knights Templar, with which they firstly wanted to achieve world domination and secondly to avenge all the injustice they would have suffered when the order was dissolved at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Ardenti claims the Templars were the custodians of a secret energy source that may be identical to the legendary Holy Grail . According to this plan, some Knights Templar escaped persecution by the French monarchy and the Catholic Church and established secret cells all over the world. These small groups would have gathered at regular intervals - every 120 years - in different places and passed on information about the Grail. In the end, these cells would unite, reveal the whereabouts of the Grail, and achieve world domination. According to Ardenti's calculations, the Templars should have assumed their rule in 1944 - but their plan was apparently interrupted.

Ardenti disappears the same evening. Police inspector De Angelis questioned both Belbo and Casaubon. He makes allusions that the case could also have an occult background. As agreed, both respondents do not mention a certain part of their perceptions towards De Angelis.

In the following years Casaubon went to Brazil for two years , where he made experiences with South American and Caribbean spirituality . He has a relationship with a beautiful young Brazilian communist named Amparo and meets an older man who calls himself Agliè and suggests he is the mysterious Count of Saint Germain , an eighteenth-century adventurer and occultist. In fact, Agliè has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of esotericism, history and occult sciences. In Brazil, Casaubon receives a letter from Belbo describing how he was confronted again with the alleged Templar plan at a meeting of occultists, this time presented by a young woman in a trance . Amparo, who had always considered such things to be “the opium of the people ”, also falls into a trance during an umbanda ceremony and is so shocked that she breaks off her relationship with Casaubon.

Back in Milan, Casaubon works as a researcher and is commissioned by Belbo's boss Garamond to look for illustrations for an illustrated book “History of Metals” commissioned by a steel construction company. Garamond also owns a grant publisher that pulls the money out of would-be writers' pockets. He was able to publish two series of books on occultism and esotericism , one in his reputable publisher Garamond, the other under the title " Die Unveilierte Isis " (an allusion to the book of the same name by Helena Blavatsky ) in his other publisher Manuzio (an allusion on the Venetian printer and publisher Aldus Manutius ) in order to attract even more authors who are willing to make a grant.

Soon Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon are only concerned with enormous amounts of occult manuscripts, which at times create a variety of connections between historical events in a ridiculous manner. In addition, they hire Agliè as a specialist who, as a reviewer, should give them advice on the value or worthlessness of submitted manuscripts. Partly as a satire on the conspiracy theories with which they earn their money, partly as a supposedly superior intellectual game, the three of them begin to develop their version of the “grand plan”. Based on Ardenti's “secret manuscript”, they spin an increasingly complex network of mysterious connections. They use Belbo's early generation PC, nicknamed Abulafia . The computer is programmed by Belbo in such a way that it creates links that provide new inspiration for the plan by randomly using sequences from real esoteric writings and conspiracy theories with logical operators ("The following statement is untrue", "If", " Then ”), platitudes (eg:“ The Templars have to do with everything ”) and neutral data (such as:“ Minnie is Mickey Mouse's fiancé ”) in order to generate texts and other motifs.

Her first attempt, after a generous interpretation of the results, leads to a conspiracy theory, according to which Mary Magdalene should be the beloved of Jesus Christ and the vessel of his descendants, i.e. her womb, to be the true Holy Grail. (The book The Holy Grail and Its Heirs by Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh, which seriously advocates this thesis, is quoted in the motto of Chapter 66). Earlier, Casaubon, together with his then partner Amparo, put forward the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist, but that this figure was "invented" by the four evangelists Matthew , Mark , Luke and Johannes . They proceeded in exactly the same way as Casaubon, Belbo and Diotallevi when working out the "Grand Plan".

Slowly this "grand plan" develops and many details change as the story progresses. In the final version, the Templars discovered mysterious sources of energy known as "telluric currents" during the Crusades , which influence the plate tectonics of the earth's crust and whose central vein is called Umbilicus Mundi , the " navel of the world ". By means of a special valve, the Templars would be able to control and influence these telluric currents all over the world once their plan had been fulfilled, an ability that offered enormous blackmail potential. In the absence of sufficiently advanced technology, however, they could not use their discovery in the 14th century - not yet; hence their secret plan to pass on the knowledge in individual parts in such a way that the whole truth only comes to light in 1944.

So the Templars hide their discovery and intentionally trigger the annihilation of their order, while at the same time ensuring its survival in small cells in Europe and the Middle East. According to Ardenti's original plan, each cell received a fragment of information about the discovery. After many centuries in which the cells met in different places every 120 years to pass on their part of the "Grand Plan" and put it together like a puzzle, they would all unite and find the place where the umbilicus was to be found in order to control the telluric energy and rule the world. A special map and the Foucault pendulum are decisive for finding the location . However, it is not only the Gregorian calendar , which was adopted in the individual countries of Europe at different times, that confuses the elaborate timetable in the sixteenth century, which is why the cells lose contact with one another. The Second World War also caused a temporary confusion, resulting in many different conspiracies and secret societies that try to find each other in the course of history in order to restore the unity of the Templar Order - while others want to confuse or disrupt the plan.

Although the Grand Plan is utter nonsense and Ardenti's text, as Casaubon's friend Lia suspects, is actually based on a kind of laundry list, the three protagonists get more and more entangled in their own fantasies.

They send their chronology of the alleged secret societies in the succession of the Templar Plan to Agliè, just as if it came from a manuscript offered by the publisher. This chronology includes among others Rosicrucians , Paulikians and Synarchists , but they also invent a secret society, which they call the Tres ( Templi Resurgentes Equites Synarchici , Latin "Synarchist Knights Templar born again"). They want to trick Agliè with this, but he claims that he can vaguely remember a secret society with that name. In truth, the name is actually not fictional, rather the police officer De Angelis Causaubon asked at a chance meeting if he had ever heard of it.

Belbo now tells Agliè about the "Great Plan", as if it were the result of serious research and that he was in possession of a secret map of the Templars. But because Belbo does not show him this, Agliè accuses him of a terrorist suspect in order to force him to come to Paris - it turns out that he himself is the head of a spiritual brotherhood.

The Foucault pendulum in the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris

Casaubon also travels to Paris after Belbo's cry for help. This ties in with the scene with which the novel begins. At the appointed hour, various people gather around the pendulum for a mysterious ritual. Garamond and many of his authors are among those present alongside Agliè. This manageable circle, which mostly consists of people who previously played a role in the novel, claims to be the tres from the plan. It is strange not only that the “secret masters of the world” are imagined differently, but also that most of them are surprised by their apparently new function. Casaubon sees several ectoplasmic figures appear, one of whom claims to be the real Count of Saint Germain , thus disavowing Agliè in front of his followers. Belbo is brought up and is to be interrogated because, much to the annoyance of the Tres , he seems to know more about the Grand Plan than they do. They try to force him to reveal further secrets of this plan, but Belbo refuses and dies, hanged on the cable of Foucault's pendulum.

Casaubon flees through the Paris sewers and the novel ends with him reflecting on the checkered events of the past and apparently waiting for the Tres to catch him. He reads the last chapter in Belbo's memories of his youth, in which Belbo found a moment of fulfillment in April 1945 at a funeral of anti-fascist partisans. In this Casaubon recognizes the "decisive moment that justifies birth and death", a secret whose revelation depends on one's own knowledge.

Literary criticism

In the media, Eco's novel received mostly positive reviews because it knows how to combine an astonishing amount of scholarship with an extremely exciting plot. Unlike most writers of crime or conspiracy novels, he also uses the mysterious as a background for a psychological development of his protagonists. This applies in particular to Belbo, whose childhood at the end of the Second World War is a longer and, as some believe, autobiographical section, but also to Amparo, who is introduced as an extremely materialistic , even Marxist young woman, but then goes through a personality crisis when she is confronted with secrets and conspiracy theories.

Even with the numerous factual information, Eco knows how to play a post-modern game. The fact that the Knights Templar and their more or less imaginary successors in search of the Umbilicus Telluris , the navel of the earth , needed the eponymous experiment from 1851 certainly makes sense: The pendulum demonstrates how the earth rotates beneath it . The only fixed point in this experiment is the suspension point of the pendulum, which in a certain sense really forms a kind of navel of the world. The (in the book also mentioned) Pointe was in the process that a pendulum can hang anywhere that therefore, any point on earth can be the "sole fixed".

In contrast to Dan Brown's bestseller Da Vinci Code , whose plot confirms the conspiracy theories, Eco is about the fictionality of conspiracy theories and the arbitrariness with which historical facts can be imagined into unreal conspiracies. The novel can be interpreted as a satire or a polemic against all esotericism . This not only shows numerous parallels to Italian fascism and Belbo's youth history in 1944, but its representatives are also planning an attack using a suitcase bomb on the train to Bologna (comparable to the actual attack in Bologna in 1980 ).

The literary quartet received a devastating criticism of the novel. Marcel Reich-Ranicki said he had suffered while reading and described himself as a victim of the book. Hellmuth Karasek missed a reflection of reality, accused the novel of being involuntarily funny and called the world conspiracy described, which was based on avenging an injustice suffered centuries later, absurd. The novel provides arguments for a counter-enlightenment although it pretends to fight this counter-enlightenment. But the book couldn't do much damage, it was too boring for that; at most it is a threat to the table of gifts. Sigrid Löffler named the enlightenment claim of the book as a basic dilemma, which pretends to want to expose secret doctrines and wrong thinking, but in reality falls for this wrong thinking itself. Jurek Becker saw the novel as a calculated industrial product rather than literature.

Eco himself described the novel in an interview as his favorite and most mature.


Here are some of the conspiracies and secret societies that play a role in Foucault's pendulum :

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Umberto Eco, Das Foucaultsche Pendel , Munich 1989, p. 744
  2. The Literary Quartet. Complete edition of all 77 programs from 1988 to 2001. 1st edition. tape 1 . Directmedia, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-89853-301-8 , pp. 225-230 .
  3. ( Memento from September 27, 2015 in the web archive )


Secondary literature

  • Luigi Bauco and Francesco Millocca: The secret of the pendulum - deciphered. To Umberto Eco's new world bestseller "The Foucault Pendulum" . (Italian original title: Dizionario del pendolo di Foucault. Ferrara 1989) Edited and translated by Jakob Haselhuber , Munich 1990, ISBN 3-453-04324-3 (dictionary in which the most important people and keywords are explained briefly; although without bibliographic evidence, but quite reliable)
  • Max Kerner and Beate Wunsch: World as a riddle and a secret? Studies and materials on Umberto Eco's Foucault pendulum . Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-631-49480-7 (with essays on the Templars, Hermetics and Kabbalah )

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