Umberto Eco

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Umberto Eco (1984)
Umberto Eco (2010)

Umberto Eco (born January 5, 1932 in Alessandria , Piedmont ; † February 19, 2016 in Milan , Lombardy ) was an Italian writer , columnist , philosopher , media scholar and one of the most famous semioticists of the second half of the 20th century. He became world famous through his novels, especially The Name of the Rose (originally published in 1980).


Origin and career

Eco spent his childhood and youth as the son of a middle-class family - his father Giulio Eco was an accountant - in the southern Piedmontese provincial capital Alessandria and its surroundings, which had a strong influence on him. About the city and the landscape, the character and the basic mood of the people living there as well as everyday life in the thirties and early forties under the regime of Italian fascism , Eco commented directly or indirectly in several places. B. undisguised autobiographical in the text "The Miracle of San Baudolino" (at the end of the volume How to travel with a salmon ) and in various " Matchstick letters ", but also literarily dressed in the novels Das Foucaultsche Pendel (where, among other things, the time of the Partisan War 1944–1945 with concrete situations from the life of young Eco is told), The Island of the previous day and Baudolino (whose protagonists both come from the Alessandria area, one in the Baroque 17th century and the other in the medieval 12th century , where, among other things, he witnessed the founding of the city in 1168) and particularly in detail in his fifth novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana , in which Eco's childhood and adolescence are described. The 12 to 13-year-old Eco's experiences in a small mountain village in southern Piedmont, where his family sought protection from the bombings in 1943–1945 and where he witnessed fights between partisans and fascists in the last year of the war, were obviously formative .

In 1948 Eco began - contrary to his father's wishes, who urged him to pursue a career as a lawyer - to study philosophy and literary history at the University of Turin , which he completed in 1954 under Luigi Pareyson with a dissertation on aesthetics under Thomas Aquinas . Then he went to the then still very young Italian television ( RAI ) in Milan, where he tried to set up a cultural program. In 1956 his first book was published, an expanded version of his dissertation under the title Il problema estetico in San Tommaso ("The aesthetic problem with St. Thomas"). Three years later, Eco left television and became a non-fiction editor at the Milanese publisher Bompiani, for which he remained until 1975 (and in which almost all of his books have since appeared). At the same time he was active in the environment of Gruppo 63 , one of the literary movement of the Neoavanguardia group. With the 1962 published book Opera Aperta (German The Open Work , 1973), he was suddenly a brilliant cultural theorist known in 1963 his academic career as a lecturer in aesthetics and visual communication at the Politecnico in Milan began to them via an intermediate station at the University in Florence eventually to finish at the University of Bologna (the oldest university in Europe). His book Introduction to Semiotics , published in 1968 (German 1973), is still considered an international standard work to this day.

In 1975 he received a full professorship for semiotics with a chair at the University of Bologna . Since 1999 he has been head of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici there . In October 2007 he retired from active teaching and was professor emeritus at the University of Bologna from 2008 .

Eco received numerous honors and awards, both social and academic, including (until 2014) from 39 universities worldwide the honorary doctorate  - in Germany from the FU Berlin 1998 - and the membership of the order Pour le Mérite for sciences and arts (1999) as well as the Large Cross of Merit with Star of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2009).

Literary work and positions

With his first novel The Name of the Rose , published in 1980 (German: 1982), Eco caused a worldwide stir as a novelist, which was completely surprising at the time. His novel Das Foucaultsche Pendel , published in 1988, and the four following novels (1994, 2000, 2004 and 2010, see below) have also been translated into all world languages. The name Umberto Eco is therefore known to a broader audience primarily through these literary works, in which, despite all the joy of colored storytelling and exciting plots, he makes extensive use of quotations and assembly techniques, which has led to their characterization as the postmodern novels par excellence. He himself was rather skeptical about the concept of postmodernism and preferred to speak of intertextuality , i.e. H. of the inner interweaving and interweaving of all literary texts. This idea is expressed very vividly at a central point in The Name of the Rose , where the narrator Adson says:

“Until now I had always thought that the books only talked about the human or divine things that are outside the books. Now it suddenly occurred to me that the books often speak of other books, yes, that it is sometimes as if they were talking to one another. And in the light of this new insight, the library seemed even more sinister. Was it the place of a long and secular whisper, an inaudible dialogue between parchment and parchment? So something living, a space full of forces that cannot be tamed by any human spirit, a treasure house full of secrets that have sprung from countless brains and live on after the death of their creators? Or let this persist in you? "

Eco named Jorge Luis Borges and James Joyce as the two modern writers "whom I have loved most and who have influenced me the most".

Eco at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2011

As a citizen and political author, Eco was also an active and vehement opponent of Silvio Berlusconi . In numerous newspaper and magazine articles he sharply criticized its policy. Shortly before the election in April 2006, which Berlusconi then narrowly lost, Eco published his collected political writings again in book form under the title Im Krebsgangvors: Heiße Kriege und medialer Populismus (German: Spring 2007).

Since 1985 he has written regularly - first weekly, from 1998 biweekly - a column in the weekly magazine L'Espresso under the title La Bustina di Minerva (German: " Match letters "). He was the co-founder and editor of the Internet magazine Golem l'Indispensabile . In 2002, together with friends and like-minded people (including the architect Gae Aulenti and the writer and Germanist Claudio Magris ), he founded the group Libertà e Giustizia , which - based on the resistance movement Giustizia e Libertà against Mussolini fascism - acts as an intellectual opposition to the Silvio Berlusconi understands politics.

In 2005 Umberto Eco was voted the second most important intellectual in the world in the English magazine Prospect after Noam Chomsky and before Richard Dawkins . In April 2010 the first biography (life and work) appeared about him.

After Eco had already devoted himself extensively to the subject of conspiracy theories in the novel The Foucault Pendulum , this is also the central theme in the novel The Cemetery in Prague , published in 2010 . Eco creates a professional forger with his fictional first-person narrator Simon Simonini, whom he introduces as the main author of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion .

After Silvio Berlusconi's Mondadori publishing group had taken over the Rizzoli publishing group "RCS Libri" with the Bompiani publishing house , with which Umberto Eco had previously published, in October 2015 , Eco published under the newly founded La Nave di Teseo (in German Ship of Theseus ), which was named at a suggestion by Eco in allusion to the paradox. The publisher of La Nave di Teseo is the former Bompiani boss Elisabetta Sgarbi .


From 1962 until his death, Eco was married to the native German Renate Ramge , an expert in museum and art didactics born in Frankfurt am Main . They had a son and a daughter.

Umberto Eco died in the late evening of February 19, 2016 at the age of 84 in his Milan apartment of complications from cancer.


Honorary doctorates





"Chi non legge, a 70 anni avrà vissuto una sola vita: la propria. Chi legge avrà vissuto 5000 anni: c'era quando Caino uccise Abele, quando Renzo sposò Lucia, quando Leopardi ammirava l'infinito. Perché la lettura è un'immortalità all'indietro. "

“If you don't read, you'll only have one life by the age of 70: your own. Anyone who reads will have lived 5000 years: he was there when Cain killed Abel, when Renzo married Lucia , when Leopardi admired infinity. Because reading is an immortality to the rear. "

- Umberto Eco : le frasi più celebri, dai social al terrorismo

Works (selection)

Literary works

Children's books

All illustrated by Eugenio Carmi

  • La bomba e il generale. 1966 (German The Bomb and the General )
  • I tre cosmonauti. 1966 (German. The three cosmonauts. Translated by Gerald Bisinger. 1971, Insel Verlag)
  • Gli gnomi di Gnu. 1992 (Eng. The Gnome of Gnu. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber)
  • Tre Racconti 2004 (German stories for bright children. Anthology translated by Elise Dinkelmann, Hanser, Munich 2012)

Semiotic-philosophical and literary critical works

  • Opera aperta. 1962 (German: The open work of art. Translated by Günter Memmert. Suhrkamp , Frankfurt / M. 1973).
  • La struttura assente. 1968 (German introduction to semiotics. Translated by Jürgen Trabant . Fink , Munich 1972)
  • Segno. 1973 (German characters. Introduction to a term and its history. Translated by Günter Memmert. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / M. 1977)
  • Trattato di semiotica generale. 1975 (German semiotics. Draft of a theory of signs. Based on the English edition A Theory of Semiotics. 1976, translated by Günter Memmert. Fink, Munich 1987, 2nd corrected edition 1991)
  • Il superuomo di massa. (1976)
  • Lector in fabula. La cooperazione interpretativa nei testi narrativi. 1979 (German Lector in fabula. The collaboration of the interpretation in narrative texts. Translated by Heinz-Georg Held, Hanser, Munich 1987)
  • Postille a "Il nome della rosa". 1983 (German postscript to the name of the rose. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber . Hanser, Munich 1984)
  • Semiotica e filosofia del linguaggio. 1984 (German semiotics and philosophy of language. Translated by Christiane Trabant-Rommel and Jürgen Trabant . Fink, Munich 1985)
  • I limiti dell'interpretazione. 1990 (German. The limits of interpretation. Translated by Günter Memmert. Hanser, Munich 1992)
  • La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea. Laterza, Rom / Bari 1993. From the Italian by Burkhart Kroeber: The search for the perfect language. CH Beck, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-406-37888-9 .
  • Be passegiate nei boschi narrativi. Norton Lectures. 1994 (German. In the forest of fictions. Six forays through literature. Harvard lectures. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 1994)
  • Kant e l'ornitorinco. 1997 (German Kant and the platypus. Translated by Frank Herrmann. Hanser, Munich 2000)
  • Tra menzogna e ironia. 1998 (German lies and irony. Four readings between classic and comic. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 1999)
  • Sulla letteratura. 2002 (German. The books and paradise. About literature. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 2003)
  • Dire quasi la stessa cosa. Esperienze di traduzione. 2003 (German. Quasi the same in other words. About translation. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 2006)
  • Confessions of a Young Novelist . Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature, Harvard University Press, 2011 (German Confessions of a Young Writer. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-446-23762-9 ).

Cultural and other works

  • Apocalittici e integrati. 1964 and 1978 (German apocalyptic and integrated. On the critical criticism of mass culture. Translated by Max Looser. Fischer , Frankfurt / M. 1984)
  • Come si fa una tesi di laurea. 1977 (German. How to write a scientific thesis. Doctoral, diploma and master's thesis in the humanities and social sciences. Translated by Walter Schick. CF Müller, Heidelberg 1989)
  • Il costume di casa. Evidenze e misteri dell'ideologia italiana. ("Native manners and customs. Evidences and mysteries of the Italian ideology") 1973, Dalla periferia dell'impero. ("From the edges of the empire") 1977, and Sette anni di desiderio. (“Seven Years of Desire”) 1983 (both Milan; Ger. About God and the World. Essays and glosses. Selection from the three volumes, translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Carl Hanser, Munich / Vienna 1985, ISBN 3-446-13933- 8 ). Publications from 1967 to 1983.
  • Sugli specchi e altri saggi. 1985 (German. About mirrors and other phenomena. Selection, translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 1988)
  • Arte e bellezza nell'estetica medievale. 1987 (German art and beauty in the Middle Ages. Translated by Günter Memmert. Hanser, Munich 1991)
  • Il secondo diario minimo. 1992 (German. How to travel with a salmon and other useful advice. Selection, translated by Günter Memmert and Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 1993)
  • La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea. 1993 (German. The search for the perfect language. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Series "Building Europe", C. H. Beck , Munich 1994)
  • (Selection from the Bustine di Minerva from 1986 to 1993): The old sea and the book. New match letters. translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 1995.
  • In cosa crede chi non crede? with Carlo Maria Martini a . a., 1996 (German: What does who believe in, who does not believe? translated by Burkhart Kroeber and Karl Pichler. Zsolnay, Vienna 1998)
  • Cinque scritti morali. 1997 (German four moral writings. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 1998)
  • La Bustina di Minerva. 2000 (Ger. Derrick or the passion for mediocrity. Selection, translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 2000)
  • Storia della Bellezza. a cura di UE, 2004 (Ger. The history of beauty. edited by UE, translated by Friederike Hausmann and Martin Pfeiffer. Hanser, Munich 2004)
  • (Selection from the Bustine di Minerva from 2000 to 2006): Shots with receipt. New match letters. selected, translated and arranged by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 2006.
  • A passo di gambero. Guerre calde e populismo mediatico. 2006 (German. In cancer progress. Hot wars and media populism. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 2007)
  • La memoria vegetale e altri scritti di bibliofilia. 2006 (German. The art of love of books. Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 2009)
  • Storia della Bruttezza. a cura di UE, 2007 (Ger. The history of ugliness. edited by UE, translated by Friederike Hausmann, Petra Kaiser and Sigrid Vagt. Hanser, Munich 2007)
  • Vertigine della lista. 2009 (German The Infinite List. Translated by Barbara Kleiner. Hanser, Munich 2009)
  • with Jean-Claude Carrière : N'espérez pas vous débarrasser des livres. 2009 (Eng. The great future of the book . Conversations with Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, translated by Barbara Kleiner. Hanser, Munich 2010)
  • Storia delle terre e dei luoghi leggendari. 2013 (German. The history of the legendary countries and cities. Translated by Martin Pfeiffer and Barbara Schaden. Hanser, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-446-24382-8 )
  • Costruire il nemico e altri scritti occasionali , 2011 (German: The Fabrication of the Enemy and other occasional writings . Translated by Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-446-23999-9 ).
  • Pape Satàn Aleppe. Cronache di una società liquida , 2016 ( Eng . Pape Satàn. Chronicles of a Liquid Society or The Art of Understanding the World . Selection, translated by Burkhart Kroeber, Hanser, Munich 2017, ISBN 978-3-446-25442-8 ).
  • Sulle spalle dei giganti. Lezioni alla Milanesiana 2001-2015 , 2017 (German. On the shoulders of giants. The beautiful, the lie and the secret , translated by Martina Kempter and Burkhart Kroeber. Hanser, Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3-446-26186-0 ) .
  • Il fascismo eterno + Migrazioni e intolleranza , 2018–2019 (German: Eternal Fascism . With a foreword by Roberto Saviano , translated by Burkhart Kroeber, Hanser, Munich 2020, ISBN 978-3-446-26576-9 ).



Radio plays

Audio books

Secondary literature

  • Giorgio Celli: How I killed Umberto Eco German published in notebook November 28 , 1986, pp. 3–5.
  • Hans-Jürgen Bachorski (Ed.): Readings. Essays on Umberto Eco's “The Name of the Rose”. Kümmerle, Göppingen 1985.
  • Klaus Ickert, Ursula Schick: The secret of the rose deciphered. Heyne, Munich 1986.
  • Burkhart Kroeber (Ed.): Characters in Umberto Eco's novel “The Name of the Rose”. Essays from Europe and America. Hanser, Munich 1987.
  • Alfred Haverkamp , Alfred Heit (Ed.): Ecos Rosenroman. A colloquium. dtv, Munich 1987
  • Max Kerner (Ed.), " ... a dark and almost unbelievable story"? Medieval notes on Umberto Eco's monk novel “The Name of the Rose”. WBG, Darmstadt 1988.
  • Thomas Stauder: Umberto Eco's “The Name of the Rose”. Research report and interpretation, with an annotated bibliography of the first six years of international criticism (1980–1986). Palm & Enke, Erlangen 1988.
  • Armin Burkhardt, Eberhard Rohse (Eds.): Umberto Eco. Between literature and semiotics. Verlag Ars et Scientia, Braunschweig 1991, ISBN 3-9802066-2-9 .
  • Manilo Talamo, I segreti del pendolo. Naples 1989; German: The riddle of the Foucault pendulum. translated by Renate Reil and Andrea Weichert, Heyne, Munich 1992.
  • Dieter Mersch , Umberto Eco for an introduction. Junius, Hamburg 1993 (dissertation in philosophy at the Technical University of Darmstadt)
  • Max Kerner , Beate Wunsch (Ed.): World as a riddle and a secret? : Studies and materials on Umberto Eco's Foucault pendulum . Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 1996
  • Thomas Stauder (Ed.): “Amazement about being”. International contributions to Umberto Eco's “Island of the previous day”. WBG, Darmstadt 1997.
  • Dieter Mersch (Ed.): Sign upon Sign. Texts on semiotics from Peirce to Eco and Derrida. dtv, Munich 1998
  • Günter Berger: Approaches to the island. Readings from Umberto Eco's “The Island of Last Day”. Aisthesis, Bielefeld 1999.
  • Helge Schalk: Umberto Eco and the problem of interpretation. Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 1999.
  • Tom Kindt, Hans-Harald Müller (Ed.): Ecos Echos. Umberto Eco's work: dimensions, receptions, reviews. Fink, Munich 2000.
  • Zibaldone , No. 33, Seventy Years of Umberto Eco. Stauffenberg, Tübingen 2002, OCLC 777775427 .
  • Thomas Stauder: Conversations with Umberto Eco. Lit, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-7243-2 .
  • Thorsten Gubatz: Umberto Eco and his teacher Luigi Pareyson. From ontological personalism to semiotics (= Pontes , Volume 40) Lit, Berlin / Münster 2007, ISBN 3-8258-0972-2 (Master's thesis University of Freiburg im Breisgau 2007, 136 pages).
  • Grit Fröhlich: Umberto Eco. Philosophy - Aesthetics - Semiotics. Fink, Paderborn 2009, ISBN 978-3-7705-4880-4 .
  • Michael Nerlich , Umberto Eco. The biography. Francke, Tübingen 2010, ISBN 978-3-7720-8353-2 .
  • Michael Nerlich: Umberto Eco. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-499-50562-1 .
  • Erik Schilling: The historical novel since postmodernism. Umberto Eco and German literature (= Germanic-Romance monthly , supplement 49). Universitätsverlag Winter, Heidelberg 2012, ISBN 978-3-8253-6106-8 (dissertation University of Munich 2012, 321 pages).


  • Umberto Eco. The bestselling professor. Documentary, Germany 2005, 38 min., Script and director: Reinhold Jaretzky, production: Zauberberg Film in coproduction with 3Sat, first broadcast on July 9, 2005,
  • Umberto Eco. Poison a monk once. Documentary, Germany, 2007, 43 min., Script and director: Reinhold Jaretzky, production: Prounenfilm in coproduction with BR , arte , SF , ORF , first broadcast: March 25, 2007, Umberto Eco - once poisoning a monk by HR
  • Umberto Eco. My life. Documentary, France 2012, 52 min., Director: Teri Wehn ​​Damisch, first broadcast: October 10, 2012, summary ( memento from April 18, 2013 in the web archive ) by arte


  • … Della lingua perfetta. Ricerca for voices and instruments. Multilingual radio composition by Bernhard König based on motifs from the book "The Search for the Perfect Language" . (Production: WDR3 2002)

Web links

Commons : Umberto Eco  - collection of images, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Claudio Gerino: Morto lo scrittore Umberto Eco. Some of the things that come from this are the guardo sul mondo. In: la Repubblica . Gruppo Editoriale L'Espresso , February 19, 2016, accessed February 19, 2016 (Italian).
  2. at the end of the chapter Fourth Day, Tertia
  3. in the essay volume The Books and Paradise. About literature (2003), p. 119.
  4. a b s. under web links
  5. Prospect Magazine ( Memento August 7, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  6. Michael Nerlich: Umberto Eco. The biography , A. Francke Verlag, Tübingen 2010.
  7. Theseus' ship sets sail. In: Retrieved July 20, 2016 .
  8. Kevin Rawlinson: Italian author Umberto Eco dies aged 84. In: The Guardian . February 20, 2016, accessed February 20, 2016 .
  9. Umberto Eco is dead. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung . February 20, 2016, accessed February 20, 2016 .
  10. ^ Writer: Umberto Eco is dead. In: Die Zeit . February 20, 2016, accessed February 20, 2016 .
  11. Honorary Members: Umberto Eco. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 9, 2019 .
  12. Scrittori: Umberto Eco all'Eliseo onorato da Sarkozy with Legion d'Honneur. In: Libero Quotidiano. January 13, 2012, accessed February 21, 2016 .
  13. Die Zeit vom June 21, 2014: Awards: Umberto Eco receives Gutenberg Prize 2014 (dpa) ( Memento from November 29, 2014 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on June 21, 2014
  14. Umberto Eco: le frasi più celebri, dai social al terrorismo. February 20, 2016 (Italian)
  15. Burkhart Kroeber: Afterword to the German edition. In: Umberto Eco: About God and the World. Essays and glosses. (1987) 2nd edition. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1988, p. 297 f.