Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Name of the Rose Starring Giordano Bruno Instead of Sean Connery

I just finished reading S. J. Parris's Heresy. It is a murder mystery set at Oxford University of 1583 starring one of my favorite people from the sixteenth century, Giordano Bruno. Bruno was renegade Dominican friar, who ran around Europe as an academic celebrity, preaching his particular brand of reformed Christianity, complete with magic, Kabbalah, and heliocentrism. He eventually made the mistake of traveling to the wrong place and fell into the hands of the Inquisition who burned him at the stake.

In the novel, Bruno finds himself in England searching for a lost book from the Corpus Hermeticum of Hermes Trismegistus. This was the most important work on magic in the early modern period. It was commonly believed at the time that the Corpus Hermeticum dated from the time of Moses and contained the original religion of the ancients. While searching for this lost book, Bruno befriends Philip Sydney and through him, Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster. Walsingham recruits Bruno to seek out undercover Catholics. Bruno's duel tasks of book and heresy hunting both lead him to Oxford, where Bruno finds that just about everyone there is hiding something, he is attracted to the daughter of one of the faculty and bodies are starting to mysteriously drop all over the place to the theme of Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Heresy reminded me of another novel, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. In my mind Name of the Rose stands as probably the greatest novel about the Middle Ages ever written for its complex plot, charming if morally ambiguous characters and, most importantly, its ability to accurately present a medieval worldview without recourse to polemics about fanaticism, superstition, and misogyny. It was made into a movie starring Sean Connery. Unfortunately, the movie systematically undoes the moral complexity of the book in favor of easy to target corrupt sexually repressed monks and an oppressive Church.

The essential plot of Name of the Rose takes place in the fourteenth century and centers around a scholarly monk named William of Baskerville visiting a monastery along with his young companion Adso of Melk with the charge of looking for undercover members of the heretical Fraticelli group on behalf of inquisitor Bernard Gui. On a personal level William also seeks to examine the monastery's secret library. Before too long Adso finds himself looking into a mysterious girl, smuggled into the all-male society and bodies do start to drop with the murders all being done to the theme of the book of Revelation.

Ultimately Heresy was a fun book and certainly a much easier read than Name of the Rose. Still, the villain most certainly did not compare with Name of the Rose's. It is hard to top a blind guy armed with a poisoned copy of a lost book of Aristotle, the ultimate killer read. Still, Giordano Bruno does make for a great hero. I will even take him over Sean Connery.   

1 comment:

Rishona said...

There is no substitute for Sean Connery.