Umberto Eco (5 January 1932 – 19 February 2016)

Italian philosopher, semiotician, and novelist Umberto Eco has died in Rome at 84 years of age. Eco was one of the most celebrated intellectuals of the last six decades, who gained widespread fame and international recognition for, among other works, his novel In the Name of the Rose. At the time of his death, Eco was a professor emeritus of the University of Bologna, a position he had held since 2008.

The son of a shopkeeper, Eco graduated from the University of Torino with a laurea in philosophy in 1954. His thesis was on the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, which developed into his first book, l problema estetico in San Tommaso, published in 1956.

Shortly after, Eco won a competition on RAI TV (the Italian national broadcasting station), to become a television sports journalist, where he helped to revolutionize and modernize Italian television, and by extension, Italian culture and intellectual life. After RAI, Eco went on to help found the Gruppo 63 (a group of influential, neo-avant-garde intellectuals, writers and artists), and to serve as and editorial director at Bompiani Press. During this period, Eco published one of his most important works, the philosophical treatise Opera Aperta [The Open Work, 1962]. His study of semiotics began in the late 1960s, and continued throughout his life.

Eco then turned his attention to fiction, and published his first novel, Il nome della rosa in 1980 with the Casa Editrice Bompiani, which was to become an international bestseller, and has been translated into 47 languages. The novel addresses questions of the nature, the value, and the consequences of having and obtaining knowledge, especially that which poses a threat to the established order. His next novel, the 1988 Il pendolo di Foucoult [Foucoult’s Pendulum] was dedicated to exploring the idea of the conspiracy theory.

Over the course of his life, Eco published several more novels, dozens of essays and short books on philosophy, communications, semiotics, aesthetics, politics, literature and religion.

By Adriana Baranello

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