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Laughter, for a few moments, distracts the villein from fear. But law is imposed by fear, whose true name is fear of God. This book could strike the Luciferine spark that would set a new fire to the whole world, and laughter would be defined as the new art, unknown even to Prometheus, for cancelling fear. To the villein who laughs, at that moment, dying does not matter: but then, when the license is past, the liturgy once again imposes on him, according to the divine plan, the fear of death. And from this book, there could be born the new destructive aim to destroy death through redemption from fear. And what would we be - we sinful creatures - without fear, perhaps the most foresighted, the most loving of the divine gifts?
~ Jorge de Burgos, explaining his hatred for comedy and fear of the Book.

Jorge de Burgos is the main antagonist of Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose. A resident of a Benedictine abbey situated in the mountains of Northern Italy, Jorge is one of the oldest and most learned monks in the monastery and is accorded a great deal of respect as a result. A dedicated follower of Saint Benedict's 56th rule, he is strictly opposed to the use of comedy in the scholarly works of the abbey, demonizing laughter as contrary not only to the spirit of the Order's rules but to God himself.

Unknown to all but a select few, he is secretly in control of the entire Abbey, holding influence over the abbot, the librarian, the scholars at work in the scriptorium, and the precious library itself. As such, when a number of scholars from around the abbey start to take interest in one of the library's "spiritually dangerous" tomes, Jorge is compelled to act - resulting in a series of deaths that protagonist William of Baskerville is called to investigate.

In the 1986 adaptation of the novel, he was portrayed by the late Feodor Chaliapin Jr.

History

The New Librarian

A native of Burgos, Spain, Jorge was born over eighty years prior to the events of the novel (placing his birth at 1247 AD or thereabouts). Little is known of his childhood, but rumors claim that he was blessed with a prodigious intellect from an early age: long before he began his studies as a monk, he was already demonstrating a gift for languages, reading Greek and Arabic texts with astonishing ease for his age. As a young man, he joined the Order of St Benedict; though it's not clear what circumstances drove him to the monastic life, his education as a monk eventually led him to a remote and nameless Benedictine Abbey high in the mountains of Northern Italy, a place that was to become his home for most of his life.

At the time, the Abbey was in possession of perhaps the greatest library in all Christendom: a rare and precious collection of books from across the known world, this archive was situated in a fortified tower at the heart of the monastery known as the Aedificium, and carefully hidden behind locked doors, labyrinthine architecture, secret passageways and hidden traps. Only the abbot, the librarian and his deputy were permitted unrestricted access to the collection, and any visiting scholars wishing to study or copy the books would only do so with the abbot's permission; however, some texts remained out of even the most privileged visitors' reach, for the library consisted not only of manuscripts produced by Christian monks, but also the works of Jewish cabals, Pagan poets, Arabic philosophers, and even suspected wizards. To this Abbey, knowledge was too valuable to destroy, instead keeping the more dangerous works under lock and key in the most secure room in the library - a chamber known only as the Finis Africae.

Jorge immediately distinguished himself as a scholar, demonstrating a fierce devotion to the preservation of knowledge. His gift for languages gave him an advantage against his competitors, for out of all the novices at work at the Abbey, he was one of the few who could read and speak Arabic. However, he was already beginning to exhibit a great love of order and solemnity: already a dedicated follower of the Rule of Saint Benedict, he took the 56th rule to heart above all others, and began to regard the act of laughter itself as evil - even satanic. Despite this obsession, his scholarly gifts eventually brought him to the attention of the Abbey's current librarian, Paul of Rimini, who took him on as an assistant - a relatively minor post, subordinate to that of the current assistant librarian, Alinardo of Grottaferrata.

Due to his age and accomplishments, it was believed that Alinardo would eventually succeed Paul when he finally ascended to the role of abbot, for the abbey's devotion to its library dictated that only the librarian could take the post of abbot, just as only the assistant librarian could become librarian. However, Jorge had other ideas: at this point in history, the Abbey was looking to expand its library with discourses on the apocalypse, and anyone who would be able to aid in this search for knowledge would win considerable favor from his fellows. So, at Jorge's own request, he was sent back to Spain, where he - thanks to his experience with the region and gift with languages - located some of the finest depictions of the apocalypse in Silos and delivered them to the Abbey.

However, Jorge also found a priceless copy of the second book of Poetics written by the Philosopher Aristotle, a tome long thought lost to the ages. Written in Greek and inscribed on linen paper, this book continued the scholarly discussion of virtues in theater, though where the first and more-accessible volume discussed how tragedies could purge the soul of sorrow and fear, the second volume discussed the purifying power of laughter and comedy. Knowing the widespread appreciation for the works of Aristotle throughout Christendom, Jorge realized that this book could legitimize comedy to both peasantry and theologians; though laughter was accepted by all, the rule of law kept it suppressed and prevented from making a mockery of law or religion - and this book endangered the sanctity of both. If Poetics was allowed to become public, he believed that it would only be a matter of time before acceptance of comedy allowed the world to abandon its fear of god, driving mankind into chaos. Despite his fear, however, Jorge could not bring himself to destroy the priceless tome: like all the monks of the Abbey, he also believed that the preservation of knowledge was a sacred quest regardless of its source and validity. So, in order to keep it from being discovered, he brought the book back to the Abbey along with the rest of his findings.

His discovery of the apocalypses increased his status at the Abbey tenfold: despite being ten years younger than Alinardo, Jorge was promoted to the position of librarian, granting him access to the Aedificium and all its secrets - and also resulting in a lifelong enmity between him and Alinardo. While Paul of Rimini ascended to the role of abbot, Jorge hastily concealed Poetics behind a specially-locked door at the apex of the Finis Africae, trusting that it would be enough to keep the book hidden for as long as he served the library.

The Realm of Darkness

At the age of forty - barely ten years after he succeeded Paul as librarian - Jorge's sight began to fail: knowing that it was only a matter of time before he went completely blind, he soon realized that his infirmity would mean the end of his tenure as librarian, his illegibility for the role of abbot, and the inevitable discovery of the hidden book. However, though he couldn't arrest the deterioration of his eyesight, he found that he could still control the library from outside the position: choosing the weak-willed and academically-stunted Robert of Bobbio as the new assistant librarian, Jorge ensured that his replacement would be forever dependent on his former superior for advice on how to manage the library when the time came for the Aedificium to change hands.

Also during this period, Paul of Rimini mysteriously vanished, leaving the position of abbot open. However, for reasons unknown, Robert was unable to take the abbot's place. So, intent on securing the book and keeping the library under his control, Jorge overturned the rule of promotion that had arranged the Abbey's previous leaders and instead called for an election: the new abbot was one Abo of Fossanova, a proud and pompous individual rumored to have carried the body of Saint Thomas to his grave; already grateful for his aid in claiming the monastery, Abo's vanity made him easy for Jorge to manipulate.

With his hold over both the management of the library and the Abbey itself secure, Jorge also arranged a successor for Robert by having him select Malachi of Hildesheim as the new assistant librarian. A copier by trade, the German illuminator was believed to be fluent in Greek and Arabic, though in reality he was simply an expert in replicating calligraphy written in these languages; as such, he proved just as pliable as Robert, with the added bonus of appearing wiser than he actually was. Unfortunately, promoting him to the role of librarian proved to be one of the few mistakes Jorge made over the course of his secret takeover, for Malachi proved a little too eager to accept graft and bribery within the Abbey: secretly homosexual, Malachi was eventually persuaded to hide compromising heretical documents on behalf of Remigio of Varagine - supposedly in exchange for access to male lovers that the ex-Dulcinite cellarer could provide him with. Though disgusted by what he saw as unnatural predilections, Jorge nonetheless tolerated the assistant librarian's desires, once again accepting them as a means of manipulating him if need be.

In turn, when Malachi eventually ascended to the role of librarian and selected Berengar of Arundel as the new assistant, Jorge did not complain: though more of an intriguer than a scholar, Berengar could likewise be manipulated - for he was also homosexual and actually the current object of Malachi's desires.

Years went by, and the events of Jorge's ascent, fall and rise to power gradually drifted from the general memory of the abbey. By now in his eighties, the former librarian was accorded considerable respect for both his age and his knowledge: the novices who worked in the scriptorium accepted his tuition and followed his directives, and scholars who visited the library were expected to refrain from laughter or any sign of levity out of respect for the elderly scholar's decrees. As if to add insult to injury, the much older Alinardo began drifting into senility: though he remembered the injustice done to him, he could not remember the name of his old rival - only that he had been sent "into the realm of darkness" before his time as punishment for his sins. Not knowing that he was referring to Jorge's blindness, most took this to mean that his former opponent was dead and thought no more on the subject.

Despite Jorge's stable position, he still recognized the fact that Poetics might one day need additional protection. Having heard that the Abbey's herbalist, the learned Severinus of Sankt Wendel, had acquired a rare and dangerous poison from a visiting trader, he waited until a massive storm swept the monastery and used the ensuing chaos as a cover to sneak into the herbalist's laboratory and steal the ampoule - along with a pair of gloves and a paintbrush. However, he did not use the poison immediately, keeping it in reserve until he truly needed it.

Just prior to the events of the novel, Berengar grew tired of Malachi's advances and started courting Adelmo of Otranto, a young illustrator of rare ability and considerable renown. For his part, Adelmo wasn't interested in Berengar's romantic overtures, though he did express interest in the works hidden in the library; in a desperate attempt to impress his prospective lover, the assistant librarian offered to reveal some of the Aedificium's secrets if Adelmo returned his affections. Immediately after he'd accepted the deal, the young illustrator found himself gripped with uncertainty over what he'd just done, and decided to confess his sins to Jorge. But Adelmo had already drawn Jorge's ire for his work with comedic marginalia, and his interest in the secrets of the library only drew further dislike from the elderly former librarian; having barely tolerated Malachi and Berengar's activities due to the difficulty inherent in replacing them and the potential for further exploitation, he showed no such tolerance towards Adelmo. Though most of the conversation is unknown, it is believed that Jorge condemned the illustrator as a sinner and told him that he was damned to hell no matter what he did.

Crushed by grief, Adelmo roamed the grounds in despair: along the way, he met Berengar (who he bid farewell to), Venantius of Salvamec (who he provided with the few notes he had made on the library and the location of Poetics); he then made his way to one of the Abbey's highest towers and jumped to his death. Over the course of the storm that followed, his body was swept downhill to the foot of the Aedificium, making it appear as though he'd fallen from a sealed window in the forbidden library, prompting the abbot to request aid from protagonist William of Baskerville to explain the death.

Meanwhile, realizing that Adelmo could have reached the Finis Africae if he'd been willing to act on the information Berengar had given him, Jorge chose this moment to act: now retrieving the stolen ampoule from where he'd concealed it, he applied the deadly poison to the pages of Poetics. As with most old books in the library, the pages could only be turned by moistening the reader's fingers with the tongue, and with poison applied to the edge of each page, any prospective readers of the book would end up fatally poisoning themselves by the time they'd learned all of the secrets of Poetics.

The Seven Trumpets

The events of the novel begin with the arrival of William of Baskerville and his student Adso at the abbey, having been summoned to take part in an official debate concerning the poverty of the Church; soon after, the abbot charges them with uncovering the truth behind Adelmo's mysterious death. William and Jorge meet very early on when the two guests pay a visit to the scriptorium to review the deceased's workstation: there, Jorge and William have the first of many debates concerning the nature of laughter, with the latter supporting comedy and the former denigrating it. During this first argument, Venantius briefly speaks up in favor of William's position, revealing himself as a scholarly supporter of comedy in the process. Thanks to Jorge's influence throughout the Abbey, William is gently discouraged by the other scholars from continuing the debate, though the two continue sniping at each other as the investigation continues.

However, it is at this point that events begin to spiral out of Jorge's control: on the evening of William and Adso's first day at the Abbey, Venantius decides to investigate the forbidden book, his ample curiosity further piqued by his erroneous belief that Adelmo had been murdered in order to conceal the precious tome. So, following the instructions Adelmo had given to him, he enters the library, successfully unlocks the door to the Finis Africae, and acquires Poetics. Descending to the scriptorium, he reads it from cover to cover, his expertise in Greek allowing him to translate the book with ease; then, in growing pain from the fatal dose of poison he's unwittingly ingested, he makes his way to the kitchen in search of help - only to collapse and die moments later, his fingers and tongue blackened by his fatal study. Soon after, Berengar stumbles upon Venantius' corpse: unwilling to let any further scrutiny fall on the library or himself, he hastily drags the translator's body into the pigpens and dumps it in the vat of pig's blood collected the previous day, hoping that it will look like a drowning.

The next day, amidst the confusion over the death of Venantius, another visit to the scriptorium results in yet another fierce debate between William and Jorge - this time descending to the level of borderline insults. However, no suspicion for the deaths falls on Jorge: already underestimated due to his advanced age and blindness, he is further protected by - ironically enough - Alinardo. Having long since forgotten most of the intrigue surrounding the library, he claims the deaths so far have all followed the events of the Seven Trumpets as described in the Book of Revelation, reasoning that Adelmo's death in a hailstorm fitted the first Trumpet ("And there followed hail and fire mixed with blood, and they were cast upon the earth") while the grisly discovery of Venantius' corpse fitted the second ("And the third part of the sea became blood"). In the process, Alinardo unwittingly misleads William with the idea that there might be a serial killer obsessed with the apocalypse loose in the Abbey. Worse still, Jorge secretly accepts his former rival's beliefs as further justification, and begins to view himself as an instrument of God as a result.

While William and Adso investigate the library under cover of darkness, the assistant librarian takes further steps to conceal the Abbey's secrets: having found Poetics on Venantius' desk in the scriptorium, Berengar hastily steals it before the intruders can study it properly, snatching up the older monk's eyeglasses in the process (an act that leaves William's intellectual studies hampered until replacements can be arranged for). Having already succumbed to curiosity and read the book that evening, he hides it in the herbalist's laboratory. By then feeling the effects of the poison, he tries to take a soothing bath in the balneary in order to combat the pain, only to succumb to paralysis and drown - contributing further to Alinardo's theory in the process by unwittingly enacting the Third Trumpet ("And the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters because they were made bitter"). However, because nobody thinks to look in the balneary, it is a full day before Berengar's corpse is found, and by then the next stage of William's search is in motion.

With the confusion over the assistant librarian's death and the ongoing theological debate at the Abbey, Poetics is not discovered until Severinus reviews the contents of his laboratory, whereupon he informs William immediately. Unfortunately, Jorge overhears their conversation and hastily arranges a plan to retrieve the book as swiftly as possible: informing Malachi of the forbidden book's presence in the lab, he motivates the librarian to retrieve it by claiming that Berengar had been intimate with the herbalist as well, and had given him the book as a reward. Having no desire to lose his most useful servant to the poison too, Jorge also warns him not to read the book, telling him that it has "the power of a thousand scorpions." Thus warned and motivated, a jealous Malachi sneaks into the laboratory and brains Severinus to death with the first object within reach - an armillary sphere, unintentionally fulfilling the prophecy of the Fourth Trumpet in the process ("And the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars").

However, he is unable to locate the book, and only escapes suspicion when Remigio arrives on the scene to investigate, under the erroneous impression that Severinus was in possession of the heretical documents he'd given Malachi so many years ago. As such, when Bernardo Gui's men investigate the area, Remigio is found rifling through the laboratory shelves in search of these documents, and is immediately blamed for the death of the herbalist - allowing Malachi to escape suspicion. However, before William can find the book in the library, Benno of Uppsala locates it first and hastily departs with it; Malachi notices the discovery, and offers the Swedish monk the position of assistant librarian in exchange for the book. Anxious to learn the secrets of the library, Benno gladly surrenders the book and Malachi replaces it in the Finis Africae.

For a time, it appears as though Jorge's victory is assured: with Remigio and Salvatore being framed for the deaths at the Abbey, it's believed that the murders are at an end, and no further attention is being directed at the forbidden contents of the library. Jorge even gives a sermon admonishing the Abbey's monks for their secret love of comedy, preaching the imminent arrival of the Antichrist and the apocalypse that will follow.

Unfortunately, Malachi chooses this moment to get curious about Poetics: ignoring Jorge's instructions for probably the first time in all his years of service, he reads the book at length and succumbs to its poison while at mass that same day, though not before repeating the caution he'd been given by his master - thus sounding the Fifth Trumpet ("and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man"). Upon realizing that his plan has claimed the life of his faithful confidant and ruined the hierarchy he'd worked so hard to build, Jorge is reduced to tears for the first and only time in the entire book.

Death And The Final Trumpets

Upon being given William's conclusions on the case so far, the abbot realizes that Jorge is to blame for the deaths across the Abbey, though he does not share this information with his visitors for fear that allowing a Franciscan monk to resolve such a sensitive issue would besmirch the abbey's pride. Instead, Abo confronts Jorge in private, ordering him to open the Finis Africae to the rest of the monastery - and the outside world: over the course of the Inquisition's visit, overtures have been made to the abbot by interested parties, encouraging him to share the hidden knowledge of the library in exchange for wealth and power, and now he feels no need to ignore them. Once again pretending to be helpless, Jorge agrees to the abbot's terms and promises to save the honor of the Abbey by committing suicide in the very chamber where Poetics is held.

However, Jorge's true intent is to kill Abo and end his plan to open the library, so he offers the abbot access to a secret passage by which he can check that the deed has been done without having to navigate the labyrinth. Ascending to the Finis Africae by the normal route through the library, Jorge waits until he can hear the distinctive sound of Abo making his way through the secret passage, then sabotages the door mechanism. Unable to leave the passageway by either entrance, the abbot is trapped and doomed to slow asphyxiation - later fulfilling the Sixth Trumpet in the catastrophe that follows the final showdown ("By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke").

Shortly afterwards, William and Adso arrive at the Finis Africae and confront Jorge. The two opponents share a cordial discussion of the crimes that occurred across the Abbey, and the Franciscan is allowed to claim the book of Poetics. However, both parties are stymied in their goals: knowing the threat of the poison by now, William is wearing protective gloves and cannot be so easily poisoned, foiling Jorge's attempt on his life; ironically, the gloves also make it impossible for William to turn the pages without damaging them, thus ensuring that most of the book remains secret. The conversation soon turns to Jorge's reason for hiding Poetics, and the two monks insult one another at length for their philosophical positions on comedy - William regarding it as a force of purification, Jorge regarding it as the means by which mankind will be rendered down into chaos.

Realizing that there is no other way to keep Poetics hidden, Jorge begins eating the pages of the book, denying William a victory - while also enacting the Seventh and final Trumpet ("Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey"). Before William and Adso can stop him, he extinguishes their lamp and escapes the Finis Africae, determined to devour the entire book before they can stop him; despite his best efforts to outpace his pursuers, however, the two monks eventually catch up with him. In the final struggle over the book, Jorge is slammed hard against a bookshelf before he can finish his suicidal meal, killing him the process.

Unfortunately, this results in a lamp setting both the book and the rest of the library ablaze. Ironically, the Aedificium's defenses prove a major weakness for the first time in the novel, for the difficulty in accessing the library and the stern prohibitions against doing so means that most of the building is lost before anyone is able to extinguish the fires. In the end, the entire Abbey is destroyed by the inferno, and William is forced to leave empty-handed - rendering Jorge victorious in death.

Trivia

  • Umberto Eco based Jorge on noted Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges; like his fictional counterpart, Borges served as a librarian as well as a scholar - eventually becoming director of the National Public Library of the Argentine Republic - and went blind later in life. Notably, one of Borges' most famous works was The Library Of Babel, a short story featuring a labyrinthine archive of books and the impossible search for the one book needed out of all of them. Borges' political views may also have influenced Jorge's authoritarian views on law, as he became quite infamous for supporting Argentina's military junta and accepting honors from Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
  • During the filming of Jorge's death scene, Feodor Chaliapin Jr was nearly killed due to an error in set preparation: at the very point when Jorge was supposed to be crushed under the collapsing ceiling, part of the set's roof collapsed - for real - leading to Chaliapin being knocked to the ground not by the intended balsa wood prop, but by a solid oak beam. Fortunately, Chaliapin was unhurt apart from a cut on his head, and upon being helped up by director Jean-Jacques Arnaud, reportedly asked "Is the take okay?" and dismissed any further concerns about his health by remarking "I'm 81 years old, I'm going to die soon anyway. Is the take okay?".