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The Name Of The Rose author Umberto Eco dies aged 84


Umberto Eco, pictured in 2010 - the Italian writer has died aged 84 (AP)

Umberto Eco, pictured in 2010 - the Italian writer has died aged 84 (AP)

Umberto Eco, pictured in 2010 - the Italian writer has died aged 84 (AP)

Italian author Umberto Eco, best known for the international best-seller The Name Of The Rose, has died.

Lori Glazer of Eco's American publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said that Eco died on Friday aged 84. She could not immediately confirm the cause of death or where he died.

The Name Of The Rose, a murder mystery set in the 14th century, was published in 1980 and caught on with readers worldwide.

His other books included Foucault's Pendulum, The Prague Cemetery and The Island Of The Day Before.

Eco was fascinated with the obscure and the mundane, and his books were both engaging narratives and philosophical and intellectual exercises.

The bearded, heavy-set scholar, critic and novelist took on the esoteric theory of semiotics, the study of signs and symbols in language; popular culture heroes like James Bond; and the technical languages of the Internet.

The Name Of The Rose transformed him from an academic to international celebrity, especially after the medieval thriller set in a monastery was made into a film starring Sean Connery in 1986.

The book sold millions of copies, no mean feat for a narrative filled with partially translated Latin quotes and puzzling musings on the nature of symbols.

But Eco talked about his inspiration with characteristic irony: "I began writing ... prodded by a seminal idea: I felt like poisoning a monk."

His second novel, Foucault's Pendulum, in 1988, a byzantine tale of plotting publishers and secret sects also styled as a thriller, was successful, too -though it was so complicated that an annotated guide accompanied it to help the reader follow the plot.

Eco was born on January 5, 1932 in Alessandria, a town east of Turin. He received a university degree in philosophy from the city's university in 1954, beginning his fascination with the Middle Ages and the aesthetics of text.

He had always loved storytelling and as a teenager wrote comic books and fantasy novels.

"I was a perfectionist and wanted to make them look as though they had been printed, so I wrote them in capital letters and made up title pages, summaries, illustrations," he told The Paris Review in 1988.

"It was so tiring that I never finished any of them. I was at that time a great writer of unaccomplished masterpieces."

Eco remained involved with academia, becoming the first professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna in 1971. He also lectured worldwide and was a fellow at elite institutions like Oxford University and Columbia University.

But Eco was also able to bridge the gap between popular and intellectual culture, publishing his musings in daily newspapers and Italy's leading weekly magazine L'Espresso.

Eco started in journalism in the 1950s, working for the Italian state-owned television RAI. From the 1960s onwards, he wrote columns for several Italian dailies. He also wrote children's books, including The Bomb And The General.

In 2003, Eco published a collection of lectures on translations, Mouse Or Rat? Translation As Negotiation, and a year later he wrote the novel The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana, about an antiquarian book dealer who loses his memory.

Recent works include From The Tree To The Labyrinth, an essay on semiology and language published in 2007 and Turning Back The Clock, a collection of essays on various subjects, ranging from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, anti-Semitism and his staunch criticism of Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government.

His most recent novel, Numero Zero, came out last year and recalled a political scandal from the 1990s that helped lead to Berlusconi's rise.