Sunday, October 23, 2005

Fact or Fiction?

A question I have as I read _The Name of the Rose_
While I'm impressed by the breadth and depth of Eco's knowledge, there seems to be a problem in discerning what is fact and what is fiction... Take the following passage:

"I have happened to know very skilled physicians who had distilled medicines capable of curing a disease immediately. But when they gave their unguent or their infusion to the simple, they accompanied it with holy words and chanted phrases that sounded like prayers: not because these prayers had the power to heal, but because, believing that the cure came from the prayers, the simple would swallow the infusion or cover themselves with the unguent, and so they would be cured, while paying little attention to the effective power of the medicine." (p. 88)

Is Eco trying to downplay the possibility of miracle? or is he recounting a historical point? In any case, the idea that this happened seems possibly more fiction than fact: if physicians had this kind of healing power (while, presumably priests did not), wouldn't the physicians have taken on a kind of "witch doctor" status (even if they regarded them as "Christian" witch doctors)?


Blogger aaronandbrighid said...

While I don't know for certain what he believes about such things as this specific issue, I do know that Eco is on record as an agnostic, and therefore presumably does not admit the possibility of miracles. The passage you cite is reminiscent to me of the sort of interpretations skeptical scholars give to such things as hagiographical literature, and although Eco is demonstrably meticulous in his research of historical details, this may well fall under the category of interpretation rather than hard fact. As for the issue of fact and fiction in his work, the line can be noticeably and, I believe, deliberately blurry. I think this is part of his 'postmodernism'. At any rate, it is a characteristic of fiction that Constantine Cavarnos for one has criticised.

8:20 PM EDT  

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