Nona Robinson in Inference:
Umberto Eco died in Milan on February 19, 2016. Like the mathematician Giuseppe Peano, Eco was born in the Piedmont, the rice-growing region of Italy that slopes upward toward the Alps. There is a current of sympathy that flows between the two men. Peano was much taken with a form of Latin stripped of its declensions, what he called Latino sine flexione, and argued for its adoption in a paper published in the Revue de Mathématiques. A masterpiece in its own way, the paper begins in classical Latin and by its end is expressed entirely in pidgin; had he kept it up, Peano would, no doubt, have invented Italian. Like Peano, Eco was an accomplished Latinist, an incurable erudito, a great poker into obscure facts. His family name, an acronym of the phrase ex caelis oblatus (a gift from the skies), was bestowed by a city official on his grandfather, a foundling.
Eco studied medieval philosophy and literature at the University of Turin, writing his thesis on the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas—Il problema estetico in San Tommaso. In the preface to the 1970 Italian edition of Il problema, Cristina Farronato argued that what originally inspired Eco to write about Aquinas was his immersion in the Thomistic religious universe. Fair enough. But while writing his dissertation, she adds, Eco “distanced himself more and more from [its] spiritual content and was left with a methodological experience.”1 This might suggest an enveloping sense of aridity on Eco’s part. Readers who know nothing of Eco’s story-telling gusto might imagine that he often required a glass of water.
Not at all. Eco was wet by nature.