Philosopher and writer Umberto Eco dies at the age of 84

File picture of Italian writer Umberto Eco © Andrea Comas
Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco died at the age of 84, his family says. He is best known for his 1980s historical mystery novel 'The Name of the Rose'.

He popularized semiotics, a science that studies signs and their meanings, by introducing it into his literary works. 

It was his novel, The Name of The Rose, written in 1983, which made him a household name, and assumed the status of a modern classic.  The novel was subsequently adapted into a 1986 film, starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud.

The novel combined the features of detective fiction and metaphysical thriller set in the Middle Ages about the killing of monk at a great medieval abbey famed for its library. The novel combines a chronicle of the 14th century religious wars, a history of monastic orders and an account of heretical movements.

The Name of the Rose became an international publishing sensation, selling more than ten million copies, and “metamorphosed [the professor] into a literary star.

“Chased by journalists, courted for his cultural commentaries, revered for his expansive erudition, Eco came to be considered the most important Italian writer alive. In the years since, he has continued to write fanciful essays, scholarly works, and four more best-selling novels, including Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2004),” wrote the Paris Review.

In his scholar work as a semiotician, Eco sought to interpret cultures through their signs and symbols. One published work “A Theory of Semiotics,” offered a critique of the theory that the meanings of signs is determined by the object to which they refer, and argued instead a general semiotic theory should include not only a theory of how codes may establish rules for systems of signification but a theory of how signs may be produced and interpreted.

His philosophical works included “Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages,” “The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas,” “The Middle Ages of James Joyce,” and “Kant and the Platypus: Essay on Language and Cognition.”

The blog Brain Pickings featured Eco's wisdom for aspiring writers.

He published more than 20 nonfiction books while teaching at Europe’s oldest university, The University of Bologna.

Eco founded the Department of Media Studies at the University of the Republic of San Marino, was president of the Graduate School for the Study of the Humanities at the University of Bologna, and an honorary fellow of Kellogg College, University of Oxford.