Baudolino of Italian philosopher Umberto Eco. The story follows the eponymous protagonist, Baudolino, as he travels through a mythical version of 12th century medieval Christian Europe.
The novel references many real historical figures and events, interpreting them through this mythical lens to expose the fantasies and anxieties that motivated and undermined medieval Europeans as they attempted to survive continued political and economic instability. The novel is classified as a historical novel and a speculative work of fiction.
Summary and Synopsis
Baudolino begins in 1204. Baudolino (short for Baudolino of Alessandria) ventures into Constantinople, unaware of its recent developments: the city has been devastated in the course of the Fourth Crusade.
Meet the Byzantine Greek officer Niketas Choniates and save his life. Niketas is impressed by Baudolino’s almost supernatural mastery of many languages, several of which he has never heard. He asks Baudolino how he knows so many languages and demands to know if he is part of the crusade. In response, Baudolino tells him the whole story of his life.
It begins with the year 1155 when he was a peasant boy in Italy. Due to his ingenuity and many talents, he was noticed and adopted by Emperor Frederick I. Who ensured that Baudolino received the best possible education and physical training. He was especially interested in the rich war history of northern Italy and then traveled to Paris to become an academic.
Once there, he befriended a number of famous and eccentric figures, including Robert de Boron, the archipelago, Abdul and Kyot, who reportedly wrote the medieval romance poem Parzival. When he found out about Prester John, who was said to have founded a mystical kingdom, he decided to spend his life looking for him.
The novel then goes back to the beginning of 12th century Europe. During this time, Emperor Frederick fought to quell the uprisings in northern Italy. Baudolino stepped in and proved himself to be a master mediator between the Italian Empire and its rebellious nation states. He orchestrated a peace between the Emperor and Allesandria, whose leader was his own biological father.
The emperor agreed to give independence to the city in exchange for their cooperation. Emperor Frederick died during the Third Crusade. The narrator alleges that he did not die in a river, as the historical record says; rather, he died in the middle of the night under mysterious circumstances during a stay on the property of an Armenian nobleman. Baudolino uncovered the mystery but never confirmed which (if any) of his suspects killed the Emperor.
After Emperor Frederick’s death, Baudolino finally began his journey to find the Kingdom of Prester John. The odyssey lasted fifteen years. Baudolino traveled through Asia, finding many mythological scenes, which are not related to geographical Asia.
Along the way, he encountered mythical creatures, including unicorns, Blemmyes, pygmies, and skiapods, as well as eunuchs. This section draws heavily on medieval bestiaries, incorporating modern philosophy and comedy to convey ambivalence about the task of accurately depicting the medieval theme or its history.
Baudolino finally found the Kingdom of Prester John. However, ultimately, the White Huns destroyed it. The Old Man of the Mountain enslaved Baudolino and his companions for years. They then traveled back to Constantinople and encountered the Fourth Crusade in its most brutal phase.
At the end of the novel, Niketas Choniates tells Baudolino that Emperor Frederick died in a strange accident. Baudolino ends without a clear resolution of the endless struggles of Italy and the violence of the Crusades; At the same time, it suggests that this period is impossible to accurately historicize.
Genre: Speculative fiction
Speculative fiction is a literary “super genre,” encompassing several different genres of fiction, each with speculative elements that are based on conjecture and do not exist in the real world. Sometimes called “what if” books, speculative literature changes the laws of what is real or possible as we know them in our current society, and then speculates on the outcome.
- Baudolino: young man from Alessandria, protagonist, apparently a reference to the patron saint.
- The Gavagai Monopod: A Reference to Quine’s Example of Indeterminacy in Translation.
- Deacon John: Leper Deputy Ruler of Pndapetzim, apparently based on Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.
- Gagliaudo Aulari: Legendary savior of Alessandria, and his wife, biological parents of Baudolino.
- Blemmyes: It was rumored that they were several species of mythical headless men, in ancient times and later, they inhabited remote parts of the world according to legend.
- Niketas Choniates: He was a Greek Byzantine government official and historian, like his brother Michael Akominatos, whom he accompanied to Constantinople from his birthplace, Chonae. Nicetas wrote a history of the Eastern Roman Empire from 1118 to 1207.
The novel is extremely powerful in raising the questions of what is true and what is not in history and in our view of the past. It suggests that we cannot always trust historians, and we certainly do not always trust verbal reports of what has happened in the past
The theme of lying takes many forms. A very complex example is the poetry that Baudolino writes. He wrote poems to his great love in life, Frederick’s wife, but never sent them. Then he wrote responses that she supposedly wrote about the poems, and even does it with a letter writing as he imagined would be the letter of his beloved.
Eventually he has a friend, the poet, who is actually a horrible poet, but Baudolino by lies gets him a job with a bishop as a poet-in-residence, and Baudolino writes all of his poetry for him.
Therefore, the lies in these two cases are of a different type. The first is a kind of simulated correspondence that never happened, and in the second, what is a lie is simply the authorship of the poems themselves.
Another wonderful twist on the subject of truth and lies is that Baudolino once invented some academic book titles from well-known people and recommended them to a friend who lives in a monastery with a good library. Of course, the books can’t be found, so the librarians are blamed for not having them.
Baudolino is sure that the librarians, to get out of trouble, would write them and then enter the canon of literature. Therefore, it raises the whole question of the reliability of the claimed authorship of famous literary, theological, and scientific texts. Eco simply plays around with many forms of lying, especially lying in recorded history.