Umberto Eco Biography

Umberto Eco, the renowned Italian essayist, philosopher, novelist, and literary critic, is best known for his groundbreaking novel ‘The Name of the Rose’. With a strong background in aesthetics and semiotics, Eco defied his father’s wishes for him to become a lawyer and instead pursued medieval philosophy and literature at the University of Turin. His career took off when he became a cultural editor at the RAI, and he went on to write six fiction novels and numerous essays on contemporary semiotics. Eco’s works have been translated into multiple languages, solidifying his place in the international literary scene. Blending history, reality, and fantasy, Eco’s fictional works captivate readers with their unique balance. Additionally, his essays, such as ‘Fenomenologia di Mike Bongjorno (Phenomenology of Mike Bongjorno)’, have made significant contributions to mass media culture. Eco’s remarkable achievements have earned him honorary doctorates from esteemed literary institutions like Indiana University and Rutgers University.

Quick Facts

  • Italian Celebrities Born In January
  • Died At Age: 84
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Renate Ramge
    • Father: Giulio Eco
    • Mother: Giovanna Bisio
  • Quotes By Umberto Eco
  • Novelists
  • Died on: February 19, 2016
  • Place of death: Milan, Italy
  • Cause of Death: Pancreatic Cancer
  • Notable Alumni: University Of Turin
  • More Facts
  • Education: University Of Turin
  • Awards:
    • 1989 – Bancarella Prize
    • 1981 – Strega Prize
    • 2001 – Austrian State Prize for European Literature
    • 2000 – The VIZE 97 Prize

Childhood & Early Life

Umberto Eco was born on January 5, 1932 in Alessandria, in the Piedmont region in northern Italy. His father, Giulio, was an accountant and served in three wars, while his mother, Giovanna, moved with Eco to Piedmontese during those years. Eco’s father wanted him to become a lawyer, but he pursued medieval philosophy and literature at the University of Turin. He wrote his thesis on Thomas Aquinas and earned his Laurea in philosophy in 1954.


After completing his studies at the University of Turin, Eco worked as a cultural editor at the state broadcasting station, Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI). He also lectured as a guest lecturer at the Turin University. In 1956, his first book, “II problema estetico in San Tommaso,” was published. This book was an extension of his doctoral thesis and was influenced by the artists, writers, musicians, and painters he knew at RAI. In 1959, his second book, “Sviluppo dell’estetica medievale (The Development of Medieval Aesthetics),” was published, establishing him as a prolific thinker of medieval philosophy.

Throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, Eco’s work on mass media and culture was published in newspapers and journals in Italy. His essay, “Fenomenologia di Mike Bongjorno (Phenomenology of Mike Bongjorno),” became particularly famous during this time. From 1967 to 1997, he published many books that reflected his thinking on contemporary semiotics. Some of these works include “La struttura assente (The Absent Structure),” “A Theory of Semiotics,” “The Role of the Reader,” “Semiotics and Philosophy of Language,” “The Limits of Interpretation,” and “Kant and the Platypus.”

In 1980, Eco wrote his first historical fiction novel, “The Name of the Rose,” which was set in the 14th century. The book was an indirect tribute to one of Eco’s influences, Jorge Luis Borges, and was later made into a motion picture starring Sean Connery. In 1988, he wrote the novel “Foucault’s Pendulum,” which tells the story of three under-employed editors who design a conspiracy theory that consumes them. In 1994, he published “The Island of the Day Before,” set in the 17th century, and in 2000, “Baudolino,” a story of a knight’s exaggerated life. In 2005, he released “The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana,” featuring an old bookseller with partial memory loss. His sixth novel, “The Prague Cemetery,” was published in 2010 and explores the historical events leading to the rise of Jewish hatred.

Eco was a professor emeritus at the University of Bologna from 2008 until his death.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1962, Eco married Renate Ramge, a German art teacher. They had two children together, a son and a daughter. Umberto Eco passed away on February 19, 2016, at the age of 84, due to pancreatic cancer.


  • Eco had a vacation home in Urbino and an apartment in Milan, both of which contained extensive libraries.
  • He frequently collaborated with his friend Dr. Thomas A. Sebeok on many of his works, lectures, and novels.
  • Eco was a member of the Italian skeptic organization CICAP.

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