Hundreds at Umberto Eco’s funeral in Milan

An hour of memories recounted.

Two Corazzieri from the honour guard of the president of the republic bearing his wreath watched over the coffin of Umberto Eco as government ministers, mayors, university rectors and hundreds of ordinary citizens thronged the Cortile della Rochetta of Milan’s Castello Sforzesco on Tuesday 23 February to pay their respects in the presence of his wife, Renata, his daughter Carlotta, his son Stefano and other family members,

Next to the coffin, decorated with wildflowers, his professor’s formal gown recalled his over 40 years spent as a professor at the prestigious university of Bologna.

Security limited the number attending the ceremony to 800, although many more had queued quietly for hours to hear the eulogies and bid farewell to the philosopher, semiotician, teacher and writer who had chosen Milan as his home, and who died there last Friday.

Speakers included culture minister Dario Franceschini, education minister Stefania Giannini, Milan mayor Giuliano Pisapia, friends and colleagues from Eco’s private and professional life, Eco’s grandson, and at the last his close friend, comedian Moni Ovadia, who chose to tell one of Eco’s favourite tall stories.

Elisabetta Sgarbi, who had together with Eco recently founded the publishing house La Nave di Teseo as a reaction to the fusion of his publisher Bompiani (RCS) with the Mondadori group, spoke of their future plans in a voice cracked by emotion.

The simple ceremony was guided by Mario Andreose, publisher and close friend of Eco, who had also left Bompiani in protest and joined the new house. It began and ended with music by Arcangelo Corelli which Eco himself had loved to play on the recorder.

President Mattarella’s wreath accompanied the coffin as it left the castle, and a guard of five motorcycle police escorted the hearse to a private cremation ceremony.

Eco’s last book, Pape Satàn Aleppe, which had been scheduled by the new house for publication in May, will now be released next weekend. With erudition typical of Eco’s writing, the cryptic title is a quote from the seventh Canto of Dante’s Inferno, while the name of the new publishing house, La Nave di Teseo, is a reference to the paradox of Thesus.