How Accurate Is: Baudolino (Book, Umberto Eco, 2000)

baudolino

(Spoilers will be present. Always assume they will.)

Hello everyone! Today, I will be doing a post on the Umberto Eco novel Baudolino, written in 2000. This book, set during the time of the Fourth Crusade and its sack of Constantinople, tells the story of the title character through a long series of flashbacks. The character of Baudolino is a peasant from Northern Italy who, through chance, encounters the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and becomes his adopted son; from there, most of the rest of his life is dedicated to finding the mythical kingdom of Prester John, a myth that he helps create in the process. As was Prague Cemetery, this book by Eco is impeccably researched; for example, the figure to whom Baudolino dictates his life story, Niketas Choniates, was a real Byzantine court historian and actually wrote an account of the Fourth Crusade, which he begins at the end of the book.[1] There are many other such accuracies:

  • Everything Frederick does in the book is as it occurred in history; his six expeditions to Italy, his canonization of Charlemagne, and all the rest. The only invented thing about Frederick in the book is his motive for embarking on the Third Crusade.[2]
  • Almost all the minor characters not directly related to Baudolino (the members of Frederick’s court, etc.) are also historical; however, Baudolino and his group of friends are not.
  • Much like in the Prague Cemetery, Baudolino uses its fictional main character as an explanation for the motives behind historical events that we know little about, which is a strategy that allows them to maintain historicity and an interesting story.
  • For more, continue past the link.

Above all, the most impressive aspect of this novel has to be its wonderful interpretation of medieval mythology. Beginning approximately two-thirds of the way through the book, Baudolino and his friends set out on an expedition to discover the kingdom of Prester John. Along the way, they encounter numerous figures taken straight from the less historical sections of the chronicles of the period- Chimeras, Blemmyae, Skiapods, and all the rest. It is impressive that even the ahistorical myths present in this book are historically accurate- all creatures and places mentioned in this book can be found in a source from history, from the mythical creatures present in the city of Pndapetzim[3] to the river Sambatyon[4]. This shows an attention to detail that any dedicated reader of Eco should have come to expect by now; however, repetition does not make it any less impressive. This is an excellent book, and comes with my recommendation. Thank you all for reading, and see you next time!

References: 

1 Fordham University. “Medieval Sourcebook: Nicetas Choniates: The Sack of Constantinople (1204).” Last modified 1996.

http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/choniates1.asp

2 Encyclopedia Britannica. “Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor.” Last modified April 2014.

http://www.britannica.com/biography/Frederick-I-Holy-Roman-emperor

3 Carson-Newman University. “Monsters and Fabulous Beasts- From Ancient to Medieval Cultures.” Last modified 2002.

https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/monster_list.html

4 Ohr Soymach. “The Lost Jews The Ten Tribes.” Last modified 2015.

http://ohr.edu/1788

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