MILAN • Hundreds of mourners flocked to Milan's Sforza Castle on Tuesday to pay their last respects to Umberto Eco, the Italian scholar in the arcane field of semiotics who became the author of the 1980 blockbuster mediaeval mystery The Name Of The Rose.
Fans gathered outside his home in the north Italian city applauded as his coffin, laden with white roses, was carried to the imposing 15th-century citadel and laid in state in a courtyard, under a presidential guard.
Musicians played Arcangelo Corelli's Baroque sonata La Follia, a favourite which Eco used to play on the clarinet, before dignitaries including culture and education ministers paid homage to one of Italy's most loved sons.
"It was a piece that accompanied us always, my husband loved it very much," Eco's widow Renate Ramge said.
Eco, who had been suffering from cancer, died at home last Friday at the age of 84.
The academic, who once said he thought of himself as "a serious professor who, during the weekend, writes novels", lived within a maze of bookshelves, more vast library than house - and one he knew inside out.
"You could see in his silences that he was consulting the unending library he carried within. Thank you Maestro for having spent your life looking out of the window for us," said culture minister Dario Franceschini.
Friends remembered a gentle man who enjoyed whisky and wordplay in equal measure and had a nice line in self-deprecating humour. One of his grandsons stood up to say how proud of his grandpa he was.
Some speakers choked back tears as they addressed the crowd in front of large heraldic flags sent by cities across Italy in a gesture of respect. Others told jokes they had shared with him.
"We have yet to fully understand his greatness. He was a friend and I thank him for having cared so much," said Ms Elisabetta Sgarbi, head of publishing house La Nave di Teseo, which will release Eco's last book on Friday.
The book, Pape Satan Aleppe, is a collection of essays that has appeared in Italian weekly L'Espresso since 2000.
"Eco is the symbol of that innovative classicism which is so essential and which our country brings to the world. We have lost a master, but we have not lost his teachings," education minister Stefania Gannini said.
Eco was revered around the world, largely thanks to The Name Of The Rose, the novel that became a 1986 hit film starring Sean Connery in the role of a monk-detective with the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes.
The Name Of The Rose, which has been translated into 43 languages, has sold more than 10 million copies.