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Literature / Baudolino

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Baudolino is a 2000 novel by Umberto Eco.

During the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, Baudolino of Alessandria finds historian Niketas Choniates and saves his life. They decide to hide, along with other people, for as long as the sacking of the city continues. To pass the time, Baudolino decides to tell Niketas of his journeys and adventures in the mythical world of 12th century Europe, as a member of the court of Frederick Barbarossa and more. But as a caveat, Baudolino warns Niketas that he has lived his whole life lying through his teeth every chance he had. After that, he starts…

Baudolino provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Truth: Many of the more outlandish elements of Baudolino's letter turned out to be true. If Baudolino was telling the truth in the first place.
  • Artistic Stimulation: Discussed, forging Prester John's letter required debate as to how much wine and hashish should be taken by the participants: they need ideas, but they also need to be able to write them down.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Baudolino is apparently responsible for quite a few of Barbarossa's decisions.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: This is one of the main themes of the book. Baudolino and his friends go on a quest to find the kingdom of Prester John, even though they have no evidence that it exists; most people think it does because of a fake letter made by Baudolino's group. And if Baudolino made up the whole quest, he still falls victim to this trope at the end, when he rides away alone in search of the mythical land again.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Baudolino and his friends, while fairly lovable, are not to be messed around with.
    • The Archpoet - despite being the mildest of the group initially, he's the one who betrays them.
    • Baudolino himself hates killing, but is a fierce fighter when roused. Or betrayed.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Humanoids with one foot, or giant ears, or Cephalothoraxes...
  • Black Dude Dies First: Abdul, whose father is North African and whose mother is Irish doesn't even make it to the outer reaches of the kingdom.
  • Boldly Coming: The Archpoet is hit the hardest with pretending to be a holy man, to the point that he hits on the female monsters of Deacon John's kingdom.
  • Central Theme: Yet again, belief is the central pillar of the story. The line from Foucault's Pendulum, "I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing," might sum up Baudolino's entire life.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The six skulls of John the Baptist.
  • Con Man: Baudolino and everyone on his group try to pass useless junk as sacred relics. On their quest their main source of wealth is the six skulls of John the Baptist they carry.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The monsters of Deacon John’s land are at the receiving end of this. Due to various misunderstandings, they attack each other instead of the White Huns, who exploit this and easily slaughter them.
  • Death Seeker: In the kingdom of Deacon John, there are a group of warriors who all want to die in battle, because they believe that then they'll go to heaven. The main characters think that this will make them good fighters in an impending war, since they won't be afraid. They are wrong, because they don't even fight, just ask the enemy to kill them.
  • Direct Line to the Author: Baudolino alleges to be a Deleted Scene of sorts from the real Niketas's chronicles, which he removed on the advice of the sage Paphnutius. However, Paphnutius tells Niketas that one day, an even greater liar than Baudolino will tell the ostensibly true story of Baudolino reciting his fictional tale to Niketas, i.e. Umberto Eco himself.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The monsters’ continuing disputes over the interpretations of the Christ’s nature. All of them are historical heresies.
  • Doomed by Canon: Barbarossa drowning in a river.
  • Downer Ending: By the end of the story (assuming it was true in the first place) there are only three of Baudolino's friends left alive and they agree they're no longer True Companions, he's become a broken old man after he learns he might have murdered his adoptive father, and his wife and child are far out of reach.
  • Dwindling Party: Baudolino went to search for the kingdom of Prester John with 11 other people. By the end of the book, only three remain of his group.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: By the end, you’re not sure how much of what Baudolino tells Niketas is true. Especially since the story turns more outrageous with time.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Archpoet. Baudolino can't even remember his real name (and nobody else knows it).
  • Eye Scream: Zosimus, who ends up blinded in typically Byzantine fashion.
  • Fictionary: The first ten or so pages are written in a made-up language, a mixture of Latin, medieval Italian and some others. The English translation renders it as phonetic English, with a smattering of Latin.
  • Framing Device: Baudolino telling his story to Niketas.
  • Giant Flyer: The Hashshashin use rocs as Instant Messenger Pigeons, feeding them chunks of spoiled sheep.
  • God Is Inept: Hypatia explains to Baudolino that her community believes that the universe wasn't created by the perfect God, but a lower entity, the Demiurge. The reason for all the suffering in the world is that the Demiurge botched the whole thing up.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The Hypatias.
  • The Hashshashin: Abdul was raised in their captivity, allowing him to see the brainwashing they go through, taking a small amount of their drug with him when he escaped. Later the group are caught by them, where they find out the Old Man of the Mountain also keeps cynocephals and rocs on the payroll.
  • Heroic BSoD: Baudolino has one after realizing that he and his friends unwittingly killed Frederick. He first faints, then he sits under a tree for three days without eating or saying anything. Eventually, the decides to become a stylite (an ascetic who lives on top of a pillar) to atone.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Gavagaï, in order to let the others escape the Hashshashin's fortress.
  • The High Middle Ages: The framing story is set in 1204.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of the major characters. The Archpoet, Kyot, Frederick Barbarossa, Niketas Choniates, Pope Alexander III, Robert de Boron, Otto of Freising... The only major characters original to Eco are Baudolino and his Piedmontese friends, Abdul, Solomon and Gavagai.
  • Historical In-Joke: This is part of the book’s idea, since Baudolino appears to be responsible for a lot of stuff that happened during Frederick Barbarossa’s era.
  • Hordes from the East: the White Huns that overrun the kingdom.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: Baudolino’s pearls of wisdom at the end.
    "How can you be so wise?" one man asked him. And Baudolino said: "Because I hide myself."
    "How can you hide yourself?"
    Baudolino held out his hand and showed his palm. "What do you see before you?" he asked. "A hand," the man answered.
    "You see I know well how to hide myself," Baudolino said.
  • In Harmony with Nature: The gymnosophists. As the elder of the group tells Baudolino:
    We possess the earth, the trees, the sun, the moon, and the stars. When we are hungry we eat the fruits of the trees, which they produce by themselves, following the sun and the moon. When we are thirsty we go to the river and drink. We have one woman each and, following the lunar cycle, each man fertilizes his companion until she has produced two sons, then we give one to the father and one to the mother. This place where we are is also our grave, and here we die, lying down in the sleep of death. The earth begets us, the earth nourishes us, beneath the earth we sleep the eternal sleep.
  • Interspecies Romance: Baudolino has a daughter with a satyr girl.
  • Jews Love to Argue: Rabbi Solomon does it frequently.
  • Jizzed in My Pants: Baudolino, forgetting that he's supposed to be one of the Wise Men, starts telling raunchy stories to Deacon John, resulting in this trope.
  • Locked Room Mystery: The death of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa is a prototypical example.
  • Magical Land: The kingdom of Prester John.
  • Mundane Afterlife: When Baudolino's father is dying, he says that he's seeing Heaven. When Baudolino asks what it looks like, he responds that it looks just like his stable.
  • No Name Given: The Archpoet, because he’s based on a historical character whose name is unknown.
  • Nonindicative Name: The Archpoet never wrote a single poem in his life. He got his reputation by using the poems Baudolino wrote.
  • Omniglot: Baudolino is able to learn any language after hearing it for a short time.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: Not so big, but certainly one-eyed.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: Monopods, satyrs, blemmyes, panotii and more. Eco didn't made these monsters up - they're all from medieval folklore.
  • Parental Incest: One of the Wacky Wayside Tribes consists of people who live naked and fornicate with family members.
  • Perspective Flip: On meeting Deacon John, he asks about the wonders of the Occident in a mix of Mundane Made Awesome (bread that rises!) and complete fantasy, exactly what supposedly happened in the Orient.
  • Pious Monster: The various monsters in Deacon John's kingdom all devout Christians, but each species has its own interpretation of the nature of the Holy Trinity and refuses to consider the others as anything but heretics.
  • Planet of Steves: A community of female, satyr-like creatures who consider themselves the followers of Hypatia of Alexandria are all named Hypatia in her honor.
  • Proverbial Wisdom: Deconstructed; when Baudolino becomes a stylite (an ascetic who lives on a pillar), people often visit him for advice, believing him to be a saint and a Hermit Guru. Playing up with their expectations, he delivers some Ice Cream Koans, and his visitors find them extremely helpful.
  • Public Domain Artifact: The Holy Grail, between other stuff.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: What the crusaders do to Constantinople.
  • Roc Birds: Rocs are raised by the Hashashin, and used by the protagonists in their escape.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Baudolino and his group. A peasant boy turned Emperor's ward, two bickering poets, a half-Arab, half-Irish minstrel, a rabbi, a disgraced lord and a few of Baudolino's Piedmontese childhood friends on a quest to find Prester John.
  • Sage Love Interest: Hypatia tells Baudolino the Gnostic creation myth before they first make love and eventually converts him to her faith; her teachings have a profound impact on his life.
  • Self-Proclaimed Liar: Baudolino.
  • Taking You with Me: After the leper Deacon John dies, his underlings hand his body to Baudolino, telling him they'll stay in the city and infect the Huns.
  • The Three Wise Men: The Magi are thought to have come from the kingdom of Prester John. In order to get Emperor Frederick's support for an expedition to the kingdom, Baudolino produces the relics of the Magi, found in a church in Milano, though he and the canon he gets the relics from both acknowledge that they're not the real remains.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: While Baudolino follows Emperor Frederick to wars, he never kills anyone personally until the end when he kills the Archpoet, believing him to be Frederick's murderer.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: The various monsters living on the outskirts of the kingdom are trained against the Huns: the Sciapodes use blowguns, the giants just smack the horses away, and the Panotites glide down and stab them. And then it all goes wrong; due to various misunderstandings, the monsters turn on each other, and get easily slaugthered by the Huns while fighting.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Baudolino admits that he's a great liar and deceived many people, so the veracity of his story can be questioned. Niketas notes to himself that Baudolino says that he lied to everyone, but expects him to believe that now he's telling the truth.
  • The Unseen: The satyrs.
  • Veganopia: During their journey, Baudolino and his friends pass through a village of gymnosophists, who live in perfect harmony with each other and nature. They wear no clothes, have no possessions, drink only water and eat only fruits that grow naturally.
  • Your Mom: When Baudolino sees a bunch of people who work at building a new city (which will become Alessandria) he asks a group what are they doing. One of them says they're building a machine to scratch their cock. Baudolino responds that he needs no such machine, because as a rule, his prick is scratched by their mothers.