Umberto Eco was an Italian Professor of Semiotics who in his middle years became an international bestselling novelist with his medieval detective story The Name of the Rose.
Most of us don't, I suppose, know much or perhaps anything about semiotics. Indeed, whenever I come across the word I have to resort to the dictionary to remind myself of its meaning. (“The science of sign-signals in language”, if you really want to know).
Eco was immersed in the Middle Ages, which he regarded as a fruitful time, and in the Ancient World; he once said that you should remember that any idea you have might not be original: “Aristotle will always have thought of it before you”. In short he was the very model of the high-powered intellectual, collecting honorary degrees by the score from universities all over the world. And yet The Name of the Rose sold 10 million copies worldwide and was turned into a film starring Sean Connery; while his later novels Foucault’s Pendulum and Baudolino were almost as successful.