Leon Foucault Essay

In February 1851, Léon Foucault published in the Comptes rendus his famous pendulum experiment performed at the “Observatoire de Paris”. This ended two centuries of quest for an experimental demonstration of Earth rotation. One month later, the experiment was reproduced at larger scale in the Panthéon and, as early as the summer of 1851, it was being repeated in many places across the world. The next year, Foucault invented the gyroscope to get a still more direct proof of Earth rotation. The theory relied on the masterpiece treatise of Laplace on celestial mechanics, published in 1805, which already contained the mathematical expression of the force that would be discovered by Gustave Coriolis 30 years later. The idea of a fictitious inertial force proposed by Coriolis prevailed by the end of 19th century, as it was conceptually simpler than Laplace's approach. The full theory of the Foucault pendulum, taking into account its unavoidable imperfections, was not obtained until three decades later by Kamerlingh Onnes, the future discoverer of liquid helium and superconductivity. Today, Foucault's exceptional creativity is still a source of inspiration for research and the promotion of science through experimental proofs widely available to the public.

Foucault’s Pendulum is 641 pages long. The story extends quite aimlessly for nearly the first quarter of the book, after which it gains focus and momentum. This is not a failing on Eco’s part; his writing is calculated even if his pace may frustrate some readers.

Readers who had difficulty with Eco’s frequent inclusion of Latin passages in The Name of the Rose face a nine-line quotation in Hebrew at the beginning of this novel. Eco regularly lapses into foreign languages in his novels, much as James Joyce did in his. When readers complain to him about this, he dismisses their complaints by saying that they do not have to translate the passages: Had he wanted readers to know what they mean, he would have provided translations.

Foucault’s pendulum was invented in 1851 by Jean-Bernard-Léon Foucault to demonstrate the axial rotation of the earth. Foucault suspended a weight from a wire attached to a fixed point. Unlike a pendulum in a clock, the Foucault pendulum is able to swing in any plane. Such a pendulum will continue to swing in the same plane even as the earth turns beneath it. To an observer, it appears that the pendulum is turning in a circle as it swings back and forth; the truth is that the observer, not the pendulum, turns in a circle. Eco uses the pendulum as a metaphor for his narrative approach.

Casaubon, a doctoral student in philology, well versed in the Knights Templar legend, narrates the...

(The entire section is 571 words.)


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