From Secrets of the Code

Who's Who in The Da Vinci Code

As we toy with the names of people in The Da Vinci Code, we encounter a variety of interesting concealed meanings that Dan Brown has left for us to find.

We start with a person who doesn’t appear in The Da Vinci Code except as a memory, and very brief at that (p. 16 of the hardcover edition). But she forms a pillar of Robert Langdon’s temple: Vittoria Vetra is one of the two women in Langdon’s life, and the only one we know of who went beyond a platonic relationship, at least by explicit references. The story of Vittoria, and of Robert Langdon’s last adventure in Angels & Demons, will have so many resonances for Da Vinci Code readers, that it is worth pausing for a minute on this character who only appears as a quickly passing memory in the new book. 

Vittoria Vetra

“Vittoria” is Italian for “Victoria,” the Roman goddess of victory and the equivalent of the Greek goddess Nike. “Vetra” is a public square (piazza) in Milan. This is the site where Maifreda, the proferred female pope of the Guglielmites, was burned by inquisitors in the year 1300. Milan is where Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper resides.

In Dan Brown’s prior Angels & Demons, Vittoria Vetra is the adopted daughter of Leonardo Vetra, brilliant physicist at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire). She is also a physicist, and her father’s partner in their private lab. In Angels & Demons, which, like The Da Vinci Code, take place in April, she and Robert Langdon race around Rome chasing clues and defeating the enemies of the Vatican. In The Da Vinci Code, which takes place a little over a year later, Langdon is still remembering her scent and kiss—before he meets Sophie Neveu.

Leonardo Vetra is a week shy of his 58th birthday when he is tortured and killed at the outset of Angels & Demons. He considered himself a theo-physicist. He had found a way to prove that all molecules are connected by a single force. He and Vittoria have discovered how to make and store anti-matter. Vittoria was called back from biological research in the Balearic Sea. In her career, she had disproved one of Einstein’s theories by using atomically synchronized cameras to observe a school of tuna fish.

She is described as lithe and graceful, tall with chestnut skin and long black hair. “Her face was unmistakably Italian—not overly beautiful, but possessing full, earthy features that even at twenty yards seemed to exude a raw sensuality.” She has “deep sable eyes.” Robert Langdon also takes stock of her “slender torso and small breasts.” She is a strict vegetarian and CERN’s resident guru of Hatha yoga.

She had met her adoptive father at the age of eight, when found by Leonardo Vetra, then a young priest who had been an award-winning physics student at university. She was at the Organotrofio di Siena, a Catholic orphanage near Florence, “deserted by parents she never knew.”

Vetra received a grant to study at the University of Geneva and adopted her, just shy of her ninth birthday. She attended Geneva International School. Three years later, Vetra was hired by CERN, so she has been there since age 12.

At the close of Angels & Demons, they fall into bed together (finally), with Vittoria saying, “You’ve never been to bed with a yoga master, have you?” In The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon recalls that he and Vittoria had promised each other to meet every six months (but it had already been a year).

The name “Vetra” is rather unique, stemming as it does from “vetraschi,” the tanners of Milan, who had their shops on the public square. In the 13th century, when the Gnostics and others had female clergy, a woman known as Guglielma of Bohemia came to Milan, Italy around 1260 and began to preach. After her death in 1281, as was not uncommon, a cult sprang up around her relics. Fanatics among Guglielma’s followers believed she was an incarnation of the Holy Spirit and would return to depose the male pope, installing the first of a line of female popes and launching the Age of the Spirit.

The fanatics eventually picked a young Milanese woman, Maifreda di Pirovano, and set the date of Guglielma’s return, the Pentecost in the year 1300. When this date arrived, the forces of Pope Boniface VIII seized Maifreda di Pirovano and others, and burned them at the stake on the Piazza Vetra.

Jacques Saunière

According to fanciful legend (or hoax), Abbe Berenger Saunière, a poor parish priest, was doing some repairs in 1891 in the village church at Rennes-le-Château, a southern French town. He found some parchments that he took to the Abbe of the church of Saint Sulpice in Paris to be deciphered.

Abbe Saunière subsequently became wealthy, and it was supposed that the parchments had contained valuable secrets. A Frenchman, Pierre Plantard, was at the heart of what is now seen by most experts as almost certainly a hoax involving connections between documents he created and the legends surrounding Saunière, as well as the Priory of Sion. Plantard’s documents eventually were a source for reporting by Henry Lincoln, who did a BBC documentary.

In 1981, Lincoln teamed with two other authors to write Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which originated speculations that the secrets protected by the Priory of Sion were the relics of Mary Magdalene, who had been the wife of Christ and the matriarch of a line of Merovingian kings of France. Dan Brown drew heavily on Holy Blood, Holy Grail in writing The Da Vinci Code.

Abbe Saunière’s village, Rennes-le-Château, lies in the southeastern quadrant of France, home of the Merovingians as well as the later Cathars.

Robert Langdon

On the acknowledgments page of Angels & Demons, Dan Brown pays homage to John Langdon, who created the stunning ambigrams for that book. He also shows off work by John Langdon on the web site for The Da Vinci Code.

Ambigrams are word-images that read the same upside-down or rightside-up.While Dan Brown describes them as an “ancient” and “mythical” symbology, John Langdon apparently he believes that the particular art form he is executing is one that he invented or discovered. Another artist, Scott Kim, independently began drawing ambigrams at about the same time. Kim credits Langdon with the earliest use, however--and Kim says that Douglas Hofstadter, coined the word “ambigram.”

John Langdon has his own website, www.johnlangdon.net, where some of his outstanding works can be seen.

The Languedoc, the French region where so much of the Mary Magdalene and Templar history resides, is also suggested by the name Langdon. Langdon is also a “don”—a Harvard don (professor). There are a variety of other connotations to ponder as well.

Bezu Fache

Mount Bezu is a mountain very near Rennes-le-Château and it has at least two aspects of significance. One is that a rumored Templar stronghold was built there. It is also one of five mountaintop sites in the area that are said to form a perfect pentacle.Grande Fache is a mountain in the Pyrenees, not far from Andorra (where Aringarosa found Silas) and not far from Rennes-le-Château, the village where the myth of Abbe Saunière arises.

Fache, with the appropriate accent, also means angry in French—a characteristic that certainly defines this particular police official.

Sophie Neveu

As is explained in The Da Vinci Code, “Sofia” means “wisdom” in Greek and has a female connotation in Greek and other archaic mythologies. Various reporters have suggested that “Neveu,” in addition to meaning “new” in general in French, may also suggest “new eve”—with all the resonances to the Eve character in the Bible and in myth.  A second coming of Eve, the rebirth of the sacred feminine, the female goddess of wisdom—all fitting distinctions for Sophie Neveu. Indeed, she anagrams as, “Oh! Supine Eve.”

Sophia portrayed as a mystical consort of Christ is found in a Nag Hammadi book considered as scripture by the Gnostics. It is called “The Sophia (Wisdom) of Jesus Christ.” In this document, Sophia is the female half of an androgynous Christ, and known as “First Begettress Sophia, Mother of the Universe. Some call her 'Love.' “

Sophie Neveu could herself be considered a Holy Grail under the definitions of The Da Vinci Code, as the vessel carrying the bloodline of Christ. At different times the book seems to lean strongly in the direction of suggesting that Sophie, as well as her brother in Scotland are actually descended  from the union of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. But then there is some fairly explicit prose suggesting that is not the case, just for balance. Like many other things, it’s a mystery.  

Bishop Manuel Aringarosa

“Aringa rosa” is Italian for “red herring.” If the ultimate mastermind of the conspiracy is Teabing, then the work of Aringarosa and his minion, Silas, is the red herring of the plot. The name also contains the “rose” phoneme in it as well. The Bishop anagrams into “nausea or alarming”—two likely reactions one could have to his plot.

Sir Leigh Teabing

Dan Brown owes a lot of The Da Vinci Code to a book he cites, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by three authors, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. “Leigh “ comes from “Richard Leigh” and “Teabing” is an anagram of “Biagent.”  Teabing has made documentaries for the BBC like the authorial trio of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. There are numerous other similarities.

André Vernet

André Vernet, the name of the Swiss bank manager, is a real person—a teacher of French—who is listed among a long string of names in the acknowledgments page of The Da Vinci Code. Vernet is a former faculty member at Phillips-Exeter Academy, where Dan Brown graduated in 1982 and later taught English.

Rémy Legaludec

Rémy is a common French name. “Legaludec” is likley a kind of word-play on “Languedoc.” Languedoc is a region in southern France where many names of significance in The Da Vinci Code can be found. We also find the words “legal” and “duce” within his name, which can also be anagrammed into “a glad clue.”

Jonas Faukman (page 163)

Jonas Faukman is Robert Langdon’s editor in The Da Vinci Code. In real life, Jason Kaufman is Dan Brown’s editor. Kaufman was with Pocket Books until 2001 and they were the publishers of two of Dan Brown’s earlier books, Digital Fortress and Angels & Demons. Kaufman moved to Doubleday (a division of Random House) and his first acquisition was The Da Vinci Code, reportedly the first of a two-book deal for $500,000.

The fictional Faukman gets one of the great lines of The Da Vinci Code when he says to Robert Langdon about his desire to write a book on the subject of the sacred feminine,  “You’re a Harvard historian, for God’s sake, not a pop schlockmeister looking for a quick buck.”  Faukman’s words may be the voice of the real life Dan Brown’s conscience, knowing the extent to which he is taking the serious ideas that underlie The Da Vinci Code down the primrose path of new age, occult, pop culture.

Random notes:

Pamela Gettum, in addition to the can-do attitude suggested by the name, a librarian named “Pamela Gettum” may be to Robert Langdon what “Pussy Galore” was to James Bond.

Edouard Desrochers is a name in passing on a list of people whose conversations were regarded by Teabing: there is also an Edouard Desrochers who is a former faculty member at Phillips-Exeter Academy.

Colbert Sostaque, another name on that list yields the anagram: “cobalt rose quest.” The mysterious parchments discovered by Berenger Saunière at Rennes-la-Château included a line that refers to “blue apples at noon.” Deciphering this nonsensical phrase has become one of the great quests of the Priory/Grail legend. We think Dan Brown may be playing with this a bit. Notably, one of the greatest quests of all time for plant breeders is the development of a blue rose. This is been likened to the “Quest for the Holy Grail” among horticulturalists. A team in Australia has been working on it for more than 17 years.

Silas, in addition to being a near homonym for the cilice discipline belt he wears, kills silently and is named for the Biblical character who also escaped from prison in an earthquake.