What is a Sator Square?
It is an ancient four-time palindrome* in Latin that can be read in every direction – that is, from left-to-right, right-to-left, top-to-bottom and just to mix things a bit, even from bottom-to-top.
The oldest Sator Square was found in Pompeii, Italy.
Given that Pompeii was an ancient Roman city wiped out by Mount Vesuvius erupting in 79 AD, the contents found there within are certainly old indeed.
Other Sator Squares have been found around Italy, including in Rome (at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore), in the Siena Cathedral in Tuscany, at the Valvisciolo Abbey in central Italy and in Abruzzo.
Abroad, they have been found as far spread as in Syria (Dura-Europos), France (Luberon), Portugal (Conimbriga), in England from as far back as the 2nd century (in Manchester, Cirencester, Lancashire) and one in Närke, Sweden that dates back to the 14th century.
The words on the Sator Square are: “SATOR”, which can mean “sower” (from ‘to sow’) including in the sense of progenitor (usually divine); “AREPO”, whilst a bit of a mystery, may be a name; “TENET” is one who possesses or preserves; “OPERA” is a work or service; and “ROTAS” comes from rotate so could indicate a wheel or something that turns.
Is the Sator Square just really old (and very clever) graffiti? Is it perhaps simply a fun wordplay or something much more significant?
The letters on the Sator Square have variously been interpreted by scholars as reading, “The sower holds the works and wheels by means of water”, “The sower works for mastery by turning the wheel”, or even, “The farmer Arepo as works wheels”.
Scholars have argued that there were unlikely to have been many Christians in Pompeii in 79AD, hence it is dubious that it holds much Christian symbolism. Nonetheless, the lettering can be restructured to read, “Pater Noster” (“Our Father”, from the Lord’s Prayer).
Other interpretation on what the Sator Square could signify include that it has magical powers that can ward off the devil by making him so confused with its repetition of letters that he would just leave.
It is also believed to have healing properties for both humans and animals, being particularly good for jinxes and witchcraft.
If you prefer more simpler palindromes, here are a few about the every-inspiring Italy:
“A new order began, a more Roman age bred Rowena.”
“Anne, I vote more cars race Rome to Vienna.”
“Able was I ‘ere I saw Elba.”
“As I pee, sir, I see Pisa!”
Our great private tour of Pompeii is an excellent way to see the ancient ruins of this lost city.
(*Palindromes are words/phrases that can be read the same backwards and forwards, which explains why in Greek they are often called “crabs”.)