Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ancient Mysteries: The Sator Square

While looking on the W.W.Web for something else, I ran across something really interesting. It's called the Sator Square; it's an ancient Latin palindrome. Its meaning, though, is subject to interpretation. The phrase reads "Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas" in every direction, frontward and backward, up and down.

According to a 2003 article by Rose Mary Sheldon in Cryptologia, "The sator square is one of the oldest, unsolved word puzzles in the world. Examples of the square and numerous variations on it, have been found in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas. Examples date from first-century Rome to the nineteenth century. Many questions have plagued scholars: Who composed it? What do the words mean? How has it been used in magic, religion, medicine and superstition ever since? Does the solution lie with mathematicians, philologists or theologians? All these questions remain unsolved, but the number of attempts by scholars to answer them grows yearly."

I found that there are endless websites dedicated to solving the mystery of this square and its meaning. One source, here, suggests that there are several possible interpretations:

"The usual translation is as follows:

'Sower', 'planter'
Likely an invented proper name; its similarity with arrepo, from ad repo, 'I creep towards', is coincidental
'he holds'
'(with) work', '(with care)', '(with) effort'
Two possible translations of the phrase are 'The sower Arepo holds the wheels with effort' and 'The sower Arepo leads with his hand (work) the plough (wheels).' C. W. Ceram read the square boustrophedon (in alternating directions), with tenet repeated. This produces Sator opera tenet; tenet opera sator, translated: 'The Great Sower holds in his hand all works; all works the Great Sower holds in his hand.' (Ceram 1958, p. 30)

The word arepo is enigmatic, appearing nowhere else in Latin literature. Most of those who have studied the Sator Square agree that it is a proper name, either an adaptation of a non-Latin word or a name invented specifically for this sentence. Jerome Carcopino thought that it came from a Celtic, specifically Gaulish, word for plough. David Daube argued that it represented a Hebrew or Aramaic rendition of the Greek Αλφα ω, or "Alpha-Omega" (cf. Revelation 1:8) by early Christians. J. Gwyn Griffiths contended that it came, via Alexandria, from the attested Egyptian name Ḥr-Ḥp, which he took to mean "the face of Apis"."

I find the whole thing fascinating; as one of the articles pointed out, though, this is a mystery that can never be solved--only analyzed. And those, to me, are the most compelling mysteries of all.

(Photo image: Answers.com)


Caro said...

This is realy a very magic square. I never heard of it, but looked it up in the wikipedia after I read your blog about it. Why was it writen. Was it a game with words or has it some religious meaning. It is a pitty that we will never know why it was made.
It's very nice that you wrote about this square.

Julia Buckley said...

I think it's really interesting, too! It has a timeless fascination, like Stonehenge.

Taru said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Julia Buckley said...

Thanks very much!

Anonymous said...

The only palindrome in the square is TENET

Julia Buckley said...

Good point--I guess I need another term that suggests perfect symmetry. Maybe symmetry. :)

Anonymous said...

I think it's a symbol for the man and God who live here in this world ,sower, plant, alpha & omega all this word is for one person! Jesus it's my opinion!

Anthony Morris said...

you may like www.newunderstandings.com
The Sator Square is something I have just solved using an ancient Greek cipher and linking it to my Partition Theory via the Swastika no less. Best Anthony

Unknown said...

You will only find the meaning in the oldest fraternity in the world AMORC I found it you can to.

Glenn Westmore said...

One of the oldest known Latin Squares is the Sator Square. This Square was supposedly found amongst the ruins of Pompeii in the volcanic ashes resulting Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, pressed in clay or carved in stone. Read more about it on my blog: http://www.glennwestmore.com.au/category/latin-squares/.