The Sator Square

The so-called “Sator square” or Sator “palindrome” (i.e. a back-and-forth, up-and down combination of letters) is known in two forms, and is therefore also called the “Sator-Rotas square”:

The five Latin words that can be read in different directions seem to form a sentence that makes sense, although its exact meaning is unclear. In fact, the word AREPO is unknown and there is too much guesswork around it. In any case, the phrase Sator Arepo tenet opera rotas can be roughly translated into English as: the ploughman/creator/maker/father [Arepo] keeps his works the circles/universe. What mainly puzzles interpreters of the square is the phenomenon that the palindrome seems to be based on the Latin inscription Pater noster, the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer. As if these two words and the sign of the cross had been the starting point from which the palindrome was then created. Here, then, is the inscription after the letters of the square have been rearranged.

The two letters ‘a’ and two ‘o’ appear on the stems of the cross, which may be a reference to the Book of Revelation, the words of Christ on the throne: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (22,13). The earliest Sator squares were found in Pompeii. Since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city on 24 August 79, the two Sator-Rotas inscriptions found at Pompeii must have been engraved on a column and on the wall of a house before the catastrophe. Its Christian origin cannot be proved or disproved. The Sator square is an important inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s film Tenet, in which the palindrome that reads backwards and forwards becomes the symbol of a philosophical problem of moving backwards and forwards in time, enriched with action-movie visuals.