Introduction: 2021 Edition
The ancient Roman Sator Square (also: Rotas Square, or Sator Rebus) is an enigma that has baffled scholars for centuries. I can now offer the definitive answer to what the Sator Square really meant across the ancient Roman world.
My finding reinforces our saying that truth is stranger (and more powerful) than fiction.
I can assure you: it has nothing to do with the occult, or with aliens, or any other half-baked conspiracy theory. It is not a spell, nor a charm, nor a curse formula. And it does mean something. Its ancient but timeless wisdom offers a very powerful guide for our daily lives today.
The Sator Square is telling us a very down-to-earth, amazingly pragmatic, powerful aphorism (saying). Its truth reflects not only Roman small-town farm society from before imperial times, back over 2,000 years ago to the Roman Republic. Beyond republic and later empire, the Sator aphorism or saying later also reflects the fundamental underpinnings of neo-Classical and European Medieval philosophy and theology right into our own day and age.
I will reveal the solution in the next few pages. Iíll need the rest of this book to explain the context of those five simple words, which are:
You'll notice that I have gone a step ahead and divided the text into two sentences. That's a clue about what's to come in this paper. The supposedly perfect symmetry of the Sator Square is misleading, as I'll explain all the entire surprising detail shortly.
Take a look at one of the classic exemplars, inscribed in stone, just one of many found all over the ancient empire (except, for some reason, in the capital city of Rome). This inscription is found in Cirencester, U.K. (courtesy Cotswolds District Council). As an aside, the ancient Britannic-Roman city was known by its Latin name as Corinium.
That the Sator Square was displayed publicly and prominently tells us it was a key and universal emblem in its age. The Sator inscription is found in the ruins across the ancient Roman empire, often in key government or military locations, as well as public squares (fora) like that in Pompeii. Another well-preserved example (now in the Yale University collections in New Haven, Connecticut, USA) has been found in the ruins of a key military headquarters, the doomed major Roman fortress of Dura Europos on the Parthian frontier in Mesopotamia. These inscriptions are found scratched, carved, or painted on walls and other surfaces.
We can now, at last, understand the answer. The meaning of those five words evaporated along with the Latin vulgate (common language spoken across the empire), but their meaning and their spirit live on in the foundations of modern civilization.
Until the end of Late Classical Antiquity around 500 C.E. (A.D.), the Roman empire was a vast nation without internal borders. According to modern estimates, the empire contained roughly fifty to seventy million souls or more across much of Europe, northern Africa, and western Asiaóan area today divided into more than one hundred nations of many cultures and languages, many of them frequently hostile to each other.
The Roman nation shaped itself upon a powerful cultural, political, religious, economic, and military foundation. The complex daily processes of that nation were a great engine that powered them to keep their vast domains together (albeit with much internal strife and no small number of external threats) for about half a millennium. There were several major civil wars, as in the Year of Four Emperors (69 CE) or the Crisis of the Third Century (c235 to c270 CE). Through its history, from archaic times forward, Rome had the great fortune of being saved at just the right moments by some great restorator or Restorer (e.g., Marcus Furius Camillus (c. 446 Ė 365 BC) at least twice in the 4th Century BCE; Vespasian in 69 CE; Septimius Severus in 193 BCE; and many more. The Roman colossus began breaking up after a significant defeat by the Goths at Adrianople in 378 C.E. and the sack of Rome itself in 410 C.E. by Germanic barbarians (Christianized Goths and their Germanic allies). Scholars refer to various dates that signal when the empire in the West died, including 476 CE (when the last emperor at Rome, a teenage usurper named Romulus Augustulus, was sent into exile). A key date is 537 CE during a major siege when the Eastern Roman general Belisarius was holed up in the city during an attempt to reconquer the western or Latin half of the empire (without success); the Goths led by King Vitiges destroyed the aqueducts bringing millions of gallons of water a day to Rome. After this, the city quickly deteriorated into the European Medieval village it was to long be, with maybe 25,000 or so villagers left to huddle in their huts on the Tiber, amid apocalyptic ruins all around; forests containing lost temples and streets and palaces. After the siege of Vitiges, much of the common culture of that formerly great nation was lost.
Included in that loss was any understanding of what the Sator Square might have meant. The various dialects of the Latin popular language vulgus quickly turned into what we today call the Romance languages; and no small amount of Latin seeped into the fabric of various Germanic languages over the next thousand years or more, including modern English and modern German. And a key notion to recognize is that most of these modern languages are not anywhere near as highly inflected as Latin was, which eroded much of the grammatical foundation on which the Sator Square was builtand readily, universally understandable in ancient times.
Our concern in this book is about five important little words. A small but important part of the loss, as the eastern Roman empire (Byzantine) went its own way, and the western Roman empire broke up into Germanic (Gothic, Vandal, Suebic, and their like) kingdoms, was the popular meaning of this mysterious inscription we today call the Sator Square. It is also known (for reasons I will explain) as the Rotas Square or the Sator Rebus.
This remarkable artifact forms one of the most perfect palindromes ever known. Derived from the Hellenic (Greek) language, Ďpalindromeí describes any inscription that reads the same way backwards as forwards.
For example, the word Ďmadamí is simple example (one word, that reads the same way left to right as right to left. The playful sentence "Madam I'm Adam" is often cited as an example of a palindrome.
The Sator Square goes much farther, in that its five words can be read as a four-way palindrome (up-down, down-up, left-right, right-left) always with the same order.
Again, there is nothing occult or weird about the Sator Square. Itís a powerful, down to earth, pragmatic aphorism or instruction for personal responsibility. It worked for the archaic Roman farmer in Latium where it originated, and it grew in scope with the empire over half a millennium.
Now itís time. Iíll tell you exactly what it means. Bear in mind, this is a new, unique, (and I think final) translation of the Sator aphorism. As Iíll explain among many other things, it is not one sentence but two, linked into an ironic expression about fate and personal responsibility. Here it is:
That is the correct, proper, and only translation of the Sator Square in its true ancient meaning. And yes, it means the same thing whether you read it top to bottom, left to right, right to left, or bottom to top (starting with Rotas instead of Sator). It may well be the most perfect (seeming) palindrome in history. But as I'll show, the perfection is a bit of an illusion. We'll get to that shortly.
It will take me this entire book to tell you how I came up with that, but let me quickly give you a modern equivalent so youíll understand how relevant and eternal its meaning is to your life and to modern life in general.
Iíll plug in a popular U.S. brand of automobiles here to illustrate.
Every time you take the wheel of your car (regardless of make or model) and drive away from home, you take not only your life into your hands, but everyone elseís that you meet along the road. That applies especially to drunk or otherwise impaired driving (think of the wonderful campaign for sober driving by MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving).
NOTE: As we'll discuss later, I could have made this translation more symmetrical by placing the word 'you' at the end of the first line. I chose to let the second line look much bigger, to emphasize three things: (1) there is a 'but' conjunction (sed, understood, in its ironic sense) in the Latin; (2) the 'you' is integral to the second sentence, so that the first sentence is in the third person ('the Begetter does
') whereas the second sentence addresses you, the reader or listener to whom this philosophical advice is aimed; and (3) the palindrome suggests a degree of symmetry that is actually not quite there, but is forced from its far older, non-palindromic rural origins ('shoehorned' as we'll discuss shortly).
This vital principle of personal responsibility applies to everything we do in life. Itís a profound statement of personal responsibility, as meaningful today as it was thousands of years ago. It is relevant in every area of life including faith, salvation, civic duties; and in getting home in one piece without destroying lives and property along the way (like running over mailboxes or whatever).
In its ironic formulation, the aphorism teaches us about two kinds of fate that govern our lives: Sator Fate, and Rotas Fate.
The first of these (Sator Fate or God Fate) is out of your hands. If you are walking down the street, and a piano falls on you from the nth floor of a building, there is no way you could have known or changed what was about to happen to you.
On the other hand, Rotas Fate governs all those areas for which you have personal responsibility. The aphorism was found on the walls of military headquarters, and as a long ago U.S. Army enlisted soldier, I can readily imagine it on the wall of one of my former headquarters. In the Army, we were taught all sorts of canned phrases of that sort.
But the meaning of the Sator Square goes far beyond that into realms like augury and civic religion. Iíll cover all of that for you in this book. In particular, it seems to echo the fundaments of neo-Platonism, a Classic philosophical system that had a powerful impact on European Medieval Christendom in terms of doctrines like sin, salvation, and free will. Itís all there.
Among other things, we'll see in this book why the Sator Square has proved to be so deceptive to post-Roman eyes, and so baffling. I don't believe that the palindromic inscription was its initial form. Based on the universality and instant sense of its wisdom, we can be sure that it was a powerful proverb of the pragmatic ancient Roman farmers long before some clever soul fashioned it into its final format.
When the western Roman empire faded away in late Classical Antiquity, to be replaced by a mosaic of cultures including much of Medieval Europe, Latin gave way to less inflected languages that do not enjoy the same sort of gymnastic freedom as a language in which the expressions for "Marcus hit the ball" and "The ball hit Marcus" may resemble the same thing, but have totally opposite meanings, generally depending on declined and conjugative word endings.
Also, the ancient Sator Rebus (as it is also known) gives an illusion of perfect symmetry that is simply not there. It is not one sentence, but two sentences of unequal length, standing in powerful ironic opposition to one another.
Let's jump in and learn all the delightful detailsÖ
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