memento runs like a little car full of literary overtones fuelled by the association of ideas. The articles and contributors create a kinship of ideas that turns into a theme for the magazine, as do language games with mysterious meanings. Cue: the SATOR square.

The story of this theme began with Bletchley Park, where Desmond Knox-Leet once worked in secret. From there we moved on to anagrams and dancing letters, then riddles followed by the language of birds, with a detour via Magritte’s coded images and emojis. Now we are checking out the SATOR square; something that never fails to stir minds that enjoy a bit of speculation.

So what is it exactly? Well, it’s a word square with five letters side by side in which five words (sator | arepo | tenet | opera | rotas) can be read on all four sides, making it a palindrome (word or phrase that reads the same backwards or forwards, e.g. bob). It is organised to feature a quadruple entry system.  If the phrase consisting of five words forms a palindrome, only the central word is one – « tenet » whereas the other four words are two pairs of letters in reverse – « sator » and « rotas », « arepo » and « opera ».  «Arepo » has no known meaning, except for a presumed meaning, which invalidates the consistency of the enunciation but opens up an infinite number of readings that are never proven, always shrewd and forever challenged. The ink that has been spilt on this topic so far in scholarly, theological and mystical squabbles is equivalent to a thousand years of monsoons on a postage stamp…

This word square can be found dating back to medieval times in parchment filled bibles or secreted away in a few churches in Italy and France. However, it has mainly been identified and dated in a couple of locations:  a Roman villa in Gloucestershire in England; at Doura-Europos in Syria, dating back to the IIIrd century; in Budapest, dating back to the IInd century and finally in several locations in Pompeii before the eruption that swallowed up the city in 79 AD. How did this word square manage to reach such diverse locations? And why? Did the Roman legions have something to do with it? Or did it travel via trade routes? Christian communities? Jewish communities? Have hermeneutics (the science of interpreting signs) and epigraphy (science of inscriptions) stumbled upon a «? »

One day a certain Felix Grosser got all parties on board when he discovered the anagram of two « pater noster » (Our father) which were in a cross shape with a central N with the letters  a and o (standing for Alpha and Omega of the Apocalypse) on either side. Jackpot: case closed! But no, the discovery of Sator squares in Pompeii reopened it all again! Especially as signs on the side of the square made the riddle even more complex… Because most historians disagree that Christians were in this location back then. But the Jews on the other hand were! The latter, who had studied lessons by the Greek Pythagoras, practiced exegesis (critical interpretation of religious text) of the Gematria. This meant that a numerical value was assigned to each letter so that words and phrases produce meaningful numerical equivalences within a statement. The Sator square could therefore be an outlet for the occult and assume the status of a magical square (numbers) with the same totals on each line. Magical squares were known in China prior to the Christian era and in India… The Hebrew interpretations of the Sator square with their biblical connotations are particularly clever. Of course, much later on, alchemists did not waste a minute sticking their two penny worth in…

But there is no reason why this square could not have been part of a variety of traditions. There is also no reason why it should not have flitted from one to the other. And that’s the fascinating part of reading coded text: the method of interpretation creates as much meaning as it conceals. And the text appears to be a pretext…