Monthly Archives: January 2016

Encouraging the PhDivas: My Top 5 Posts for Dorothy King

I first began blogging at the behest Dorothy King and Kristina KillgroveI have always been fortunate to have strong female mentors in my day-t0-day academic life, and was pleasantly surprised to find a similarly robust (although geographically dispersed) network of scholars online when I joined Twitter in 2011. At that time, I was simply hoping to promote an Op-Ed piece I had written for the New York Times regarding the history of damnatio memoriae. A scholar and academic writer in her own right, Dorothy also runs the PhDiva Blog. She invited me to post for her as frequently or infrequently as I wanted, never censored my content, and gave me a prefabricated forum to speak to an audience, to develop ideas that were not quite to the level of journal articles, and, ultimately, to cultivate a network of people I have come to rely on in the past 5 years.  As many people have pointed out (including Times Higher Education): Blogging can make you a better academic writerThese are just a few reasons I encourage early career professionals to begin blogging.

Now, in the spirit of the time-honored Throwback Thursday (and not at all unlike those lazy 1990s sitcom episodes that stitch together flashback scenes from previous seasons in order to give the writing staff a break from producing new material), I give you my top (5) favorite posts written for PhDiva…and a few of the lessons I have learned along the way:

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A togate statue of Caligula (my favorite Caligula statue, btw) from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, juxtaposed next to a picture of Calvin Candie from Django Unchained (2012). 

I. A Classical Review of Django Unchained In this post, I explored Quentin Tarantino’s admission that the character of the antebellum slave master Calvin Candie was meant to be a “southern fried Caligula.” This post challenged me to return to the primary sources (e.g., Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars) and to explore secondary scholarship in order to compare the two characters. I concluded that, “Much as Suetonius’ Caligula was meant to both amuse and to moralize, Tarantino presents his evil slaveholder, Mr. Candie, as a lesson to be learned—albeit in an incredibly gory and over-the-top manner–just two years before the outbreak of the American Civil War. Both Mr. Candie and Caligula are portrayed as people with little regard for human life or the natural rights of man by their biographers, and as men who abhorred civil liberties.” I can’t be 100% sure, but I think Tarantino use some Suetonius on set, just as Oliver Stone used Plutarch for Alexander.

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As this exchange with Prof. Duncan MacRae (U-Cinn) demonstrates, Twitter is for more than procrastination. Just like any other tool, it can cause harm or it can serve to make your (academic) work easier. 

II. Death By Roof Tile or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the TwitterThis post had its nascence, as many things do, on the micro-blogging site of Twitter. I had been reading the Collectio Avellana, which is a late antique primary collection of documents covering the years  366 to 553 CE, part of which recounts the tumult that erupted upon the death of the Bishop of Rome Liberius. In 366, Pope Damasus’ (alleged) posse of charioteers, gravediggers, and brigands caused mayhem in the city and threw roof tiles down on people from the roof of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. That is when I thought: “Huh! That is exactly how Saturninus died!”… In 100 BCE, one of Marius’ previous supporters, Saturninus, went rogue and took the Capitoline hill with his partner Glaucia and their supporters. Marius formed a militia after the Senate passed an SCU–senatus consultum ultimum–a grave measure passed only once before. Saturninus and Glaucia surrendered and were imprisoned in the Curia, the Roman Senate house, but many men climbed on top, tore up the roof, and rained tiles down on the captives.” When I crowd sourced the “death by roof tile” meme, Duncan MacRae, a superb ancient historian at University of Cincinnati, chimed in, as did many others. We found that death by roof tile was not so unusual in antiquity, and that the act largely emphasized temple transgression and the power being taken into the hands of the people.

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(L) Anemoscope from the city of Pesaro (ca. 200 CE) found on the Via Appia and (R) an anemoscope from the Italian city of Gaeta (IG XIV, 906). 

III. Mapping the Winds: Roman Anemoscopes and MeteorologyWhile writing a lesson plan for a lecture on Roman weather reporting, I came across two wind-roses, called anemoscopes (see pictures above), which Romans used to gauge the wind. I had no idea such instruments even existed, and the discovery sent me down a rabbit hole in order to explore the technology used in the pursuit of meteorology in antiquity. Not only did I become more familiar with an area foreign to me by reading scholarship, I realized that it was not just a fascination of antiquity. “The legacy of mapping the winds continued into Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. A manuscript of Isidore of Seville’s work (d. 636) on winds from the 12th century, now at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, shows both the Latin and Greek names for the winds around a T-O map. It illustrates clearly that ordering the world also meant ordering the winds.” If blogging has underscored anything, it is the vast parallels between my field and the modern world. The challenge before us is then to make those parallels accessible to the audience.

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Andrew Riggsby (Classics, UT-Austin) displayed a superb poster at AIA-APA(=SCS) in 2014 on time in Roman inscriptions. Blog ideas comes from just about everywhere.

IV. On Saving Time: The Roman Hour and DSTAfter returning from the AIA-SCS a few years back, and seeing Andrew Riggsby’s poster on quantification in Roman inscriptions, I got to thinking: what is the power behind controlling time? My advisor has a book coming out on Roman sundials, and well, I thought I would delve into the topic via an anecdote in Cassiodorus’ Variae, wherein around “507, the Ostrogothic emperor Theodoric sent a sundial to King Gundobad, the leader of the Burgundians. The initial request was made to Boethius by the Ostrogoth, who asked him to make a sundial and a waterclock (1.45.9-10).” Thinking about the historical delineation of time and of our modern use of Daylight Savings Time in particular was fruitful to understanding how the Roman world differed from our own. As I said, “The hours may change, but our ability to standardize, control, and manipulate them remains a human obsession. Just like Theodoric’s gift to Gundobad, the gift of measuring time was and is seen as a feature of civility, but it is also a lens through which to view any culture.”

P.S. Andrew’s ideas on Roman information literacy are now going to be a book published by Oxford University Press.

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A papyrus recording a divorce from Roman Egypt, now in the Michigan Collection. Blogging forces you to interact with all kinds of databases and digital resources. It also teaches you about image permissions! (Image via APISwhich has a Creative Commons Policy)

V. The Power to Divorce in Antiquity. Last but not least, blogging can allow you to say something important and to comment on current events. Back in late 2013, it was reported that rabbis were being hired to beat up husbands: “Rabbis that sold their torture services were busted by federal authorities in New Jersey this week. The Orthodox Jewish rabbis were hired by wives who wished to obtain a divorce, which, in the Orthodox Jewish culture, you cannot do without the consent of the husband to obtain a ‘get.'” I didn’t know much about the Orthodox Jewish rules, but I did know a bit about Greco-Roman law, and in early imperial Roman antiquity, divorce was a right given to both men and women, before a shift occurred in Late Antiquity. Revoking the right of divorce from either gender, I concluded, was disastrous, and took away basic human agency. “I guess what I have to say is this: historically, when you don’t grant women the power to obtain a divorce–particularly to escape life threatening and abusive relationships–and in fact make them beholden to men in order to achieve one, actions are often taken that at first appear out of the ordinary and absurd. I am not claiming that these orthodox women were justified in hiring rabbis to torture their husbands for money, far from it. I am rather saying that it should never even have to come to this. It is one thing to say that divorce is forbidden, it is quite another to say that only a man can grant one.” Blogging has allowed me to further join the trend of looking at the long durée, and to show how the modification of legal rights effects individuals.

The purpose of this post was, to put it quasi-classically (i.e., the best way to put things!),


A comic from XKCD, which is also under a Creative Commons Policy.

to pour some old wine into a new skin. When it was time for me to leave Dorothy’s established Forum and build my own here on my site, she never discouraged me. She has continued to support my writing both publicly and privately and to be someone I can turn to. It is a great example of how important it is for graduate students and professionals in either traditional or “alt-ac” (I truly hate that term; they really are not alternate to academia. They are as much academics as professors.) positions to reach out to the digital community in order to formulate a support network. Beyond the scholarly network you may find, blogging hones your mad skills as a writer. Because baby, if writing is a muscle, then blogging is one hell of a Zumba class.


Sarcophagraphic Novels: Understanding the Classical Comics

Arguably the most well-known piece of early Christian relief is the Junius Bassus Sarcophagus. Dated to 359 CE, it is a visual mix tape all recorded in expensive marble. It depicts a number of biblical scenes both from the New Testament (e.g., the lives of Christ, Peter, and Paul) and the Old Testament (e.g., Isaac, Garden of Eden), and frames each with ornate columns. An inscription above these scenes notes that Bassus was a prominent statesman and city prefect, and even had pallbearers competing to carry his body. The text serves to tie the vir clarissimus (senator) to known scenes celebrated by other Christians. Bassus elevated his status by noting he was a humble neofitus (“new convert”) to Christianity, and by depicting celebrated early Christian stories for visitors to follow visually, he seems to advertise: “See?! I really am a Christian!”

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Here I have labeled the scenes on one side of the Junius Bassus (d. 359 CE) sarcophagus (Now in the Museum of St. Peter’s, Vatican City). Note the use of columns as register separators. Image originally via Art History Timeline. Inscription via the EDH (CIL VI, 32004).

Roman sarcophagi commonly contained what to many today might look like a comic strip. Much like a Latin scroll, many can even be read left to right and have either familiar mythological or religious tales (like Junius Bassus’ did) or depicted biographical progressions (usually of the deceased) that tell the story of an individual to posterity. Literacy rates in the ancient world, while disputed, were probably around 10%, making this potent mixture of text and graphics important when interacting with an audience. Kind of like speaking to an Italian when you only kind of know the language: The hand gestures help you to understand the words, amiright? I have spoken about the importance of labels on mosaics and other pieces of ancient art before, and the same is true in this case: Text and graphics have always worked together to aid understanding.


The mid 2nd c. CE sarcophagus from Ostia of Marcus Cornelius Statius, a young boy, who (as the inscription [CIL XIV, 4875] by his parents notes) died too young. The relief is read left to right and shows the life cycle of a young boy–likely that of Statius himself. Image via but it is now at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The mixture of text with relief sculpture in order to communicate a crafted narrative is not unique to Roman sarcophagi. We see it on Athenian vase painting, on memorial columns such as the Columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, and on triumphal arches.

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Scene from the Column of Trajan (113 CE), which depicts events from the Dacian Wars about a decade earlier. Note the use of the ground and of architecture to separate the scenes. Image via Wikimedia.

For instance, the inscription on the Arch of Constantine (c. 315 CE) works together with the reliefs, the variantly colored marble, and the marble elements pilfered from Constantine’s highly regarded predecessors (e.g. Marcus Aurelius, Trajan), in order to legitimize the ascension of the emperor Constantine to the position of emperor following the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE.

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The North Side of the Arch of Constantine in Rome. Note how the reliefs, roundels, inscriptions, colored marble, statues, and columns work to communicate a narrative to the reader. Images via Oxford Education Resources (CC).

In order to try and process this, I went to the modern handbook of comics history and definition, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (1993), who defines a comic simply as “juxtaposed sequential art” (8). εὕρηκα! (NB: Eureka is Greek for, “I have found it!) Comics do not exist solely in books or in the back page of a newspaper. As sarcophagi suggest, it is only the vehicle of transmission that has transformed. We are currently experiencing a renaissance of the use of comics–albeit largely through the new (well, to Romans) media of the blog, graphic novels, and the internet meme –in part because humans continue to respond to graphic communication.

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Mcloud explains what a comic really is, in Understanding Comics (1993: 6).

Which gets me to why we need to start using comics more as a pedagogical tool in this information age. Frankly, it has been a big year for graphic novels and comics focused particularly on the classical world, and I am here to tell you it is alright to assign them as textbooks in your classes (I am a Doctor! Trust me!). For instance, I recently bought and then consumed Abraham Kawa, Alecos Papadatos, and Annie Di Donna’s riveting Democracy , which takes place in 490 BCE Athens. The book is historically accurate, gorgeous, and (perhaps most significantly) emphasizes human issues relevant to the modern world: the formation of democracy, the impact of immigration on the polis, and the social toll of war.

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Explaining Athenian tyrants and the use of Archaic vase painting to reconstruct history–all in one image from Democracy (2015).

Another engaging graphic novel follows the history of something I have spoken extensively on: The History of Beer. Jonathan Hennessey’s The Comic Book Story of Beer: The World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution (2015) is fun to read and largely accurate–though there isn’t a full understanding of the low perception of beer in the Roman empire or the cervesarii who brewed it. Despite this, the comic makes the history of this popular beverage accessible, and shows the deep roots of the current craft beer craze gripping the globe.

This is all just to say that comics are not only old tools, they are effective ones. If we want to reach our students, the traditional model of publishing may have to shift. Academic books and articles will continue to exist as a type of writing, but we must also expand to accept others as valid forms. Democratize! For example, as the L.A. Review of Books exemplified, you can write an erudite review of a book in comic form.

And why not a dissertation or an M.A. thesis? Nick Sousanis, who defended his illustrated dissertation, titled: “Unflattening: A Visual-Verbal Inquiry into Learning in Many Dimensions,” in 2014, earlier told the Chronicle of Higher Education: “Text is powerful and useful..and it shouldn’t be thrown away because someone did something with comics. But why are we privileging one form over the others?” (I mean, the Romans certainly didn’t, so why should we?) Sousanis’ dissertation is now a book from Harvard University Press called Unflattening. Clearly, the archaic idea of dissertations and the strict construction of what is “academic writing” needs to adapt and to encompass a number of different media and modes transmitted both digitally and through print. In fact, if the hallowed dissertation is to live on as a relevant form of publication, it may have to.

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Image from Nick Sousanis’ comic-book dissertation. Image via Boing Boing.

The Decline and Fall of the All-Male Panel: Compiling a List of Female Ancient Historians

It was my pleasure to attend the annual meeting of the SCS-AIA in San Francisco from January 6-10. I just got back to Iowa City last night, and wanted to write while the thoughts about the conference were still fresh in my mind. First, I want to say that the SCS-AIA always serves as an annual pep talk to get attendees energized for the year ahead. I heard exceptional papers ranging in subject from the Greek economy to the archaeology of weights and measures, and loved being reminded of the myriad digital, technological, and methodological innovations afoot in the field of ancient history. Additionally, there were more Late Antiquity (200-800 CE) panels and papers than I have ever seen before. This shows real progress towards better incorporating late antique history and patristic studies into the field of Classics.

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All male panels have quite the, uh, storied history. (7th c. CE ivory of Mark and his successors, now at the Louvre. Image via Wikimedia)

Those were the positives; however, there were also some negatives. On Thursday, I attended a meeting wherein I was told by a senior scholar that affirmative action and the target hiring of women for specific positions was no longer relevant or even necessary, because racism and misogyny were now quite rare in academia (Good to know! I disagree completely!). I stayed after the meeting to debate this point with said scholar further (35 minutes), but was quite upset even to have to defend myself. I am proud to say that his is the minority view at AIA-SCS, from what I have seen, but it was a reminder that such individuals still exist and still have influence.


An all-male (and very white) panel in October of 2015 judges women for wearing leggings on Fox News. Story and Picture HERE.

What was a bit more troubling, was to find that there were a number of all male panels on the program for the conference. Now, some of these were panels put together by blind review of abstracts–i.e., there was no knowledge of the gender of the person ahead of time–while others were organized panels where presenters had been asked ahead of time. Although their numbers have been decreasing for many years, the all male panel is an animal that still has not been made extinct, either in the field of ancient history or in many others. The New York Times has pointed out its existence in media, news, and politics, but it lives on in academia as well. In fact, one of the most popular webpages on this topic is the hilarious “Congrats, You Have an All Male Panel!” TUMBLR, which lays out its aims thusly: “Documenting all male panels, seminars, events, and various other things featuring all male experts.” Meeting participants are asked to send in pictures of their all male panels to the TUMBLR, where it will be stamped with a picture of David Hasselhoff–a “Hoffsome” stamp.


When I was asked to give a paper for a sick  (male) friend at an ancient military panel on Saturday, I was exasperated to find that it too was a classic”manel”. The organizer and the panel consisted of kind, good scholars, but I felt like the whispers and the secret complaints of female academics usually only heard on Facebook or over early evening martinis at the conference hotel bar needed to be voiced.

Around 25 people populated the room, with 3-4 women (depending on the paper) in the audience and, well, 21 men. When it was my turn, I asked to speak to the ladies (“Ladies, can we talk?”) in the room and point blank told them that they should take the initiative and introduce themselves to the men in the room after the panel (“Tell them what you do! Ask them if there is a chance you can work together in the future!”). To the credit of the men in attendance, there was only one audible sigh (with visible eye roll for full effect), while everyone else just nodded and looked uncomfortable about my harpooning the elephant in the room. No matter! The paper went off well, and then we all had a good talk afterwards. I was relieved, but my carefully picked power dress had the biggest underarm sweat stains I can remember.

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There are a number of reasons why these all male panels occur quite frequently in the field of Ancient History. One thing to remember is that the blame is not always on the shoulders of the old-boy network.

1. Ancient history has had a problem with attracting women–particularly in military, economic, and political history–for a long time. By my count, for every 7 men or so in these ancient subfields, there is 1 female ancient historian. This is better than it was in the 1970s, but still not good. One time, at a meeting of the AAH (Association of Ancient Historians) at Chapel Hill, I ran into a legendary female ancient historian in the bathroom. While the men’s line was out the door, it was just she and I in the rather large bathroom. She looked at me and said, “At least there is one plus to being a woman in this field: You never have to wait in line for the toilet!” Quite right. Simply put? We need more women to actively choose to work on Roman coinage, battlefield logistics, or late antique Visigothic law! If women don’t go into these fields, they can’t participate in the panels and the participant pool will remain largely male.

2. People pick their friends for panels rather than searching out others they may not know. Look, when you organize a conference, a panel, or a colloquium, you often go to the people you trust the most: your friends and the people whom you or your advisor has worked with before. I have done this. You have done this. We have all done this. The important thing to see is that having women visible on academic panels and on executive committees will encourage more women to follow suit and to get involved. Make an effort to seek out a female graduate student or professor rather than defaulting to the normal network. Men: Challenge yourself to incorporate women. Women: Challenge yourself to introduce yourselves to men in positions of power. I hate saying “lean-in”, but damn it: Lean In.

3. Female historians are seen as people who do “soft” history: The only time I usually see an all-female panel in Ancient History is when it is on the topic of “Women in Antiquity” or perhaps”Gender and Sex in the Ancient World.” Those are important topics, but that is not all we do. I know some badass women (e.g., Constantina Katsari) who can break down Roman economic history with the best of them. Also remember: All female panels can be just as bad as an all-male panel.

Early this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email in my inbox. The convener of the aforementioned military panel wrote to ask if I could introduce him to any women who specialized in ancient military history. I thought, “Um, yeah. Absolutely, dude.” I sent him a few names, but I do think there should be a better way to do this than just word of mouth. What if the AAH, the AHA, the SCS, ASGLE and the AIA all had a list of women willing to serve on panels, committees, or subgroups?

I have begun to compile a list of women in ancient history and invite you to add names to the list. It is an editable Google doc available here. Please contribute and comment. Let’s get this conversation started and make sure that next year we can make even more progress towards gender inclusion in Ancient History.

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My academic family with our supportive ancient history advisor, Richard Talbert (Left, in his most dapper Tarheel blue).

Power of the Palindrome: Writing, Reading, and Wordplay (Part II)

I first began writing about palindromes when blogging for PhDiva, a superb blog run by classicist and archaeologist Dorothy King [Post HERE]. I will always be grateful to Dorothy for encouraging me to begin blogging, and just as I have continued to write, I have continued to be interested in palindromes, acrostics, and the use of writing for play.

The Sator Square from Dura Europos (c. 165-256 CE) is now at the Yale University Art Gallery. Photo is in the Public Domain.

The Sator Square from Dura Europos (c. 165-256 CE) is now at the Yale University Art Gallery. Photo is in the Public Domain.

As I was going through the Yale art collection from Dura-Europos this morning, I came across an incredibly popular ancient acrostic-palindrome called the ‘Sator Square.’ I will come back to the meaning of this puzzle in just a moment, but first, let’s explore the terms. The term “acrostic” has Greek origins. It is a combination of  ἄκρος (the most extreme point) and στίχος (line or row). The first letter of each line forms a word or sentence. The word palindrome also has a Greek etymology. It comes from the word παλίνδρομος which means “running back again.” A δρομεύς was a runner. Palindromes were often used in magical incantations and spells. As I have stated before, they retained their power whether read backwards or forwards; their inscribed symmetry held potency. Much as Denzel Washington’s incredibly symmetrical face is read as beautiful, reading symmetrical writing also held an attraction for the eye.

A late antique amulet from Cyprus found last year. It has a 59 letter palindrome. Photo by Marcin Iwan, artifact from the excavations of Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

A late antique amulet from Cyprus found in 2011. It has a 59 letter palindrome. Photo by Marcin Iwan. It is an artifact from the excavations of Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

A great late antique example was found at Nea Paphos on Cyprus in 2011. Joachim Silwa has published extensively on the siltstone amulet, which has a depiction of a mummy (likely Osiris) on a boat, with the god of silence, Harpocrates, above him.  It is an ιαεω- palindrome (with a couple of mistakes), a formulaic palindrome that can also be found in the Greek magical papyri for various spells. The use of magical palindromes was likely a Greek invention, even if there were Egyptian themes often incorporated (Gordon 2002: 86).  


‘Iahweh is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine.” [trans. Sliwa] 

Palindromes were also important in the Roman world. In Latin, a word read both ways was later called cancrine (“crab-like”) or, if it retains the same meter backwards and forward, was a reciprocus versus (“reciprocal or back and forth verse”).  The fifth century CE poet Sidonius Apollinaris proclaimed: “Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor” (“Rome, to you love will come suddenly with passion”) [Ep. 9.14]. Romans just loved the fact that Roma, backwards, was amor

Alright, now let us return to the famed Sator Square. The square can either read “Rotas opera tenet Arepo sator” (as the Dura-Europos one does) or “Sator Arepo tenet opera rotas.” It roughly translates to: “The planter, Arepo holds the wheels with effort.” There are three examples of the Sator Square from Pompeii alone (other comes from across the Mediterranean, including Britain, Portugal, and Syria). In addition to the Sator Squares, another Pompeian magic square reads: “Roma / Olim / Milo / Amor” (CIL IV, 8297) “Rome, once, Milo love.” This is admittedly rather hard to translate without a verb, but, like many acrostics and palindromes, the focus is on the visual rather than the meaning.

 The best article on the magical Pompeii squares is from Rebecca Benefiel (my former colleague at Washington & Lee and head of the Herculaneum Graffiti Project). As Benefiel rightfully notes, “enjoyment of word-play and mental acrobatics radiated deep through ancient society…The graffiti of Pompeii thus testify to an active culture of writing and reading, not solely for the purpose of communication but also for simple enjoyment.” (2012: 65, 78).  Even if you weren’t fully literate, you could enjoy letter symmetry and wordplay visually. That remains a part of the beauty of the palindrome.

Although there is some rearranging to do, later scholars have tried to argue that the Sator Square is an early Christian construction:

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Pater Noster A-O
Our Father (is) Alpha and Omega

As I and many others have previously said, the Sator Square was likely not early Christian at its inception; however (like many symbols, rituals, and writings) it was absorbed and then adapted as part of early Christian wordplay. Some examples show that it was still used as a kind of potent charm. Medical medievalist Monica Green was kind enough to send over an example from the 12th century Latin medical text called the Trotula. In the text, directive are given to women who have miscarried, so that the fetus can come out. As Green translates: “[98] Or let these names be written on cheese and butter: + sa. e. op. ab. z. po. c. zy. e pe. pa. pu c. ac. sator arepo tenet os pera rotas and let them be given to eat” (2002: 80). Into the medieval period, palindromes still held their power.

The medieval Trotula also has a Sator Square. Para. 98 from Vatican, BAV, Pal. lat. 1304, f. 42r. Picture via Monica Green (With my profuse thanks!).

The medieval Trotula also has a Sator Square. Para. 98 from Vatican, BAV, Pal. lat. 1304, f. 42r. Picture via Monica Green (With my profuse thanks!).

The Sator Square also continued to be a part of the epigraphic landscape. A 16th century church in Essex has a graffito of the square, and it continues to be popularly inscribed today across the Western world. Palindromes in general require a great deal of skill, and are still a mental exercise enjoyed by both writers and readers. Rather recently, comic, writer, and proud Greek Demetri Martin wrote a 224 and then 500 word palindrome. As these inscriptions continue to prove, the visual layout of an inscription or a sentence in a book could be of even more significance than the actual meaning of the word. Their symmetry, when combined with the practice of reading aloud (which Romans and Greeks often did as they read) could activate powers that could be used for love, health, or just a good laugh.

A Roman era Sator Square from Conimbriga in Portugal (Image via Wikimedia).

A Roman era Sator Square from Conimbriga in Portugal (Image via Wikimedia).