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Acrostics - Mystical to Mind-Boggling

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The Sator Acrostic

The Sator Acrostic

Poems or puzzles...:

An acrostic is a poem or a puzzle in which the first or last letter of each line spell out a word, phrase, or name. When it's the last letter, it's often referred to as a telestich. A double acrostic has the first and last letters forming new words.

The word ACROSTIC comes to the English language via the Latin derivation of the Greek words, 'AKRON' (end) and 'STIKHOS' (line of verse).

Ancient origins...:

Acrostics date from before the time of Christ. A Roman poet, Quintus Ennius (d. 169 BC), wrote a poem in which the first letters of each line spelled out, 'Quae Q. Ennius fecit' (Q. Ennius wrote this').

The Sibylline Prophecies were acrostics, a fact which made Cicero suspect they were written by humans.

Excavating the ruins of Pompeii...:

A truly amazing acrostic was found during archaeological digs at Pompeii and the old Roman city of Cirencester. More than just an acrostic, the Sator Acrostic (pictured above) combined the elements of a word square and a palindrome. It can be read from right to left, left to right, upwards and downwards! Translated, it reads: The sower, Arepo, guides the wheels with care.

Mystical significance?:

Tony Augarde, in The Oxford Guide to Word Games, suggests that the SATOR acrostic may have mystical significance much like the Greek word for fish, 'ICHTHYS' (which consists of the first letters of the Greek words for, 'Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour.')

Augarde states, "The SATOR acrostic may have been used as a charm or a way for persecuted Christians to recognise one another."

Even more remarkable...:

Apart from the fact that the word TENET forms a central cross, all the letters can be rearranged to form this. The remaining two A's and O's can then be placed at the four ends of the cross to represent Alpha (the beginning) and Omega (the end). As if that isn't intriguing enough, the letters can also be arranged into a prayer: 'Oro Te, Pater; oro Te , Pater; sanas' ('I pray to Thee, Father; I pray to Thee, Father; Thou healest').

Acrostics in the Bible...:

Several Psalms are acrostics. In the Hebrew version of Psalm 119, each group of eight verses is preceded by 'Aleph', 'Beth', etc., and the stanzas each begin with that particular letter.

From Commodianus (400 AD), who composed many Christian poems in acrostic form, to the first Bishop of Sherborne (705 AD), acrostics have recurringly been included in mystical and spiritual writings.

From Poetry to Parlor Games:

Part two of this article, Acrostics - From Poetry to Parlor Games, looks at acrostics from the 16th century (when royalty and heroes were honored with acrostics) to modern times.

To learn more...:

If you want to find out more about acrostics and other word puzzles, then you'll want to read The Oxford Guide to Word Games by Tony Augarde.

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