To understand a thing is to understand it in its context. Within the context of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Palindrome is inscribed about the sun at the center of a zodiacal mosaic. Though tradition has it dating from 1048, made by the hand of Strozzo Strozzi, there is little evidence to support this hypothesis. The first literary source to speak of its existence occurs in 1345. In his Chronica, Giovanni Villani states that, “according to ancient tradition the image of the sun in the inlaid stonework, with the palindrome ‘En giro torte sol ciclos et rotor igne’, was an astronomical device and when the sun enters the sign of Cancer at midday that spot is lit from the opening above…” It is, however, impossible for this to occur had the device been in its current location. It is possible that the device was moved from its presumed central position, the later location of the octagonal baptismal font, during the renovations which occurred to the Baptistery in 1351. It was during these renovations which Strozzi’s tomb was found “when the floor was uncovered to the east.”, this could explain the link to Strozzi in popular legend. Current theory dates the device slightly later than 1207, as it closely resembles a similar design in the pavement of San Miniato al Monte (http://www.mega.it/eng/egui/monu/sminiat.htm), also in Florence. The San Miniato device, however, does not have the palindrome inscribed around it, so it is of little interest to us in this current endeavor.
Now to change focus the palindrome itself, the standard translation, culled from one of several art history texts (http://www.mega.it/eng/egui/monu/bs.htm) reads, "With my fire I, the sun, make the circles move around and I move around too". This contains several misinterpretations, and at least one outright error. The best translation I have been able to come up with myself has been, "In a twisting spiral, I, the Solar Disk, revolve splendidly."
The reason this particular inscription gives translators so much trouble is, in my opinion, it features a curious mixture of Medieval Greek and Latin, thereby clouding attempt to figure out the morphology of several key words. I've been working on an in-depth analysis of the phrase, and so now seems to be as good a time as any to post it.
First, for a brief look at the words on an individual basis. The first word, "en", is not Latin. It is the Greek preposition meaning "in" (it is the same in Latin and English). "Giro" is a bit strange, but I believe it to be the masculine dative singular of the Greek γυρος, meaning "circle" or "ring". In the transliteration, the upsilon has been transliterated as a Latin I (a common practice after the vowel shift of the Greek language in the early common era, and, in fact, how the upsilon is pronounced in modern Greek.), and that the iota subscript has been dropped from the final long O. The word "torte" is difficult. I believe it is a Latin adjective from tortus-torta-tortum, meaning "twisted" (it is the root of the word torture), but the inflection is not Latin. I believe that the final E is long, and it comes from the Greek feminine dative singular ending, eta, again with the iota subscript dropped. This brings up a problem of agreement between the adjective and the noun. But giving the creators some artistic license, I would translate the first prepositional phrase as "In a twisting circle," or, more poetically, "In a twisting spiral." When presented this way, I cannot help but to associate it with the movement of the ecliptic from solstice to solstice.
"Sol" is the Latin masculine nominative singular of Sol-Solis, meaning "Sun". No big surprise. “Ciclos” is not a Latin word. It comes from the Greek “κυκλος”, again with the upsilon transliterated as an I. I don’t believe “ciclos” to be an adjective, and therefore must be in apposition to “Sol”, stating “The Solar Disk.”. I believe the ‘et’ to be a superfluous particle in this reading, though it is translated in alternate readings (see below).
“Rotor” is the first person singular present indicative passive form of the verb roto-rotare. It means, “I am rotated,” or “I revolve”. “Igne” is masculine ablative singular, from ignis-ignis, having many literal and figurative meanings, from simple fire, to any kind of brilliant glow, to emotional ‘fire’. I take the ablative here to be somewhat adverbial, hence my translation as “splendidly”, but it would be equally easy to see it as an ablative of means, which would translate as “I am moved by fire”.
In doing analysis of the phrase through gematria, one finds one's self in the curious position of having a palindrome who's sums are not do not reflect each other, due to the use of two different languages. I'm still working to see what falls out of this, but I did find one interesting fact. The sum of the palindrome within the palindrome, "Rotor", is 360. This seems to me to represent the 'turning back to center' which takes place in the fourth step of the formula of the House of Sacrifice, as well as the circulations of energy within the Second Formula of the Clavis Rei Primae.
The division of the letters also seems significant. In the first half of the palindrome, the words consist of 2, 4 and 5, (with "sol ciclos" itself being a palindrome). This, again, seems to echo the House of Sacrifice, with its dyadic and triadic structure. Interestingly, if the division of letters in the first half is made to mirror the division in the second half, another translatable phrase can be seen: "Engi rotor te sol ciclos et rotor igne." Which can be translated as "Behold, I am moved by you, O Solar Disk, and I am moved splendidly."
In the Ogdoadic magical tradition, the Palindrome functions at the world-axis of ritual; it is the point around which many rituals spin. It is most often used in conjunction with the verse of the Ogdoadic Catena, and it is this that I shall analyze next. The current of energy in the Ogdoadic Catena leads ever up, mimicking the upward path on the Tree of Life, beginning at Malkuth and proceeding through each sphere in order to Kether.
10. Salutation and again salutation to the High Guardians of the Glorious Star,9. who were, and are, and are to come. Salutation and again salutation in the splendour of the Star which unites us.
(Yesod, with her three faces, which are united as one, under her “star”)
8. O you High Guardians, Hidden Adepti, Dwellers in Eternity: you have given signs
(Signs are definitely the province of Hod)
7. and you have shown wonders,
(And wonders of Netzach)
6. and you have revealed yourselves unto your children.
EN GIRO TORTE SOL CICLOS ET ROTOR IGNE.
Such are the Words, such is the Greeting!
(We are the reflection of the child of the Higher and the Lower; We are the link between the past, present and future; We are the umbilical between Heaven and Earth; We are the reflection of the Puer Aeternus, of Tiphereth. And at the center of the whole structure of the Casmen lies the Palindrome.)
(Strike once upon the bell before continuing Catena.)
(Striking of the bell signals the crossing of the Veil into the realm of the Adept. When the first half of the Catena is used by itself to seal a ritual, it ceases here, to close down the realm beyond the Veil to outer perception, followed inevitably by the 3-5-3 battery, symbolizing 353, the number of Hermes.)
5. In a voice of mystery do we call upon you, High Guardians, we who are the continuators of your Work:
(The virtue of work belongs to Geburah. Note that the High Guardians are no longer Hidden, as we have crossed the Veil and now are able to access their presence directly)
4. O Luminous Ones, behold and hear us. Not without our own questing do we ask to know, nor without our own endeavor to attain:
(They are now referred to as Luminous Ones, in their leading and tutelary functions. As leaders and teachers, we look to the realm of Chesed)
3. but that the sowing shall be crowned in the harvest.
(The Sower receives the crowning from the realm of the reaper in Binah)
2. For oneness of purpose do we call unto you, for that joy of resolve which is the wine of the will, transforming all that was strange to it.
(Just as the communion in the rite of Transubstantion is transformed to the Wine of the Will by the uniting of Binah and Chokmah, so are we transformed by this leg of our journey.)
1. For living light and for luminous life do we call unto you, O Hidden Ones! So Light and Life shall be drawn at last to the radiance of one Star, and that Star shall mount to the unshadowed height.
(Light and Life united, God and Goddess united, Machetes and Nomothetes united; their product; the image of the Spiritual Sun; Kether, mounts to the unshadowed heights beneath their Limitless Light.)
"En giro torte sol ciclos et rotor igne"