Why Is ‘Tenet’ Called “Tenet”? Look to the Sator Square

     September 4, 2020

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Minor spoilers ahead for Tenet.

If you’re wondering why Christopher Nolan’s new movie Tenet is called “Tenet”, you need to look thousands of years in the past to the Sator Square (also sometimes referred to as the Rotas Square). The square is a five-word Latin palindrome. It reads as follows:

S A T O R

A R E P O

T E N E T

O P E R A

R O T A S

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By M Disdero – Taken at Oppede, Luberon, France, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The palindromes can be read top to the bottom of left-to-right. You may also note that these five words are prominent in Tenet.

Sator: The name of the villain, the word means “seeder”, which is literally what Andrei Sator does by seeding the parts of the doomsday device to destroy the world.

Arepo: A proper name and used for the unseen art dealer involved with Kat’s purchase of a Goya painting.

Tenet: From latin, it means to master, preserve, sustain. In the film, it’s a codeword that allows The Protagonist to “open doors”, but it’s also ultimately what he does with time inversion—masters, preserves, and sustains.

Opera: Derived from the word “opus”, it means work or labor, but in the film, it also applies to The Protagonist piquing Sator’s interest by asking, “Do you like opera?”

Rotas: As a verb, it means to turn or rotate, which is how the time inversion machine works in Tenet. Rotas is also the name of one of Sator’s companies.

The Sator Sqaure’s oldest appearance was in the ruins of Pompeii. Others have been found in Italy, England, and Syria. The purpose of the square is unknown, although a likely translation of the Square is “The farmer Arepo works wheels”, and this sentence can be read up or down.

Of course, if you’ve seen Tenet, you know the whole movie is about palindromes. The very structure of the film is a palindrome with the characters moving forward in time only to invert and mirror their origins, much like a palindrome. While the Sator Square may be palindromic, the only palindrome word in it is “Tenet”. So now you know where Nolan derived some key names for his latest movie.

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