life is a palindrome you can’t understand; or “in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni”


This was carved on a stone box found outside Bologna in the 17th century. People thought it might be a tombstone, but the actual reason for its existence is unknown, seeing as there was nothing inside. It was built and inscribed in a century prior, by Achilles Volta, Grand Master of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary , also known as the order of Frati Gaudenti. The last three lines seem to have been added by translators and are not on the original, which currently resides in the Bologna Museum.

The inscription has been the source matter for many alchemists, scholars and story-tellers including Sir Walter Scott in “The Antiquary” and Gérard de Nerval in “Pandora” and “Le comte de Saint Germain”. Famously, Carl Jung tried to unravel the mystery, as he would in his “Mysterium Conjunctionis”.

More words won’t help you understand it.

Aelia Laelia Crispis,
Not man, nor woman, nor hermaphrodite;
Not girl, nor youth, nor old woman;
Not chaste, nor unchaste, nor modest;
But all [of these]:
Carried off,
Not by hunger, not by sword, nor by poison
But by all [of them]:
Not in air, not in earth, not in the waters,
But everywhere.
Lucius Agatho Priscus,
Not her husband, nor her lover, nor her friend;
Not sorrowing, nor rejoicing, nor weeping;
This, not a stone-pile, nor a pyramid,
Nor a sepulchre
But all:
Knows, and knows not,
To whom he erects it.

This is a tomb that has no body in it.
This is a body that has no tomb round it.
But body and tomb are the same.


There is an explanation, but you won’t find it here. This can point you towards it, but it can also lead you, like others, far astray.


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