“An Infernal Palindrome”

William Hone’s Every-Day Book of 1837 repeats a story in which St. Martin meets the devil, who asks why he is walking to Rome rather than riding. The saint commands him to become a beast of burden, the devil assumes the shape of a mule, and Martin jumps onto his back and spurs him on his way by repeatedly making the sign of the cross. At length the devil says:

Signa te, Signa: temere me tangis et angis:
Roma tibi subito motibus ibit amor.

That means “Cross, cross thyself — thou plaguest and vexest me without necessity; for, owing to my exertions, Rome, the object of thy wishes, will soon be near.” And each line is a palindrome, reading the same backward and forward.

Hone adds, “These lines have been quoted imperfectly and separately in ‘Encyclopedies’ and other books, under the words ‘Palindromical verses;’ but the reader will not easily meet with the legendary tale, which gives them historical consistence and meaning.”