Thursday, 3 April 2014

By Peter Lemesurier

IT'S TIME FOR SOME COMMON SENSE! The Internet is currently awash with wild speculations about what the 16th-century French seer Nostradamus is alleged to have predicted. As time goes on, they get further and further from what  reputable research actually reveals. And there's a lot of this -- most of it totally unknown to the amateur speculators who write most of the popular books on the subject and monopolise most of the films and videos. 

So it's time that both you and they knew about it...

But before I try to explain, I shall need to establish a few basic facts. I warn you that they may surprise and even shock you, given the dead weight of popular tradition to the contrary. Such are the idiocies that are constantly published about Nostradamus that you may never even have heard that the basic facts are basic at all.

So I suggest that you first sit down and take a few deep breaths… then hang on to your hat.

Done that? OK, now I shall begin...

Here are four basic principles to bear in mind: 

1. Between 1999 and 3797 Nostradamus mentions not a single date – least of all 2015.

2. He repeatedly denied that he was a prophet at all:

Although, my son, I have used the word prophet, I would not attribute to myself a title of such lofty sublimity—Preface to his son Caesar, 1555

Not that I would attribute to myself either the name or the role of a prophet—Preface to his son Caesar, 1555 

[S]ome of [the prophets] predicted great and marvelous things to come: for me, I in no way attribute to myself such a title here.—Letter to King Henry II, 1558

 Not that I am foolish enough to claim to be a prophet.—Open letter to Privy Councillor (later Chancellor) Birague, 15 June 1566.

And, most disturbing of all, 
3. he didn’t believe in the future – or at least, not in a new one -- not least because he and his contemporaries, surrounded by what they assumed were the 'signs of the times', believed that the End of the World  was so catastrophically Nigh that there was not much future left to believe in anyway (Nostradamus didn't in fact mention the End of the World in his Prophecies, presumably because it was regarded as a given). In modern terms, time was in the process of running into the buffers, despite one or two anomalous stabs in the dark such as '1999' and '2242' -- this last being the real meaning of his alleged terminal date of '3797', which is merely the result of characteristic syntactical confusion on his part (try subtracting 1555, the date when he wrote it, if you don't believe me!). It was also an already-known 'end-of-the-world' date that he evidently included as a kind of fall-back position in case time should go on for longer than he expected. 

4. Instead, he merely believed in a constant repetition of the past -- though in his prefaces he also included a selection of vast, sweeping (but often contradictory) prophecies freely borrowed from the Bible, from the astrologer Richard Roussat, from the Mirabilis Liber of 1522/4 and from ancient classical sources. This idea of prophetic repetition came partly from the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes (What has happened will happen again, and what has been done will be done again, and there is nothing new under the sun…), partly from the Roman statesman and orator Cicero’s book De Divinatione (in which time is likened to a constantly unrolling chain of events, and which Nostradamus directly mirrors at his verse III.79 in the words L'ordre fatal sempiternel par chaisne), and partly from the popular tradition of the day, in which (whether or not you believe it in the light of modern assumptions) the idea that history repeats itself was pretty much normal, and had been ever since ancient times.  

This is no doubt why, despite some distinctly optimistic modern 'interpretations', he didn't predict (or, presumably, foresee) any technological developments beyond those of his own day -- no telescope, no vaccination, no steam engines, no trains, no cars, no planes, no submarines (III.13's suggestive  Quand submergée la classe nagera merely means 'When the fleet shall sink beneath the waves', in reflection of the sinking of the Neapolitan fleet in 1494), no electricity, no radio, no television, no heart-transplants, no computers, no internet, no space travel, no moon landings... (yes, yes, le  coing de LUNA... but, alas, this favourite canard on the part of the popular authors is just a projection -- disguised as a reference to a mere patch of moonlight! -- of the English capture of King John II of France in 1356 following the Battle of Poitiers, and his deportation to England via the port of Bordeaux, known to this day as the Port de la Lune!). And no Napoleon or Hitler either, despite what the inveterate text-twisters and professional bamboozlers keep trying to tell you.

In fact, if these last are unaware that the name 'Nostradamus' means 'We dispense nostrums, or quackeries', most of them manage to write as though they are only too conscious of the fact! 

And so which past events were the people of Nostradamus's day most worried about lest they return? Well, plague, war, death and famine – the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in other words – plus the Antichrist, who was supposed at the time to be living in Geneva and calling himself Calvin. As indeed they already had. Returned, I mean.

I kid you not!

Those and a few others, such as floods, droughts, and foreign invasions by the dreaded Ottoman Turks under Suleiman the Magnificent, who had already besieged Vienna (of all places) as recently as 1529.

But, I hear you say, those are just the sort of things that we’re worried about today!

Surprise, surprise!

And so Nostradamus constantly dredged the history books for ancient events that best corresponded to those fears. He had his living to earn, after all – and he was no fool. He had never heard of Putin or the United States. America he only mentioned once  -- and even that was almost certainly a printer's error, since the word didn't fit the rhyme-scheme. He didn’t know about nuclear weapons (the 'twin scourges' at II.6 are specifically famine and plague, not atom bombs!). He never mentioned Russia or China. Nobody at the time would have been interested even if he had. In fact he insisted that his prophecies were only about Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor and related regions. And if he was familiar with Iran under the name ‘Persia’, he regarded it as an ally against the Ottomans rather than as an enemy. 

But he did know about those ancient events. He had history books to prove it. after all!

So let’s now look at some of the alarmist idiocies that are currently being propagated across the Net in the name of Nostradamus, and see how far they fit. I shall arrange them by verse-number, in the somewhat illogical order in which they seem to come up (feel free to scroll straight to the end of the following detailed list if you prefer -- it's really only for addicts):

I.15 is based on the Mirabilis Liber of 1522/4, not on alien invasions

I.50 is based directly on Roussat’s Livre de l’estat et mutation des temps of 1549-50, not on the astrology of the USA in 1994 or 2013

IX.44 is based on an expected 16th-century attack by Charles V on Protestant Geneva, not on an explosion of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider resulting in a Black Hole

V.98 is based on the Mirabilis Liber’s forecasts of severe drought, not on modern solar flares, which there were no telescopes to observe at the time

III.95 is based on the contemporary war between the Ottomans and the Persians in the area north of the Black Sea in the very year when the prophecy was published (1555), not on the rise and fall of modern communism

III.34 is based on the 4th-century Julius Obsequens's report in his On Omens of a solar eclipse and the appearance of supposedly ominous deformed births in 104 BC, not on the advent of Putin in 1999 (!)

The two revolutions mentioned at I.54 are explicitly of Saturn, not of political power in Russia

II.43 is based on Julius Obsequens’s fourth-century report of events following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, not on American paranoia about Putin as a ‘snake’ (!)

II.46 is based on the Roman poet Virgil’s fourth Eclogue, supplemented with details from Julius Obsequens, not on the third millennium

II.53 is based on the Plague epidemic that hit Marseille in 1545, not on Hong Kong ’flu

II.62 is timed with reference to the death of contemporary Dutch painter Jan Gossaert de Mabuse, and is not based on anything more ominous, let alone on the supposed face of Putin in a painting (!)

VI.5 is based on the geopolitical situation of the contemporary city of Amiens (Samarobriva) in 1536, not on the modern International Space Station

VI.35 is based (by astrological timing) on the drought of 1551-3 and on wax-sealed letters, not on modern comets or solar flares

I.69 is based on a combination of Mount Olympus in Greece and biblical expectations about the coming Kingdom of Heaven, not on modern asteroids

II.29 is based on Jordanis’s 1522-3 account of the invasions of Attila the Hun, not on American paranoia about Putin (who, as a Russian Orthodox Christian, is by definition not an Antichrist!)

X.74 is based on the turn of the seventh millennium after the supposed creation of the world (for which Nostradamus gave five different dates), not on modern world-population – still less on zombies!

X.75 is based on the Mirabilis Liber’s description of an expected Turkish-born Antichrist, not on any American diabolisation of Putin

VI.21 is based on the Mirabilis Liber of 1522/4, not on modern American paranoia about Russia, Iran and China

II.30 is based on an expected repetition by the Ottomans of the ancient campaigns of Hannibal against the Roman Empire as mooted by the Mirabilis Liber, not on  Putin’s control of Europe’s natural gas supplies

II.91 is based on Julius Obsequens’ fourth-century report of the omens of 91 BC, not on the firing of modern missiles across the Arctic

IV.50 is based on the classical Manilius’s Astronomica [VI.773-5], not on the seven heads of the supposed Russian ‘beast’ (!)

V.49 is based on the Avignon papacy of 1378-1417, not on poor old Ratzinger!

X.66 is based on the campaign of King Edward I against the Scots in 1290, not on modern Russia or Putin

You may think there are resemblances between the original events and some of the modern ones referred to, but Nostradamus assuredly didn't, because, not being a prophet, he had never heard of the modern ones, had he? In other words, most of the above suggestions are little more than attempts to treat Nostradamus's prophecies as Rorschach tests -- and to use those in turn to try and divine the mind of Rorschach (!!), in the service of a short-sighted obsession on the part of the popular commentators with the idea that all Nostradamus's Prophecies apply to our era! (Don't worry, that's what the commentators of every era have always assumed!)

Meanwhile, it is pretty disgraceful for people to base their ‘interpretations’ of Nostradamus, as they still persist in doing, on  printings and mistranslations that are known to be corrupt, as in the case of the famous verse X.72, which runs as follows:

72. Original text of 1568 edition

L’an mil neuf cens nonante neuf sept mois

Du ciel viendra un grand Roy deffraieur

Resusciter le grand Roy d’Angolmois.

Avant apres Mars regner par bon heur.

Read as modern French:

De la région; pourvoyeur/commis aux vivres/hôte

Viendra résusciter/Résuscitera; Angoumois

Avant, après Mars, de régner; de manière fortunée

                        When 1999 is seven months o’er

                        From thereabouts shall a great hosting King

                        Restore the King from Angoumois once more,

                        Who'll reign propitiously once come the spring.

Source: Not some fanciful idea about a coming ‘King of Terror’ (there was no apostrophe in deffraieur in the original printings, and Angoumois is a perfectly well-known region of western France, while there is no such French word as mongolois for it to be anagrammatised from), but the miraculous restoration to health in his Madrid prison of the dying King François I, duc d’Angoulême, which apparently resulted from a personal visit from his host and jailor the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in August 1525. François was duly released to resume his reign the following March. Nostradamus has evidently calculated the celebrated date in the first line (July 1999 -- don't be misled by those who claim, contrary to all the evidence, that Nostradamus's year began in March) by simple comparative horoscopy, given that Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury and the moon were each in the same signs as previously during that summer.

Even more disgraceful is the persistent tradition of cooking up ‘prophetic cocktails’ on the basis of disconnected bits of quatrains that never went together in the first place, such as X.49 (with its description of the Inquisition’s routine murder of its victims by drowning them in poisoned vats, or cuves –  mispronounced ‘coovay’ by one particularly ignorant commentator) with the entirely unconnected  verses I.87 and VI.97 (descriptions of an eruption of Mount Vesuvius overlooking Naples – Greek for ‘New City’ – in the year 1036, blatantly re-applied to the Twin Towers attacks of 11th September 2001, while pretending that the French masculine expression autour de has some connection with the French feminine noun tour [tower] – which it doesn’t   or that the latter's 'five and forty degrees' somehow refers to the two airliners' angle of bank [!!]).

Quite why it should be necessary to cook up all these extra, irrelevant idiocies by way of ‘interpreting’ Nostradamus I can’t imagine. I mean, anybody would think he wasn’t interesting enough as it is! Possibly it's just so as to frighten the horses.

So there you are. Paranoia rules OK. Especially about Russia, Putin, Iran and the Antichrist. And the last thing that the bamboozlers are prepared to do is to look at the actual professional research...

You can check up on all the above by reading and studying Nostradamus, The Illustrated Prophecies and/or (especially) Nostradamus, Bibliomancer, with its CD containing actual facsimiles of the original French editions of the Prophecies -- you can find details of both here. But to get the whole thing in context you will probably be better off with my revolutionary biography Nostradamus, Prophet of Provence.  

 For the argument in a nutshell, see also The Nostradamus Poem.