What You’ve Heard About His Life Is Probably Wrong
A lot of the books about Nostradamus’ prophecies also include pieces of his biography. Unfortunately, just as the prophecies suffer from poor or manipulated translations, his biographies in these texts are often based on rumors or complete fabrication. There are stories that he was educated by his grandfathers, who were both physicians to the court of Good King Rene of Provence, but there is no evidence of this at all.
The books also claim he obtained his medical doctorate from Montpellier University and that he then began lecturing at the school, but this is directly contradicted by the slim bit of documented facts about his life. Before attending the university, he traveled the countryside working as an apothecary, which led to his expulsion from the university after the administrators learned that he used to work as an apothecary, which was expressly banned by university rules. The University of Montpellier still has the expulsion documents related to the incidents in its library. Needless to say, it seems unlikely the university then hired him to work as a lecturer.
The Plague of Misinformation
Other tales about Nostradamus say that he cured the plague. While the plague was certainly a big part of his life (it resulted in his leaving his first formal school at University of Avignon after the college closed due to a plague outbreak and, later, it killed his first wife and their two children), I’m sure you already know that the seer did not make any major advances in curing the disease.
That’s not to say he didn’t try to cure the plague though. After his expulsion from the University of Montpellier, Nostradamus became well-known around the country for creating a rose pill that allegedly protected against the plague. If the pill worked though, his wife and kids may actually have survived.
He wrote about the methods he used to treat the plague in his medical book Traité des fardemens, where he admitted that none of his techniques, which included bloodletting, actually worked.
Moving Into His Future (Of Predicting The Future)
Later on, he started to move away from his work as a healer and towards the occult. As was common for seers in the time, he wrote an almanac in 1550. This was when he first changed his name from the French Nostredame to the Latin Nostradamus. The almanac did so well, that he started writing at least one annually after that.
The almanacs are known to contain over 6,000 prophecies and 11 annual calendars, which all start on January 1. The many biographies about him by his followers claim that he identified the future pope, but again, there is no evidence to suggest this was actually true. After his almanacs did so well, it wasn’t long before people started approaching him for horoscopes and psychic advice.
Other Astrologers Thought He Stunk
When Nostradamus did psychic readings, he often asked his clients to bring their own birth charts for him to base his predictions on, unlike professional astrologers who would have calculated their own charts. When he had to use common published tables of the time, he made many errors and never adjusted the predictions for his client’s birth dates or place, as astrologers were supposed to do.
When he started writing Prophecies, astrologers thought Nostradamus was a fool because he claimed to be able to predict the future by comparing past planetary configurations with the events that unfolded at the time to future planetary alignments.
Interestingly, research has suggested this is not even how he made his predictions. Instead, he combined ancient end-of-the-world prophecies with references of historical events and omen report anthologies. Only then did he actually use any astrology to actually help project the events into the future. He mentions astrology only 43 times in his full prophecies, even though the predictions are supposedly based on this pseudoscience.
Plagiarism, Table of One
Speaking of shortcomings, Nostradamus was a bit of a plagiarizer. To be fair, it was common for authors of the time to use the works of others and not credit them, but a lot of his books, even his predictions, were total rip-offs of other people’s ideas and works. A lot of his astrological references are almost word for word the same as the 1550 book Livre de l'estat et mutations des temps by Richard Roussat.
One of his biggest sources in prophecies was the Mirabilis liber of 1522, which had a wide range of prophecies from well-known seers. The book was widely successful when it came out, but because it was difficult to read due to its Latin text, Gothic script and difficult abbreviations, it had fallen out of favor by the time Nostradamus paraphrased it. Some experts believe this is why he is credited with many of these prophecies, even though they were known long before he wrote them.
Another of his sources, a book on Chaldean and Assyrian magic by a 4th century Neo-Platonist called Iamblichus, was paraphrased almost word for word in a part of his Prophecies.
You may wonder how the Prophecies were received at the time. After all, it seems like the Catholic Church may have opposed anything occult and many biographies by his supporters claim he was afraid of the Inquisition. In reality though, prophecy and astrology were not considered heresy at the time and Nostradamus was careful to avoid practicing magic, which the church was against.
The Church actually had a good relationship with Nostradamus and they supported his work as both a healer and a prophet. He was temporarily imprisoned in 1561, but this was only because he published one of his almanacs without having permission from a bishop, which violated a recent royal decree.
Despite the Church’s support of his work though, some people still thought he was evil and Nostradamus worked to avoid persecution from religious fanatics by obscuring his works by mixing a variety of languages, including Greek, French, Italian and Latin, together. Of course, like today, other people believed he was purely a fraud.
Still, many people (often the elites) did enjoy his Prophecies and one of his biggest admirers was Queen Catherine de Médicis. In fact, she summoned him to Paris to explain his predictions from his 1555 almanac that hinted at threats to the royal family. While there, she had him draw up horoscopes for her children as well. When he was ordered to come to Paris, he said he was worried he was to be beheaded, but instead he found one of his greatest supporters. By the end of his life, eleven years later, he was the Counselor and Physician-in-Ordinary to the king, Henri II of France.
The End Is Nigh!
In 1566, Nostradamus realized that the gout he had long been suffering from would probably get the best of him soon. He summoned his lawyer and drew up a will for his wife and children. Again, many biographers took liberties with this point of his life, as many claim he gave his son a lost book of his prophetic paintings, but yet again, there is no evidence of this.
On July 1st, claims say he told his secretary, “You will not find me alive at sunrise.” He was found dead the next morning.
He was buried in the local chapel (interestingly, part of this chapel is now incorporated into a restaurant), and many of his followers claim he was buried standing up, although he wasn’t. During the French revolution, his body was moved to the Collégiale Saint-Laurent. His followers claim that when his body was excavated he was wearing a medallion bearing that exact date. Needless to say, this was a complete fabrication.
Predicting the Past, Not So Hard Actually
Since his death, Nostradamus’ predictions have constantly been claimed as accurate immediately after a major world event has occurred. Those who translate his texts often do so inaccurately, so they can be used to predict past events. His works are retranslated constantly so they can be applied to new events that have happened.
Some of his followers even claim that he has coded his works with certain misspellings or punctuations, but this is completely wrong because the printing practices during his lifetime meant that no two editions of his original works are the exact same.
Events he has said to have predicted include the French Revolution, the Great London Fire, Napoleon’s rise, World War II, the challenger space shuttle’s crashing, and, most recently, September 11. Fortunately for his followers, none of his predictions are dated and they are all vague, so it’s easy to take loose translations of his prophecies and apply them to just about any of these events after they have happened. No one has ever been able to use one of his predictions to accurately predict an event before it happened.
The prophecies people most often use to refer to World War II include the word “Hister,” which is often wrongly translated directly to “Hitler.” However, Hister is a classic name for the lower Danube River. Some of his followers acknowledge this error and then try to claim that Nostradamus was still referring to Hitler because he was born near the lower Danube.
Nostradamus on September Eleventh
After the September 11 attacks, followers of the seer immediately went to work looking for verses that could be applied to the national tragedy. One of their favorite verses was:
In the City of God there will be a great thunder,
Two brothers torn apart by Chaos,
while the fortress endures,
the great leader will succumb,
The third big war will begin when the big city is burning
One of the variants of this quote actually was said to be signed by Nostradamus in 1654, when he would have been 150 years old. Funny enough, this verse was never even written by Nostradamus. The first four lines were constructed by Canadian grad student Neil Marshall, who was trying to make a point in a research paper about how vague statements by Nostradamus are often used retroactively to describe world events. Obviously, his point was pretty valid. The last line on the verse (notably longer than the others) was made by an anonymous internet user, who completely ignored Nostradamus’ writing style in his Prophecies.
Another verse used by the fans of the “seer” to prove he predicted the attacks said:
Five and forty degrees, the sky shall burn:
To great ‘New City’ shall the fire draw nigh.
With vehemence the flames shall spread and churn
When with the Normans they conclusions try.
This quote was at least by Nostradamus, but even so, it hardly proves the prophet was able to foresee the September 11 attacks. Followers say the “five and forty degrees” related to the latitude of New York City, but the latitude of the city is actually 40 degrees. Naturally, fans also say “New City” refers to New York, when it actually is literally any new city. The “Normans” line, of course, doesn’t make any sense to fit in with the attacks, so many people have conveniently just left them out when quoting his predictions.
Scholars that study Nostradamus say that these lines are merely future projections of the 1139 conquer of Naples by the Normans. The fire lines refer to a violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius that happened at the same time as the attack. In this case, 45 degrees actually is the latitude of Naples.
The internet hoax about the 9-11 attacks were not the only time that someone has used a quote by someone else and used it in Nostradamus’ name. After the 2000 presidential election, the following quote was widely circulated as a Nostradamus prophecy:
Come the millennium, month 12
In the home of greatest power
The village idiot will come forth
To be acclaimed the leader.
Most scholars believe this one was actually written as a joke, but someone picked it up and decided to spread it as though it really was a prediction of the seer.
Source #1, #2, #3