Nostradamus's Biography (Photos)
Nostradamus (born Michel de Nostredame), was a French apothecary and reputed seer. He is best known for his book Les Propheties, the first edition of which appeared in 1555 and which has rarely been out of print since his death. Because of this book, Nostradamus has attracted an almost cult following. He is credited by his many enthusiasts, as well as the popular press, for predicting numerous major world events.
In The Prophecies he compiled his collection of major, long-term predictions. The first installment was published in 1555. The second, with 289 further prophetic verses, was printed in 1557. The third edition, with three hundred new quatrains, was reportedly printed in 1558, but now only survives as part of the omnibus edition that was published after his death in 1568. This version contains one unrhymed and 941 rhymed quatrains, grouped into nine sets of 100 and one of 42, called "Centuries".
Nostredame began to move away from medicine and toward the occult. Following popular trends, he wrote an almanac for 1550, for the first time Latinizing his name from Nostredame to Nostradamus. He was so encouraged by the almanac's success that he decided to write one or more annually. Taken together, they are known to have contained at least 6,338 prophecies, as well as at least eleven annual calendars, all of them starting on 1 January and not, as is sometimes supposed, in March. It was mainly in response to the almanacs that the nobility and other prominent persons from far away soon started asking for horoscopes and "psychic" advice from him, though he generally expected his clients to supply the birth charts on which these would be based, rather than calculating them himself as a professional astrologer would have done. When obliged to attempt this himself on the basis of the published tables of the day, he always made numerous errors, and never adjusted the figures for his clients' place or time of birth. (Refer to the analysis of these charts by Brind'Amour, 1993, and compare Gruber's comprehensive critique of Nostradamus' horoscope for Crown Prince Rudolph Maximilian.)
He then began his project of writing a book of one thousand mainly French quatrains, which constitute the largely undated prophecies for which he is most famous today. Feeling vulnerable to religious fanatics, however, he devised a method of obscuring his meaning by using "Virgilianized" syntax, word games and a mixture of other languages such as Greek, Italian, Latin, and Provencal. For technical reasons connected with their publication in three installments (the publisher of the third and last installment seems to have been unwilling to start it in the middle of a "Century," or book of 100 verses), the last fifty-eight quatrains of the seventh "Century" have not survived into any extant edition.
The quatrains, published in a book titled Les Propheties (The Prophecies), received a mixed reaction when they were published. Some people thought Nostradamus was a servant of evil, a fake, or insane, while many of the elite thought his quatrains were spiritually-inspired prophecies - as, in the light of their post-Biblical sources (see under Nostradamus' sources below), Nostradamus himself was indeed prone to claim. Catherine de Medicis, the queen consort of King Henri II of France, was one of Nostradamus' greatest admirers. After reading his almanacs for 1555, which hinted at unnamed threats to the royal family, she summoned him to Paris to explain them and to draw up horoscopes for her children. At the time, he feared that he would be beheaded, but by the time of his death in 1566, Catherine had made him Counselor and Physician-in-Ordinary to her son, the young King Charles IX of France.
Some accounts of Nostradamus's life state that he was afraid of being persecuted for heresy by the Inquisition, but neither prophecy nor astrology fell in this bracket, and he would have been in danger only if he had practiced magic to support them. In fact, his relationship with the Church was always excellent. His brief imprisonment at Marignane in late 1561 came about purely because he had published his 1562 almanac without the prior permission of a bishop, contrary to a recent royal decree.
Given printing practices at the time (which included type-setting from dictation), no two editions turned out to be identical, and it is relatively rare to find even two copies that are exactly the same. Certainly there is no warrant for assuming - as would-be "code-breakers" are prone to do - that either the spellings or the punctuation of any edition are Nostradamus' originals.
The Almanacs: by far the most popular of his works, these were published annually from 1550 until his death. He often published two or three in a year, entitled either Almanachs (detailed predictions), Prognostications or Presages (more generalized predictions).
Nostradamus was not only a diviner, but a professional healer, too. It is known that he wrote at least two books on medical science. One was an extremely free translation (i.e. a "paraphrase") of The Protreptic of Galen (Paraphrase de C. GALIEN, sus l'Exhortation de Menodote aux estudes des bonnes Artz, mesmement Medicine) , and in his so-called Traite des fardemens (basically a medical cookbook containing, once again, materials borrowed mainly from others) he included a description of the methods he used to treat the plague - none of which, not even the bloodletting, apparently worked. The same book also describes the preparation of cosmetics.
A manuscript normally known as the Orus Apollo also exists in the Lyon municipal library, where upwards of 2,000 original documents relating to Nostradamus are stored under the aegis of Michel Chomarat. It is a purported translation of an ancient Greek work on Egyptian hieroglyphs based on later Latin versions, all of them unfortunately ignorant of the true meanings of the ancient Egyptian script, which was not correctly deciphered until the advent of Champollion in the 19th century.
Since his death only the Prophecies have continued to be popular, but in this case they have been quite extraordinarily so. Over two hundred editions of them have appeared in that time, together with over 2000 commentaries. Their popularity seems to be partly due to the fact that their vagueness and lack of dating make it easy to quote them selectively after every major dramatic event and retrospectively claim them as "hits" (see Nostradamus in popular culture).