Nostradamus Stephane Gerson

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  Title Page Copyright NoticeDedication EpigraphPreface Introduction 1 A Good Friend in Renaissance Europe 2 The Power of Words 3 Unfathomable Afflictions 4 Fame and Infamy 5 The Nostradamian Underworld 6 Wonder and Politics at the Court of France 7 Amazing Bones: A Revolutionary Desecration 8 A World of One’s Own 9 We Are Not Nostradamites! Epilogue Times for Nostradamus NotesBibliography IndexPhotographs Illustration Credits About the AuthorCopyright I want a form that’s large enough to swim in, And talk on any subject that I choose,From natural scenery to men and women, Myself, the arts, the European news.


  While I acknowledge my debts in the notes, I wish to make special mention of the scholars of the Renaissance and early modern erawho have contributed so much to our understanding of Nostradamus and his words: Robert Benazra,Pierre Brind’Amour, Anna Carlstedt, Bernard Chevignard, Denis Crouzet, Hervé Drévillon, Claude-Gilbert Dubois, Patrice Guinard, Edgar Leroy, and Bruno Petey-Girard. In France, I also wish to thank the staffs of the Archives départementales des Bouches-du-Rhône, the ArchivesNationales, the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, the Bibliothèque Mazarine, the Bibliothèque Méjanes, theBibliothèque Nationale de France, the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie Marseille Provence, theInstitut Catholique de Paris, and the Institut de France.


  Afterward, they were parsed again and again—during the Wars of Religion andother early modern conflicts, the Great Fire of London and England’s Glorious Revolution, the FrenchRevolution and Napoleonic Empire, the age of romanticism and mass culture in the nineteenth century, nearly every conflict between the U. The discovery of the Americas and its pagan inhabitants launched vast enterprises of exploration andconquest while challenging the boundaries of the known world and the conviction that Christ had Nostredame did not precipitate these sea changes, but his words embraced and concentrated the world that was coming into being, with its mix of the old and the new, its shifting forces and faultlines, its opportunities and its anxieties.

Chapter 1 A Good Friend in Renaissance Europe Today we associate Nostradamus with New York, Paris, and other megacities whose demises are

  As an outlook on the terrestrial and celestial worlds and a way of being in the world, it imprinted leading schools of poetry, the court, and the Collège desLecteurs Royaux, in which learned men taught Greek and Hebrew and later law or mathematics. Humanism came in many shapes and forms, but a capsule summary necessarily begins with the recovery of the Greek and Roman heritage and a conception of the individual as inherently good andfree, the measure of all things.

Chapter 2 The Power of Words Plenty of people questioned Nostredame’s literary talents in his lifetime, but no one could dispute the

  They have drawn connections to classical authors such as Suetonius and historians such as Philippe de Commynes, to the fourth-century Book of Prodigies of Julius Obsequens, and to Richard Roussat’s 1550 Book on the State and Mutation of Time. Brotot doubted that the market could absorb so much Nostradamus: “Such is the fashion, dear Michel—brevity is appreciated.” Brotot went on, “How do you suppose that the average readerwill accept two separate prognostications without raising his eyebrows, especially coming from one and the same source?” Nostredame ignored the advice and forged ahead, with utter confidence in his7 own judgment.

Chapter 3 Unfathomable Afflictions There is one thing that Nostradamus has never provided: clarity. Whether first-time or repeat, readers

  Others include the king, the emperor, the Great Turk, the pope, the chief, the first personage, and the “ornament of his age.” This king’s capture is but one of the violentincidents depicted in the book, along with raids and expeditions, kidnappings and betrayals, and the battles and defeats mentioned in the fourth line. Nostredame drew from this geographical effervescence—picking place-names out of contemporary guidebooks—and also contributed to what36 the literary critic Tom Conley has elegantly termed “topographies of sensation and experience.” Some might conclude that the Prophecies contributed to budding national sentiment, the sense of belonging to a community founded in a common language, territory, and shared character.

Chapter 4 Fame and Infamy During the last months Michel de Nostredame’s agony grew unbearable. Arthritic pain began in his hands, descended to his knees, and finally reached his feet. His joints swelled. Contemporaries called it dropsy, though today we might speak of arteriosclerosis. Composing horoscopes became an ordeal. During one stretch, he could not leave his bed for twenty-

  Nostredame proved so successful that one Englishman declared in 1560 that he “reigned here so like a tyrant with his soothsayings that without the good luck of his prophecies it was thought thatnothing could be brought to effect.” By the end of the century, he had entered biographical dictionaries. Still, pictures and words came together perfectly in this case to outline a reputable man, rooted in a city and devoted to the “spirit of truth.”This persona was familiar to contemporary readers, but Nostredame also stood out in his divine inspiration and his concern for others.

Chapter 5 The Nostradamian Underworld Death could have marked the end of the story. It certainly did for other prognosticators and

  César was a poet, a painter, a historian, and a mayor of Salon; one of the other boys became an officer, the other one a monk; and we know little about the three girls. “Of all the editions of the Prophecies of Michel Nostradamus,” one of them intoned from Amsterdam in 1667, “I can affirm that there have been none more accurate than theone I am putting forth today, since it has been revised with great care according to the oldest and best editions.” Chavigny had launched this in his French Janus when he shared a gushing letter from alord.

Chapter 6 Wonder and Politics at the Court of France A ghost appeared in Salon in 1696. It startled a local blacksmith and then ordered him to travel to the

  Twenty-five editions of the Prophecies came out between 1644 and 1650, some of them containing two new quatrains againstthe “Sicilian Nizaram” (an anagram of Mazarin) who would drown in the mire of civil war: When Innocent shall hold the place of Peter, Quant Innocent tiendra le lieu de Pierre, The Sicilian Nizaram shall see himself Le Nizaram Cicilien se verraIn great honors, but after that shall fall En grands honneurs, mais après il cherra Into the quagmire of a civil war. An English traveler passing through Salon in 1673 visited the tomb of the “famous French Prophet, whose verses the Frenchmen esteem as oracles.” Whether or not the French population saw him as such, some English pamphleteers felt compelled to justify their affinity for this Catholic from an enemy country—this “prophet of their own.” Only in France did people dedicate interpretations of the quatrains to their dear country.

Chapter 7 Amazing Bones: A Revolutionary Desecration A century later, in the midst of the French Revolution, visitors of a different ilk came looking for Nostradamus in Salon. They cared less about ghosts, however, than about skulls and bones. These visitors belonged to the National Guard, a volunteer urban militia that enforced law and

  Louis could be described as a Capet (cap.), a member of the dynasty that had acceded to the French throne in the tenth century, and as “elected,” since the revolution made him a constitutional monarch.“Blood, sword,” finally, referred clearly enough to the fate that awaited the king and his wife. We like the dizzying depths of the abyss andthe revelations of the unknown.” The new century, Fournel added, relishes “the shudder of fear.” Such sentiments went back to Renaissance pamphlets and horrific plays, but contemporaries now feltchilling yet thrilling tremors while contemplating the immensity of nature, the mysteries of the world, and the fall of civilizations.

Chapter 10 Fin de Siècle Madness Eugène Bareste outlined one way of living with Nostradamus in the modern world. But when the journalist turned businessman died in 1861, this world was on the cusp of unprecedented changes. People from all walks of life could travel faster and farther than before by hopping on a train. They could acquire and exchange information via telegraphs, the postal service, and cheap newspapers. Strolling down avenues and boulevards, they found themselves surrounded by throngs of people

  It was a fake (which few people noticed) and announced that “a great quarrel and contest will arise in a country beyond the seas.” After four years of war, “prostrateand almost ruined, the people will embrace each other in great joy and love.” Launched by the Courrier des Etats-Unis, a newspaper founded by French immigrants to New York, the prediction had spread widely by the end of 1861, when a long conflict seemed likely. Theparchment enjoins him to enter the bosom of the Great Sphinx and unveil the secret of the Enigma:“During your descent into the belly of the earth, make for yourself a heart of bronze, a mind of fire, a11 soul of diamond.” This eerie Nostradamus had made his way from theater fairs and pantomimes to historical plays and novels.

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