Nostradamus: How an Obscure Renaissance Astrologer Became the Modern Prophet of Doom
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WE ALL KNOW THE NAME NOSTRADAMUS, BUT WHO WAS HE REALLY? WHY DID HIS PREDICTIONS BECOME SO INFLUENTIAL IN RENAISSANCE EUROPE AND THEN KEEP RESURFACING FOR NEARLY FIVE CENTURIES? AND WHAT DOES NOSTRADAMUS'S ENDURANCE IN THE WEST SAY ABOUT US AND OUR OWN WORLD?
In Nostradamus: How an Obscure Renaissance Astrologer Became the Modern Prophet of Doom, historian Stéphane Gerson takes readers on a journey back in time to explore the life and afterlife of Michel de Nostredame. Whenever we seem to enter a new era, whenever the premises of our worldview are questioned or imperiled, Nostradamus offers certainty and solace. In 1666, guests at posh English dinner parties discussed his quatrain about the Great Fire of London. In 1942, the Jewish writer Irène Némirovsky latched her hopes for survival to Nostradamus' prediction that the war would soon end. And on September 12, 2001, teenagers proclaimed on the streets of Brooklyn that "this guy Nostradamus" had seen the 9/11 attacks coming.
In chronicling the life of this mystifying figure and the lasting fascination with his predictions, Gerson's book becomes a historical biography of a belief: the faith that we can know tomorrow and master our anxieties through the powers of an extraordinary but ever more elusive seer.
* * * During the 1990s, the quatrains surfaced in supermarket tabloids and on cable television. They were also linked to AIDS, the first Gulf War, and earthquakes in Umbria. Then came the effervescence around the new millennium, 9/11, and 2012. While the Middle East, Asia, and Africa were all but absent from the Prophecies, Nostradamus now made inroads outside the West. An Iraqi sheikh studies Shiite theology, Catholic doctrine, Greek philosophy, and Nostradamian quatrains during his youth. A
grace, free will, moral autonomy, and efficacy of prayer. Grappling with divine secrets was folly and utter arrogance. Nostradamus thus came to embody error, a blasphemous assault against the majesty of God and public trust. The sorcerer communicated with demons, said the doctor Videl, and he infused his quatrains with “diabolical intentions.” Some Catholics equated his predictions with the satanic designs of Protestants. A few years after his death, a French canon recounted a telling story. In
about the perils of the occult, which included Nostradamus. It is easy today to find serious studies of astrology or our perceptions of time that either exclude this charlatan or mention him only to illustrate the inconsistency of the human mind.2 This stance softened somewhat in the 1990s, when scholars began questioning the notion that science, rationality, and secularism had displaced wonder, spirituality, and mystery in the modern West. As they punctured holes in this story of
severed Montmorency’s head. It bore an inscription that was tantalizing but made little sense: “Celare-Toloze. 1621.” Unable to figure it out, Boniard and his companions headed home. One morning on that return leg, Boniard had an epiphany: Celare was the anagram of a Clere. He had proved his hypothesis! For the self-taught, rational notary, Nostradamus provided neither glimpses of the future nor models to live by. It was all about the chase and what his great-grandson (the novelist Romain
medical definitions and instead view madness as an unwavering commitment to one’s worldview, regardless of the consequences. Whereas melancholy people resign themselves to the order of things, madmen fashion their own reality. Torné-Chavigny was prepared to rewrite the rules in order to carry out his vision for France. He never changed course or questioned himself. This is why he earned a place within the studies of literary madmen that began appearing in France in the early 1880s. These were