Nostradamus, Michael (Latinized Form of Nostredame, Michel De
NOSTRADAMUS, MICHAEL (LATINIZED FORM OF NOSTREDAME, MICHEL DE
(b. Saint-Rémy,France, 14 December 1503; d. Salon, France, 2 July 1566)
More than any other writer in modern times Nostradamus knew how to titillate the deep-seated craving, felt by potentate and plebeian alike, to foresee the future, near and remote.
After receiving his early education in the liberal arts at the University of Avignon, he proceeded to the University of Montpellier to study medicine. When a plague broke out in southern France, many of the local licensed physicians cravenly fled from the epidemic, whereas the student Nostradamus courageously enlisted in the struggle to combat it. After traveling about for four years in this intensive and dangerous effort, he returned to Montpellier when the pestilence abated and was officially matriculated on 23 October 1529. He was, however, labeled an apothecary, accused of having slandered doctors, and was struck from the list of students by Guillaume Rondelet, who was the procurator of students during that year.1 Nevertheless, the jealous and hostile faculty was coerced into co-opting Nostradamus by strong pressure from a grateful populace and a student body eager to learn from his experience. Yet at this stage of his life he was not satisfied to settle down in the humdrum routine of a university professor of medicine, surrounded by unfriendly colleagues, In 1532 Nostradamus left Montpellier with no definite destination in mind.
During the course of his travels he was invited by a prominent intellectual, Julius Caesar Scaliger, to join his circle in Agen.2 There Nostradamus married and became the father of two children. But when the Inquisition came to Agen, he deemed it prudent to leave. After the uproar subsided, he returned to Agen, only to have a recurrence of the plague wipe out the three members of his family.
Once more alone in the world, Nostradamus resumed the life of the wandering physician.… When the plague again ravaged Aix-en-Provence, that stricken city persuaded him in 1546 to help fight the dread disease and, in gratitude for his labors, awarded him a pension for life. The following year he settled in Salon, a small town halfway between Avignon and Marseilles. On 11 November 1547 he married a wealthy widow, who bore him six children, of whom the eldest, César (perhaps named after Scaliger) became the first local historian of Provence. In the Salon cadastral survey of 1552 Nostradamus acknowledged acquisition of a house after his marriage.3 The marked improvement in his financial situation freed him from the necessity of continuing his medical practice for the sake of the income. Nevertheless, on 23 September 1555 he was consulted at Salon by Felix Platter and some German fellow students from Montpellier, and on 20 October 1559 he gave medical advice to Bishop Laurent Strozzi at Béziers.4 But for Years he had devoted his major energies to an entirety different pursuit.
Wrapping himself in the mantle of the ancient Hebrew prophets, to whose religion his ancestors had adhered until his grandfather’s compulsory conversion to Roman Catholicism,5 and claiming divine inspiration for his astrological forecasts. Nostradamu dedicated the first edition of his Prophecies to his infant son César on I March 1555. This opening salvo also contained the first three centuries, or groups of 100 quatrains of rhyming iambic pentameters, plus century IV, quatrains l–53. The numerous allusions to heavily veiled persons, places, and events were strewn about in no discernible arrangement, either chronological or geographical. These deliberately vague forebodings, promulgated in a France trembling on the verge of a religious civil war, were an instantaneous success. Nostradamus was promptly summoned to the capital in 1556 to cast the horoscopes of the royal children. Encouraged by such favorable responses and ignoring his harsh critics, Nostradamus published his first seven centuries In 1557 (I-VI and VII, 1–40), and on 27 June 1558 dedicated to King Henry II centuries VII1-X (issued posthumously in 1568).
In 1560 Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585), prince of poets and poet of princes, aligned himself with Nostradamus:
By the ambiguous words of his prophetic voice, Like an ancient oracle, he has for many years Predicted the greatest part of our destiny. I would not have believed him, had not Heaven, Which separates good from evil for humans, Been on his side.6
On 17 October 1564 the young King Charles IX sought out the seer at Salon. But the rationalistic philosopher Pierre Gassendi examined a horoscope cast by Nostradamus, his fellow Provençal, for the father of a personal friend and showed it to have been totally wrong in numerous details.7
By the same token, the adversaries and supporters of Nostradamus have continued until our time respectively to denounce him as a charlatan and to predict retrospectively such portentous crises as the French Revolution and World War II.
1. Marcel Gouron, “Documents inédits sur I’;Université de médicine de Montpellier (1495–1559),” in Montpeller médical, 3rd ser., 50 (1956), 374–375; and Gouron, ed., Matricule de l’;Université de médecine de Montpellier 1503–1599, Travaux d’; Humanisme et Renaissance, XXV (Geneva, 1957), 58.
3. Edgar leroy, “Nostradamus, médecin de la Faculté de médecine de Montpellier,” in Histoire de la médecine, 4 (Mar.1954), 10, with a facs. of Nostradamus oath of allegiance to the University of Montpellier on p. 7.
4. Beloved Son Felix, the Journal of Fleix Platter, Sean Jennett, trans. (London, 1961), 107; Gournon , “Documents,” pp. 375–377.
5. Paul Masson, Dictionaire biographique, which is Les Bouches-du-Rhone Encyclopedie departmentale, IV, pt. 2 (Paris-Marseilles, 1931), 357.
7. Pierre Gasendi, Syntagama Philosohpicum, pt. 2 (physics), sec. 2, bk. 6, ch. 5, in Gassendi’s Opera omina (Lyons, 1658; repr. Stuttagart-Bad Cannstatt, 1964), i, 745–746. The relevant passage was trans. into English in P. Gassendus, The Vanity of Judiciary Astrology (London, 1659), 139–141.
See Edgar Leoni, Nostradaums: Life and Literature (New York, 1961), 77–89 for the original works and 89–101 for the secondary literature. See also H. NollHusum, “Nostradaums und die Astronomie,” in Vierteljahrsschrift der astronomischen Gesellschaft, 71 (1936), 242–249; Nostradamus, Nostradamus entre Rhone et Saone (Lyons, 1971); and Pierre Guerin, Le véritable secret de Nostradamus (Paris,1971).