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.
a French resurgence thanks to British aid in 1944. The second predicted tribulations for France under the rule of an old man and depicted Germany as a brutal enemy. Quatrain 2.9, which we encountered in a different context during the Renaissance, was now linked to the doomed chancellor: The thin one shall rule for nine years in peace, Neuf ans le regne le maigre en paix tiendra, Then fall into an immense thirst for blood: Puis il cherra en soif si sanguinaire: For this lawless one a
technological innovation.9 Print likewise altered Renaissance Europe. It spread knowledge, fostered new ways of contemplating the world, and altered the ways people organized knowledge about this world. If Nostredame outperformed other almanac authors, it is in part because he managed his editorial ventures with dexterity. Despite starting late in life, he understood and accepted the rules of the market. Whether tapping several genres or cultivating professional relationships in Lyon, he
attributed to Nostredame, “this unjust, atrocious, vile action, / Will cost it much blood in the end.” The royalist Journal général de la cour et de la ville declared in 1790 that some of his predictions about the revolution had unfortunately come true: “Let heaven preserve us from the rest.” Three months later, it told readers to expect political turmoil and foreign invasions until 1792. That year, another polemicist depicted an imaginary procession that fulfilled one of Nostradamus’s supposed
inched closer to what proved frightening in the outside world and perhaps within themselves as well, grasping these things tightly to better defuse them. Play has long attenuated anxiety by keeping true horrors at bay and providing a controlled setting in which people can toy with ideas and sensations. This sensibility, too, has grown more prevalent in modern times. In the late 1930s, young Diesbach de Belleroche, the bank director’s son, felt “a thrill of fear” while listening to adults
expertise. Torné-Chavigny became the “sorcerer abbot” or torz né, a wordplay around his name that meant twisted nose (and perhaps lying scoundrel). Salon’s town historian scolded him for feeding an impatient readership unverifiable predictions about a distant future. In England, a journalist used more graphic language to deride the “crotchety fellow who has racked up a prophecy of Nostradamus out of the dusty limbo of the past and is shaking it before the eyes of the world as a terrier shakes a