Michel de Nostredame, more commonly known as Nostradamus (1503-1566), is criticized by some and acclaimed by many as a seer whose 942 quatrains (poems with four lines each) transcend time and predict the future. Born on December 14, 1503, in Saint Remy de Provence in the south of France, Nostradamus was the first son and one of nine children born to Reyniere de St. Remy and grain dealer and notary Jaume de Nostredame. He is best known for his book Les Prophecies (1555) and The Almanac, a set of annual predictions published until his death on July 2, 1566.
Historically, the Nostredame and St. Remy families had strong academic ties. Several family members were doctors and scholars. Although originally of Jewish descent, the family converted to Christianity in 1502 as a consequence of the ascension of Louis XII. Starting at the age of 15, Nostradamus followed family tradition and attended the University of Avignon for more than a year. An outbreak of the black plague forced the university to close its doors, leading Nostradamus to pursue a career as an apothecary. In 1529 he entered the University of Montpelier to study for a doctorate in medicine, but upon the discovery of Nostradamus’s occupation as an apothecary, he was expelled. Despite his lack of university credentials, many of his colleagues and publishers still addressed him as Doctor.
Following his expulsion, Nostradamus married and had two children, but his wife and children succumbed to the plague in 1534. Thirteen years later, in 1547, Nostradamus married a wealthy widow named Anne Ponsarde Gemelle, and the two had six children: three sons and three daughters.
In 1550, The Almanac was first published, and Michel de Nostredame became widely known under the name Nostradamus. The Almanac was so successful that he decided to publish his predictions annually.
Today, many admirers of Nostradamus believe that he accurately predicted such events as the great fire of London, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the crash of the American space shuttle Challenger, and the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Overall, Nostradamus made 6,338 predictions, many of which, however, never came to fruition. In any event, skeptic and follower alike cannot contest that Nostradamus left his mark; his prophesies remain an ongoing source of speculation and debate. In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, an Internet hoax cited a Nostradamus quatrain that, it was claimed, predicted the fiery attack. Later, to the delight of skeptics, the quatrain was proven false. As both skeptics and neutral observers have noted, Nostradamus’s prophecies are ambiguous because they fail to provide specific dates; therefore these predictions are open to numerous and contradictory interpretations.
Jennifer R. Fields
See also Futurology; Prophecy; Toffler, Alvin
Hogue, J. (1987). Nostradamus & the millennium:
Predictions of the future. New York: Doubleday. Lemesurier, P. (1997). The Nostradamus encyclopedia:
The definitive reference guide to the work and world of Nostradamus. New York: St. Martin’s.