Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Real Nostradamus

If you are curious about who Nostradamus was, I highly recommend this article by Colin Dickey in Lapham's Quarterly. Nostradamus got his start as a plague doctor -- which perhaps explains his obsession with doom and destruction -- then began publishing almanacs. The France of the 1550s was experiencing one of the worse episodes of cold that marked the Little Ice Age, so Nostradamus' grim predictions turned out to be more accurate than anyone else's. This brought him to the attention of the notoriously superstitious queen, Catherine de Medici, for whom he prophesied various catastrophes. Since her reign saw all manner of disasters, Nostradamus once again came closer to the mark than any of the usual flattering royal astrologers. Then came the moment that made his reputation forever:
During a festival on June 30, 1559, Henry II took part in a jousting match, during which a freak accident occurred: his opponent, Gabriel Montgomery, broke his lance on Henry’s shield, and a sliver of the wood shot up under the king’s helmet and lodged above his eye in his brain. Henry bore it bravely, but lingered in agony for ten days before he died.

Now many at court, mourning and looking for answers, turned to the thirty-fifth quatrain in the first Century of the Prophecies:

The young lion will overcome the old
On the field of battle in single combat:
He put out his eyes in a cage of gold:
Two fleets one, then to die a cruel death.

Skeptics could protest that Montgomery may have been only six years younger than Henry—and not exactly “young”—or that Henry’s helmet was probably not made out of gold, or that the splinter in his brain did not actually enter his eye, or that no “fleets” of any kind were involved. But none of those arguments, then or now, mattered to those who—most notably Catherine herself—were convinced that Nostradamus had foreseen the king’s freakish demise.
So if you want to get taken seriously as a prophet, be sure to predict lots of awful things, in a way that might apply to lots of disasters.

1 comment:

leif said...

that's exactly it. also the wannabe soothsayer should have his/her predictions known among those who have some readership, so that when one among the hundreds of false leads happens to ring true in some way, they in an apparent post hoc ergo propter hoc delusional haze can toot about your amazing predictive skills.