One of his most renowned predictions of his time, which subsequently gained him huge popularity through the approval of the queen Catherine de Medici, was Century 1, quatrain 35 which translates into:
“The young lion shall overcome the old one,
On the field of war in a single duel:
In a golden cage he shall put out his eye,
Two blows from one then he shall die a cruel death.”(Chambers, 1832, p.13)
Many of his followers believed that this signified the death of King Henri II (McCann, 2008). King Henri II participated in a duel and challenged Count Montgomery. During the contest Montgomery’s wooden lance shattered and a splinter pierced the King’s brain passing through the Kings left eye through his golden visor. After ten days of intense pain the King died (McCann, 2008). Many felt that this was foretold in this quatrain. Count Montgomery was interpreted as being the “young lion” considering that he was several years younger than the King (Leoni, 2000). The symbol of lion was also present on their shields during the duel (Leoni, 2000). The golden cage was interpreted as being the golden helmet of the King. The “two blows from one” was interpreted as the initial impact against the King’s breastplate and the second being the blow from the splinter that penetrated that King’s brain (Leoni, 2000). “..he shall die a cruel death” was subsequently interpreted as the ten days of agony until his death (Leoni, 2000).
Through these interpretations this quatrain appears decidedly accurate but many have criticised these interpretations, some citing for example that a jousting arena could not be classified as a field of war (Shevick, 2010, September, 22). However, many followers have responded, that the duel did take place on the Champ De Mars, which translates as field of war (Shevick, 2010,September,22). Much debate continues to surround whether the splinter penetrated his eye whatsoever, with some sources stating that the splinter penetrated his throat. It could also be argued that a cruel death on a field of war at that time would not be unheard of. What was clear is that, while Nostradamus had many critics, his popularity was growing and now he had gained the approval from the queen, who not only gave him an apparent credibility to the aristocracy, but also gained him publicity with the great majority of the people (Shevick, 2010,September,22).
Another quatrain that cemented his popularity as a prophet was Century 1, quatrain 9 which translates into:
“From the Orient will come the Punic heart
To vex Adria and the heirs of Romulus,
Accompanied by the Libyan fleet,
Malta trembling and the neighbouring isles empty.”(McClain, 2000, p.289)
Numerous followers of Nostradamus believed that this quatrain foretold the 1565 onslaught of Ottoman Turks who attacked the Christian Knights of Malta (McCann, 2008). Many interpreters felt that “the heir of Romulus” referred to the Pope and that “the libyan fleet” referred to the Turkish fleet (Shevick, 2010,September,22). Those who believed that he predicted the death of King Henri II were further reaffirmed in their belief by the quatrain relating to Malta, considering how accurate it appeared to be.
While many believed that he was capable of predicting the future, he continuously had numerous critics. Many felt that it was obvious that the Ottoman Turks would attack the Knights, due to the Knights of Malta being such an irritant to the Ottoman Empire (Shevick, 2010,September,22). What was surprising was that the Ottomans were to fail, despite their huge numbers (Paoletti, 2007).The outcome was not outlined in the quatrain but had it been, many critics would have been silenced if it was included, as it would have established greater credibility.
A further popular quatrain that people believed foretold the coming of Adolf Hitler was century II quatrain 24, which seemed to predict the coming of Nostradamus’s second antichrist:
“Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers,
The greatest part of the battle will be against Hister,
He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron,
When the son of Germany obeys no law.” (Khatri, 2008, p.31)
“Beasts wild with hunger will cross the rivers”, is generally interpreted as Adolf Hitler and the German Army approaching France (Carroll, 2003). “Hister” is interpreted by many to directly represent Adolf Hitler (McCann, 2008). “He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron”, is at times interpreted as being the transportation of Jews to the concentration camps on trains (McCann, 2008). Hitler himself used the various favourable interpretations of Nostradamus as propaganda which gave Nostradamus’s work further notoriety. While this prophecy appeared to be highly accurate it received a considerable amount of criticism.
Many non-believers criticised this quatrain, illustrating that “Hister” is the name of the Danube in Latin (Carroll, 2003). Followers argue that Nostradamus may have been referring to the fact that Adolf Hitler was born near the banks of the Danube (McCann, 2008). Critics also illustrated how many interpretations could be arrived at if re-translated from the original text. Translators illustrated that the line: “He will cause great men to be dragged in a cage of iron”, could also be translated into: “the great man will have someone dragged in an iron cage, a prison cell” or “someone will drag a great man in a prison cell” just as logically as it was in the quatrain above (Shevick, 2010, September,22). Furthermore, translators also argue that the line: “when the son of Germany obeys no law”, could also be translated into “the German child will overlook the Rhine” (Shevick, 2010, September,22). Hitler’s use of this quatrain as propaganda brought both considerable attention to his cause and also to the works of Nostradamus.
What is clear from the interpretations illustrated above is that various individuals find a variety of meanings from his quatrains. The difficulty lies with the interpretation of his work and also in the obscure way in which he wrote. His work posed great difficulty for interpreters to translate, as his quatrains were written in a poetic form and furthermore he was vague in relation to specific details. Many of his followers argue that this obscurity by means of writing in anagrams was a way for him to protect himself from an inquisition (Shevick, 2010, September,22). Others criticised, that he was unable to be specific as he was unable to predict the future. Vast differences began to also appear between translation editions even to the present day, which subsequently changes the meaning or supposed meaning of the original text. The first interpreter of his work was Doctor Chavigny who worked with Nostradamus leading up until his death (McCann, 2008). Many feel that he had a vested interest, especially financially. He made considerable alterations, and mistranslated to a meaning closer to what he may have believed (Shevick, 2010, September,22). The issue may have been that for Doctor Chavigny, his master became a form of god, what he said was true and what was inaccurate may have been corrected.
What is clear is that almost all of the quatrains are negative, be the theme fire, death, war, etc. Nostradamus lived in turbulent times, with the plague, the bloody civil war; religious divide with both sides claiming the other to be the antichrist, and the ever present risk of foreign invasion was at the forefront, of people’s minds (Shevick, 2010, September,22). The quatrains appear to be more of a type of commentary of the times in which he lived, rather than attempting to predict events into the future. Through this work Nostradamus may have been attempting to have some kind of influence on the society in which he lived, similar to the influence he had treating sufferers of the plague (McClaine, 2000). He clearly had a consummate understanding of history and he understood the survival value to the people of the time, in paying attention to the negative. Throughout the years, many of his followers claimed that he predicted many events from the Fire of London to the present day terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York City. While many of these interpretations seem to be highly accurate, not one of his prophesies have been used to avert an historical event. Many psychological processes such as confirmation bias can also help to understand the methods with which his followers found and continue to find patterns in a somewhat random collection of data. However there is one statement that is undeniably true, which was in his epistle to King Henry II on 27th June, 1558:
“as time elapses after my death, my writings will have more weight than during my lifetime” (Leoni, 2000, p.329)
Carroll, R. (2003).The Skeptic’s Dictionary. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
Chambers, R. (1832). The Book of Days. Edinburgh, Scotland: W. & R. Chambers ltd.
Khatri, V. (2008). Dreams and Premonitions. India: Pustak Mahal.
Leoni, E.(2000). Nostradamus and his Prophecies. New York, USA: Dover Publications Inc.
McCann, L. (2008). Nostradamus: The Man Who Saw Through Time. Charleston, South Carolina: Forgotten Books.
McClaine,L. (2000). Across Centuries: Nostradamus: Apocalypse, Destiny, and the Great Millenniium.USA: Universal Publishers.
Paoletti, C. (2007). A Military History of Italy. New York, U.S.A: Praeger Publishers Inc.
Shevick, J (Producer). (2010,September,22). Nostradamus decoded [Television broadcast]. Los Angeles: Discovery Channel.
Wilson, D. & Wilson, C. (1999). The Mammoth Book of Nostradamus and Other Prophets. New York, USA: Running Press Book Publishers.