Nostradamus For Dummies
Nostradamus was a sixteenth century physician, astrologer, and prophet whose predictions are still being read, studied, and written about today. Although Nostradamus (who wrote in four-line stanzas called quatrains) believed in his predictions, he was a man of his time who was influenced by the people, events, and ideas of the day.
Important People in the World of Nostradamus
People are at the heart of many of Nostradamus's prophecies, so knowing who's on stage is important. Nostradamus himself leads this cast of major players and influences:
Nostradamus: The star of our show, he was a French doctor, astrologer, and prophet from the early 1500s. He wrote predictions about the future of individual people, countries, and mankind in four-line rhymed poems (quatrains) that are collected in the Prophecies.
Queen Catherine de Medici: This Italian woman was married at a young age to King Henry II of France. Upon his untimely demise as the result of a jousting accident, she took the reins of the country when her sons were too young or weak to rule for themselves. She guided France from a position of power for the better part of three decades. Important to the story of Nostradamus, she was an early patron and supporter of his predictive skills.
César Scalinger: Nostradamus's mentor, he was a humanist and a man who loved to bring order to the world around him — organizing and cataloging ideas, plants, poetry, and people.
The Pope: All right, so it's not just one person, but as the head of the Catholic Church and God's representative on Earth, the Pope is important to Nostradamus. The Church, with its priests who could read, count, and handle eternal life had quite a bit of power — both religious and political — so the pope wasn't someone to take lightly.
Napoleon Bonaparte: This revolutionary and talented general ruled France, Nostradamus's native land from 1799 until 1814 and was one of his favorite topics in the quatrains. A conquering type, Napoleon was power hungry and was eventually defeated, exiled, and then defeated for the last time at Waterloo after he secretly returned from exile.
Adolph Hitler: By leading the Nazi party to power in Germany and continually invading and attacking neighboring countries, this man started World War II, which literally engulfed the globe. His ideas of a master race meant death for millions in concentration camps. In the cast of future characters, Nostradamus saw him as powerful and destructive.
Mother Nature: The earth is one thing that connects us all, and Nostradamus knew it well. Being surrounded by floods and changing weather that meant death or life was enough to encourage Nostradamus to place this earthy topic at the top of his quatrain list.
Concepts that Influenced Nostradamus
Although Nostradamus (and many of his adherents) believed he could see the future, Nostradamus was a man of his times who was influenced by the popular concepts and culture of the day. He was a student right before the time when astrology and astronomy were considered core subjects; he studied medicine; and was an apothecary during the plague.
The concepts that likely had a profound influence on Nostradamus include:
Astrology: This is the study of the movement of stars and planets with the idea that these motions are related to the people and events on Earth. By knowing the charts and positions of these celestial bodies, supporters of astrology believe that future events can be predicted.
Alchemy: This secretive study focuses on the process where you're supposed to be able to change any metal into gold to give you material wealth and achieve the ultimate goal — the Philosopher's Stone, a stone that provides immortality.
Medicine: Doctors of the time were educated in a mixture of state-of-the-art medicine (looking at body fluids), basic anatomy, some astrology, and folk medicine. But treatments were limited to herbal concoctions and using leeches to bleed out the illness in a patient, who often wasn't much better off for the help. Toward the end of the Renaissance, using observation to investigate how the body worked took hold.
Humanism: This is a Renaissance belief that people should focus on all things human, especially exploring their capabilities. Beauty created by people in the form of music, art, and literature was valued specifically because it was a human creation. Humans have a natural dignity and value because they're people. People can realize their potential by using logic and thinking critically about the world rather than relying on faith.
World Events of Nostradamus's Day
Nostradamus led a somewhat normal life — he studied and traveled, married and fathered two children, then saw his wife and children fall victim to the plague. He continued to travel and study; remarried and had six more children; and wrote his prophesies. During all of this, Nostradamus's world underwent notable events, presented in these sections as possible headlines:
Coming to a Town Near You — The Black Plague, Second European Tour
Like the plot of a disturbing movie, Europe and Asia spent years fighting the villainous enemy known as the Black Plague — a hideous virus that spread via fleas on rats and other animals and that showed up as black lesions before the person quickly passed beyond medical help. After a terrible outbreak in 1347, the plague returned in full force just before Nostradamus's birth. During the Renaissance years, this plague killed millions everywhere in the known world, an estimated one-third of the population.
We Have Questions, and We Want Answers: The Inquisition
After forcing the conversion of Jews to Christianity, the Christian Church established a religious court of sorts in Spain, France, and Italy to find and punish anyone who spoke or acted against the ideas and rules of the Church. If people confessed, great; otherwise, torture and death might be in order.
Sail West, Young Man
Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain bankrolled the explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, and the race to claim the newfound lands west of Europe began with a bang. The newly discovered lands provided natural resources, increased industry growth back home in Europe, and even began a booming slave trade. The country with the most land wins — or so that was the idea of the countries that fought for the right to claim lands far from home.
My God Is Better than Yours
France suffered through a series of troublesome wars and uprisings within its own borders between the Catholic faithful and the new Protestant believers. Even Queen Catherine de Medici got entangled around 1560 when she tried to allow the Protestants (sometimes called Huguenots) to worship quietly. The Protestants were inspired by Martin Luther, who objected in publicly posted statements in 1517 to the heavy-handed rules and double dealing of the centralized Christian Church.
Forget the Plow, Reach for the Paintbrush
The Renaissance was a time when art in every form was in fashion — from the revival of the old Greek and Roman writers and their ideas to the works of artists like Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo.
Hot off the Press, Get Your Insights Here!
The development of the printing press in the mid 1450s helped get the Bible and other important writings into the hands of those who could read. More people reading meant more people thinking and exploring ideas rather than listening to what they were told. During the Renaissance, it helped inspire painters, philosophers, and scientists but it also troubled the religious state of affairs by allowing doubt about received ideas of faith to gain a foothold.