Oh, the irony of naming things. World War I was originally called The Great War because no one imagined that all the nations would fight at once — never mind the idea they'd do it again later. No one imagined it, that is, except Nostradamus. He couldsee that kind of destruction, and he began his long-term warnings in this pair of quatrains:
The scourges passed the world shrinks,
For a long time peace and populated lands:
One will travel safely by air, land, sea and wave,
Then the wars stirred up anew. (C I – 63)
They will think they have seen the Sun at night
When they will see the pig half-man:
Noise, song, battle, fighting in the sky perceived,
And one will hear brute beasts talking. (C I – 64)
The calm before the storm
The beginning of this pair of quatrains — one of the few pairs that are presented consecutively within The Prophecies — doesn't seem bad. To paraphrase, the problems that have bothered people for so long (scourges) will pass away, and a time of peace will come. Nostradamus didn't distinguish between the scourges — physical illness, false religions, and wars. He probably didn't need to identify them because his point was that they'd all fade away as a smaller world made impressive moves toward enlightenment.
Most quatrains in The Prophecies are seen to be individual predictions and are not grouped by topic. Nostradamus shuffled them to hide the correct order and some of the meanings. Occasionally, though, one or two quatrains that are together will address the same topic. Nostradamus probably did this so that you wouldn't miss the connection, so always look at the quatrains around the one you're examining to see if there's more there than just one prediction.
The second and third lines of Quatrain C I – 63 paint a pretty picture of a long, calm existence without the pestilences (including the plague) that marked the times before this. Nostradamus used terms like world shrinks and lands to acknowledge that people would discover many new places and that colonization and improved travel and navigation would make connections between places more frequent, more reliable, and the distances seem like less.
Notice that the ideas used in this quatrain are calming — peace, safe travel, and civilized lands. Nostradamus apparently admired this time period because he spent three lines describing it. He may have also paused in this pleasant situation to give the reader something less threatening to hold onto before he again dived into war. It's as if he was pointing out a bright spot to encourage people between the seemingly endless wars. But Nostradamus ended his pause of peace in the final line, where he predicted that wars would start up again.
The tone of this quatrain categorizes it as a general description for the overall coming of wars in the twentieth century and not just World War I. Some interpreters suggest that this quatrain is more likely a prediction of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union, with nuclear weapons as the ultimate threat. The Cold War theory becomes weaker, though, when you consider that the rest of the quatrain is so general. When Nostradamus had a specific event in mind, he tended to give enough concrete details that you can't mistake his meaning.
A flight of fancy — or not
In Quatrain C I – 63, Nostradamus set up the idea that travel by air would some day exist. That prediction was quite amazing — he predicted warfare by air with an amazing amount of detail in Quatrain C I – 64.
As usual, Nostradamus gave one fairly clear hint of his intended prophecy target by telling that fighting in the skies would occur. This modern technology of fighting by air didn't come into widespread practice until World War I when fragile biplanes (planes with two fixed wings, one over the other) exchanged fire and dropped bombs and huge helium airships (like the Hindenburg), gained a bird's eye view on enemy movements.
Predicting the aerial battles (fighting in the sky) was the key Nostradamus left in the prophecy to help interpreters unlock the rest of the quatrain's prediction. And if you look deeper, you may notice the connection between the fighting and the fact that it would occur in one of Nostradamus's favorite places — the sky. He was suggesting that the fighting might be more than just between people (maybe it was between the bigger forces of the universe) and that the plan written in the stars looked like it included these wars.
Even though you now have the key to unlocking the prophecy, identifying the other major pieces provides an understanding of the whole prophecy:
- Sun at night. This piece refers to a bright light, which would cut through the darkness, surely, if it was as bright as the sun. During World War I, both the searchlights and explosions at night produced bright lights.
- Pig half-man. Here, he was attempting to describe how a man would look with what appeared to be a strange pushed up nose and the slick skull of a pig on a man's body. This was an accurate prediction (for a man who had no knowledge of why men might look this way) of the breathing masks and slick, leather headgear worn by fighter pilots during World War I.
- Noise, song, battle. If you've ever wondered whether Nostradamus just saw things in his visions or if he heard things, too, then this little piece should settle that question. The fights between planes created a great deal of noise and drama in the sky, and the noise of the bombs was deafening. Across the space of around 350 years, these loud prolonged explosions may've sounded strange to Nostradamus, or maybe he interpreted these noises (so different from the sporadic cannon fire of his own time) as the song of battle.
- Brute beasts talking. Nostradamus tried so hard to describe what he didn't understand. Here, his vision revealed beasts — probably the same pig-men from earlier in the quatrain except that now they're talking. He couldn't have known that during World War I the men would use radios and a controller to communicate with each other. It's interesting that Nostradamus shifted from pig-men to brute beasts. This choice of words suggests that he felt that those in the midst of the battle would no longer be men but would become something almost entirely without thought — beasts.
Quatrains C I – 63 and C I – 64 are important because they give you a very complete idea of how Nostradamus viewed the world. He didn't have enough insight to be able to call the battle in the sky aerial, and he didn't know why the men would look like pigs, but he certainly got the idea across to make a very accurate prediction about how the next battles would be fought, starting with World War I.