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The Man Behind the Prophecies

by Ian Wilson

Pub Date: Dec. 18th, 2003
ISBN: 0-312-31790-5
Publisher: St. Martin's

A new biography of the famous French astrologer, based on many original sources.

Australian historian Wilson (Before the Flood, 2002, etc.) lists himself as a nonbeliever in astrology, thus separating this book from those written by Nostradamus’s fans and apologists. Michel de Notre Dame (1503–66), son of a christianized Jewish merchant, studied medicine at the University of Montpellier, where fellow classmates included the writer Rabelais. Astrology was at the time part of the medical curriculum, believed to offer key insights into the health of patients. Nostradamus did practice medicine, visiting several Provençal towns during outbreaks of plague. But his future lay with astrology. He published annual almanacs from 1550 until the year of his death, making observations and doing calculations well in advance. These ephemeral publications (authentic copies are rare) catapulted him into international renown. His horoscopes, offering detailed predictions of marriages, offspring, illnesses, and other important life events, were soon in demand by the rich and powerful. Examining several of these, Wilson finds many discrepancies between the predictions and the actual course of the subject’s life, although he credits Nostradamus with a number of impressive hits, such as his 1558 prediction of the early demise of French king François II, who indeed died at age 16 in 1560. Wilson notes that several original horoscopes remain in private hands and urges their study to allow a better assessment of Nostradamus’s accuracy. In his own time, despite occasional complaints about his obscurity and illegible handwriting, the astrologer appears to have generally satisfied his powerful clients. More impressively, he avoided trouble with both ecclesiastical and civil authorities in an era marked by religious strife and persecution. Most surprising of all is his posthumous prominence, with new editions of his prophecies in almost every century. Wilson does a good job of describing the historical and social context from which Nostradamus emerged.

Generally fair-minded treatment of a character with an enduring hold on the popular imagination.