Nostradamus in popular culture
The prophecies of the 16th century author Nostradamus have become a ubiquitous part of the popular culture of the 20th and 21st centuries. As well as being the subject of hundreds of books (both fiction and non-fiction), Nostradamus' life has been depicted in several films (to date, inaccurately), and his life and prophecies continue to be a subject of media interest. In the Internet age, there have also been several well-known hoaxes, where quatrains in the style of Nostradamus have been circulated by e-mail. The most well-known example concerns the attack on New York City's World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Nostradamus enthusiasts have often credited him with predicting numerous events in world history, supposedly including the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, the atomic bomb, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and the last pope. Indeed, they regularly make similar claims regarding each new world crisis as it comes along as there is a tendency to claim that "Nostradamus predicted whatever has just happened." These claims rely heavily on the role of interpretation.
One well-known supposed prophecy is that "a great and terrifying leader would come out of the sky" in 1999 and 7 months "to resuscitate the great King from Angoumois." But the phrase d'effraieur (of terror) in fact occurs nowhere in the original printing, which merely uses the word deffraieur (defraying, hosting), and Nostradamus sometimes uses the word ciel simply to mean 'region', rather than 'sky'. On the basis of Nostradamus's by-now well known technique of projecting past events into the future, Lemesurier suggests that X.72 therefore refers back to the restoration to health of the captive Francis I of France (who was Duke of Angoulême) following a surprise visit to his cell by his host, the then Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1525. No fewer than five of the planets were in the same signs on both occasions.
September 11, 2001
The September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City's World Trade Center led to immediate speculation as to whether Nostradamus had predicted the event. Almost as soon as the event had happened, the relevant Internet sites were deluged with inquiries. In response, Nostradamus enthusiasts started searching for a Nostradamus quatrain that could be said to have done so, coming up with interpretations of Quatrains I.87, VI.97 and X.72. However, the various ways in which the enthusiasts chose to interpret the text were not supported by experts on the subject. In addition, Nostradamus himself in his dedicatory letter to King Henri II states that his prophecies were about Europe, North Africa and part of Asia Minor only.
The nearest that the former could come up with was quatrain VI.97, which in the original 1557 edition ran:
- Cinq & quarante degrés ciel bruslera,
- Feu approucher de la grand cité neufve,
- Instant grand flamme esparse saultera,
- Quant on voudra des Normans faire preuve:
With instant evidently a version of the Latin instanter ('violently, vehemently'), a reasonable English translation (after Lemesurier) would thus appear to be:
- Five and forty degrees, the sky shall burn:
- To the great new city shall the fire draw nigh.
- With vehemence the flames shall spread and churn
- When with the Normans they conclusions try.
'Five and forty degrees' was said to be the latitude of New York City ( New York's latitude is 40°47'), and was interpreted as '40.5 degrees' (even though the decimal point had not yet come into use in the Europe of Nostradamus' day). 'New City', similarly, was claimed to be New York (even though Nostradamus refers in this way to various 'New Cities' whose names, unlike 'New York', literally mean 'New City', and especially Naples – from Greek Neapolis, 'new city'); and most of the attempts to fit in the 'Normans' of line 4 seemed contrived at best. While it is true that New York State, which has the same name as New York City, crosses 45° latitude, it cannot, of course, be described as a 'new city', and so doesn't fit line 2 of the verse.
Lemesurier suggests that the verse is merely an undated projection into the future of the capture of Naples by the Normans in 1139 during a year marked by a notably violent eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius that is recorded in the contemporary Annales Cassini. In this case, the first expression may simply be a version of
- Cinq[ante minutes] & quarante degrés
– which is indeed the latitude of Naples.
- Ennosigée feu du centre de terre
- Fera trembler au tour de cité neufve:
- Deux grands rochiers long temps feront la guerre
- Puis Arethusa rougira nouveau fleuve.
or, in a possible English translation:
- Earth-shaking fires from the world’s centre roar:
- Around ‘New City’ is the earth a-quiver.
- Two nobles long shall wage a fruitless war,
- The nymph of springs pour forth a new, red river.
Here, once again, the cité neufve was claimed to be New York; au tour de had to refer to the Twin Towers (even though, in French, the word tour in the masculine – as it is here – has absolutely nothing to do with towers, but is part of a phrase meaning "around"); the Deux grands rochiers had to be the Twin Towers themselves; and Arethusa was said to be an anagram of 'the USA'. Once again, however, a rather more sober investigation by Brind'Amour had already revealed (bearing in mind that, in French, faire la guerre aux rochers, or 'to make war on the rocks', simply means 'to struggle fruitlessly') that the reference was probably to Naples and its nearby volcano. Subsequent investigation by Lemesurier and his colleague Gary Somai suggested that it applied particularly to the Annales Cassini's report of its lava eruption of 1036, at a time when the Lombards of Capua and the Byzantine dukes of Naples were constantly at war over the city prior to the decisive intervention of the Normans. For 968, similarly, Leo Marsicanus had reported in the same annals that ‘Mount Vesuvius exploded into flames and sent out huge quantities of sticky, sulfurous matter that formed a river rushing down to the sea’. Thus, given that Arethusa was the classical nymph of springs and rivers, with a well-known 'spring of Arethusa' still visible today in the Sicilian port of Syracuse, the case for a '9/11' interpretation was evidently unfounded.
The Julian Calendar was indeed the calendar system used during Nostradamus' lifetime. In his Almanachs, Nostradamus published at least eleven Julian calendars of his own – but all of them in fact started on January 1, and in all of them the seventh month was consequently July. Lemesurier consequently suggests that X.72 does not predict the 9/11 attacks at all, but refers back to the allegedly 'miraculous' restoration to health of the captive Francis I of France in August 1525 by his then Roy deffraieur ('host-king') Charles V, and then projects it forwards into the future as a prophecy.
As for the various interpretations of the line usually rendered as "To resuscitate the great king of the Mongols", the verse in fact contains no such line (the word mongolois which, since Leoni  has often been proposed as an anagram for Angolmois, didn't and doesn't exist in French), but merely refers to the well-known French region of Angoumois, of whose capital (Angoulême) Francis I was duke: he was thus, as the verse states, Le grand Roy d'Angolmois ('the great King from Angoumois') of Nostradamus's own day.
In these and other ways, Nostradamus's statement in his open letter to his son Cesar that his quatrains were "written in a nebulous rather than plainly prophetic form" is widely taken by enthusiasts as carte blanche for suggesting that they can mean almost anything that they want them to say.
'Mabus' as Antichrist
Some have interpreted the writings as predicting a series of three antichrists. However, the name "Mabus" as a synonym for or embodiment of the third antichrist is not suggested by any of the Prophecies. In fact the verse in question (II.62) merely states that a character of a similar-sounding name (according to Lemesurier [op. cit.], a reference to the Flemish painter Jan Mabuse, contemporary with Nostradamus) will die. Otherwise, the reference says nothing about what "Mabus" will do or what he will be like.
More recently attempts have been made to link the name "Mabus" anagrammatically with "Obama", as previously with "Saddam", "Osama" and "Bush" This tendency to attempt to adapt quatrains to fit current events can be traced all the way back to Nostradamus' own time.
Village idiot hoax
- Come the millennium, month 12
- In the home of greatest power
- The village idiot will come forth
- To be acclaimed the leader.
As with other hoaxes, only the purported English translation was given. It is likely that this verse was written as a joke.
World Trade Center prophecy hoax
Shortly after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the following spoof text was circulated on the Internet, along with many more elaborate variants (one of them signed 'Nostradamus 1654' – when he would have been 150 years old):
- In the City of God there will be a great thunder,
- Two brothers torn apart by Chaos,
- while the fortress endures,
- the great leader will succumb,
- The third big war will begin when the big city is burning.
As it turns out, the first four lines were indeed written before the attacks, but by a Canadian graduate student named Neil Marshall as part of a research paper in 1997. The research paper included this poem as an illustrative example of how the validity of prophecies is often exaggerated. For example, the phrases "City of God" (New York has never held the title of "City of Angels"), "great thunder" (this could apply to many disasters), "Two brothers" (many things come in pairs), and "the great leader will succumb" are so ambiguous as to be meaningless. The fifth line was added by an anonymous Internet user, completely ignoring the fact that Nostradamus wrote his Propheties in rhymed four-line decasyllables called quatrains. Nostradamus also never referred to a "third big war".
Towards mid-December 2012, an internet hoax related to South Korean singer and rapper Psy being one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was widely circulated around social media platforms. The hoax text, purportedly written by Nostradamus in 1503, is as follows:
- From the calm morning,
- the end will come
- when of the dancing horse
- the number of circles will be nine
"Calm morning" is said to be in reference to Psy's birth country – South Korea, nicknamed in English "The Land of Morning Calm". "Dancing horse" refers to Psy's Gangnam Style "dancing horse" routine, whereas the "nine circles" refer to the number of zeroes in one billion (1,000,000,000), which is nine. It was believed that once Psy's Gangnam Style video on YouTube amassed a billion views, the world would end.
The video did reach one billion views on December 21st, 2012, a popular date for which the world was predicted to end. However, the quatrain could not have been written by Nostradamus in 1503, when he was less than one year old.
Political and military manipulation
During World War II, leaflets with false Nostradamus quatrains predicting the defeat of France were launched by German planes over European skies. It seems that this operation was mastered by Nazi political secretary Rudolf Hess and that even Adolf Hitler believed in Nostradamus' quatrains. Certainly his propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels did, under the influence of his wife Magda. Subsequently the Allies responded in kind, both with air-dropped leaflets and via the American film Nostradamus Says So.
After Rudolf Hess left Nazi Germany in a mysterious solitary flight to Scotland, probably seeking a peace agreement with the United Kingdom, Hitler issued the Aktion Hess, a mandatory prosecution of any divinator or future-teller in all Nazi-occupied countries.
Nostradamus is the subject of many films and videos, including:
- Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen at the Internet Movie Database (Catastrophe 1999: Prophecies of Nostradamus); (1974 film by Toshio Masuda)(Nostradamus: The Prophecy at the Internet Movie Database)
- Nostradamus: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow at the Internet Movie Database Nostradamus: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (1981), a documentary hosted by Orson Welles.
- Nostradamus at the Internet Movie Database (1994) depicts Nostradamus's rise in influence, because of success in treating plague and his predictions, culminating in his appointment as court physician to Charles IX of France.
- Nostradamus at the Internet Movie Database (2000)
- Before Twilight 2008 Polish film
- Farewell to Nostradamus is an anime film based around the prophecies of Nostradamus.
- Mention is made of Nostradamus in the 1985 Italian horror film Demoni, directed by Lamberto Bava and produced by Dario Argento. According to the characters of the film shown at the fictional Metropol movie theater, Nostradamus predicted the spawning of demons that will "spread pestilence" and be "instruments of evil".
The television series Alias prominently features the character Milo Rambaldi, a fictional prophet who seems to be an amalgam of Nostradamus and the non-prophetic but visionary inventor, artist, and genius Leonardo da Vinci. In the science fiction series First Wave, the protagonists use a previously unknown book of quatrains of Nostradamus to fight back against an alien invasion. Nostradamus was also a regular character on This Morning With Richard Not Judy, played by Emma Kennedy. Nostradamus appeared semi-regularly on the Warner Bros. animated series Histeria! as an eccentric red-bearded man in stereotypical wizard garb.
On Mr. Show with Bob and David, an episode contains a sketch called "Nostradamus and his companion". In it, Nostradamus (played by Bob Odenkirk) is a gay man who falls in love with a fashion designer, played by David Cross. Nostradamus is left behind by his constant chum, who goes on to achieve fame and fortune in the fashion industry. The sketch ends with a school being named after them: "Nostradamus and His Constant Chum Elementary School."
On Chappelle's Show, the sketch comedy show hosted by Dave Chappelle, there is a character called Negrodamus (played by comedian Paul Mooney), an African-American version of Nostradamus who makes various predictions in response to questions.
In the Hong Kong ATV series My Date with a Vampire (series 1), Nostradamus (also referred to as the "French Guy") was held to have made a prophecy of the end of world in 1999, with a third of the world's population turning into monsters and the rest perishing. The antagonist, vampire Yamamoto, sought to make the prophecy come true and rule the world, but the protagonists were able to stop this from occurring. The anime Occult Academy revolves around an artifact called the Nostradamus Key, an object that will open a dimensional rift on July 21, 1999 that would trigger an alien invasion in the year 2012. In fact, it seems that the survivors of the 2012 invasion used alien technology to send someone to tell Nostradamus as part of a plan to prevent the invasion.
Bob Bainborough portrayed Nostradamus in an episode of History Bites, appearing in an infomercial to sell his books, referencing C1Q35, among others, as an example of his prophecy. A two-hour documentary on Nostradamus first aired by the History Channel on 28 October 2007 suggests that a book of paintings in the National Library at Rome is The Lost Book of Nostradamus.
The Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures novel The King of Terror features the Fifth Doctor and UNIT dealing with a group of terrorists called the Sons of Nostradamus who consider it their duty to ensure that his prophecies-apparently predicting the end of the world in 1999-come true, but the prophecies are eventually revealed to have been part of the efforts of the alien race known as the Canavatchi to retard humanity's development.
The History Channel periodically airs a series of films on supposedly apocalyptic prophecies under the general title The Nostradamus Effect, but in his book 2012: It's Not the End of the World, Nostradamus specialist Peter Lemesurier describes them as 'largely fiction' and 'lurid nonsense'.
In an episode of the Disney Channel cartoon series Phineas and Ferb, main character Candace Flynn ends up crashing through two buildings while riding an out of control rocket made from a quarter-operated grocery store ride. In both instances, a character-an unnamed farmer in the first instance and Heinz Doofensmhirtz in the second-take this as evidence that "Nostradamus was right."
- In Phil Rickman's historical novel The Bones of Avalon, Nostradamus appears at the end as the major villain who must be opposed by this novel's hero John Dee. The book describes his contemporary influence and depicts him as a master of propaganda and psychological warfare.
- In Alexander Kuprin's short story "The Blue Star", published in 1927, it is mentioned that Nostradamus has composed a horoscope for one of the main characters, a French prince.
British singer/songwriter Al Stewart's album Past, Present and Future was a concept album including a song about every decade of the 20th century. As Stewart wrote the album in 1973, events from the latter years of the century were covered by the song "Nostradamus", in which some of the prophecies are quoted. One of the prophecies appears to refer to the future fall of the Berlin Wall and the unnatural death of a Pope named Pol; events which might have been considered predictable, even if the date was not.
Composer Robert Steadman has twice used Nostradamus' prophecies in pieces of music: in 1987, quatrains by Nostradamus were juxtaposed with the Latin Requiem Mass text and poems on environmental issues. And in 1999, he set what was thought by some to be Nostradamus's prediction of the end of the world for soprano and chamber ensemble in The Final Prophecy.
The 1993 album The Window of Life by Pendragon includes a song entitled "Nostradamus (Stargazing)".
Marilyn Manson said that his Antichrist Superstar CD, which came out in 1996, was an answer to the Nostrandamus prophecy in which he said that "The 3rd. Antichrist was going to come to the earth in the year 1996".
Bulgarian guitarist Nikolo Kotzev released a rock opera called Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus in 2001, based on the life and times of Nostradamus. In 2005, Dutch band Kayak released a rock opera called Nostradamus - Fate of Man.
In 2008, the British heavy metal band Judas Priest released a concept album based on the life of Nostradamus. Simply named Nostradamus, the album itself focuses on Nostradamus' life and his prophecies.
Modest Mouse vocalist Isaac Brock seems to take a stab at Nostradamus in a song called "Education" from the band's fifth studio album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. The verse is as follows: "Good old Nostradamas / he knew the whole damn time / there would always be an east from west / and someone in there fighting".
In the bonus track of Dane Cook's "Harmful if Swallowed" he speaks of how a person would wake up and think he is late, then look at his clock to find out that he is in fact late. He would yell "I HATE it when I'm like Nostradamus and I predict that I'm late!"
Several songs by the Stranglers contain references to Nostradamus' prophecies: "Goodbye Toulouse" (1977), "Shah Shah a go go" (1979), "Four horsemen" (1980), "It's a small world" (1983).
In an Italian Mickey Mouse story (Topolino E La Piramide Impossible), Mickey and Goofy travel back in time and by accident a young boy followed them back to the present. The boy had to go back to his own time and his memory of the future was erased, but before that he grabbed pieces of books. The boy of course became Nostradamus and the ripped pages from books explained his visions of the future. The story was made by Massimo Marconi and Massimo De Vita.
In 1989 Scrooge McDuck story "The Curse of Nostrildamus" by Don Rosa (AR 143), Scrooge enters the prophet's tomb to take the amulet that was the source of his power. However, whoever wears the amulet also attracts disasters - though Donald Duck ends up as the victim of the disasters instead of Scrooge. In author's commentary in the Finnish album release, Don Rosa says he was inspired to write the story based on the legend that whoever drank from Nostradamus's skull would be given the gift of prophecy.
A Phantom story from 1983 by Ulf Granberg and Jaime Vallvé featured an appearance by Nostradamus.
In Mad Magazine's section entitled the "strip club" a comic strip entitled Middle School Nostradamus appears every so often. Nostradamus is depicted as a preteen in wizard garb who makes predictions of impending despair for the people he is around at inopportune times.
Face released an arcade game Nostradamus. Though the game itself had nothing to do with Nostradamus, the game's title screen showed a resemblance to his son's portrait of him, however he is facing the other direction and looks older.
In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, the prophecy of 1999 was used as the resurrection of Dracula and added that all born of the day of Dracula's demise are "Dark Candidates" meaning that they have the potential to become the next Dark Lord. This prophecy is referenced again in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin; the Belmonts cannot wield the Vampire Killer whip until 1999, when Dracula is revived.
In Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy, Nostradamus appears as an adviser to his daughter during the game.
In Ninja Gaiden (arcade), the hero is a nameless ninja on a quest to defeat an evil cult led by a fictional descendant of Nostradamus.
In Spy Hunter (2001 video game), the hero, Alec Sects, has to stop an organization called Nostra, led by Daemon Curry, who believes in the prophecies of Nostradamus, thinks he is the figure mentioned in several religions and plans to stop all the world's electricity.
In Assassin's Creed Unity, There are Nostradamus riddles hidden in Paris for Arno to solve.
- Carol Grisanti (10 March 2013). "Are cardinals electing the last pope? If you believe Nostradamus...". NBC News.
- Diane Tessman (Feb 2013). "Nostradamus, Saint Malachy, the Pope's Resignation, and Comet ISON: Do They All Predict End Times?". UFO Digest.
- Lemesurier, Peter, Nostradamus: The Illustrated Prophecies, 2003, ISBN 1-903816-48-3
- For further information and for analysis of this and subsequent indications, see here.
- Gruber, Dr Elmar, Nostradamus: sein Leben, sein Werk und die wahre Bedeutung seiner Prophezeiungen, 2003, p. 419
- Lemesurier, The Unknown Nostradamus, 2003, ISBN 1-903816-32-7
- Lemesurier, Peter, The Unknown Nostradamus, 2003, pp. 145-6
- But compare Clébert, Jean-Paul, Prophéties de Nostradamus, 2003
- Brind'Amour, Pierre: Nostradamus. Les premières Centuries ou Prophéties, 1996, p. 170
- See here.
- Lemesurier, Peter: Nostradamus: The Illustrated Prophecies, O Books, 2003
- Lemesurer, Peter: The Unknown Nostradamus, O Books, 2003, p.144
- See Brind'Amour, Pierre, Nostradamus astrophile, University of Ottawa Presses, 1993; Lemesurier, Peter, The Unknown Nostradamus, O Books, 2003.
- Election hoax, downloaded March 23, 2006
- False Prophecy
- Pak, Johnny (November 28, 2012). "Does the rise of PSY mean the world is ending?". MSN News. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
- Suat Ling, Chok (December 20, 2012). "Much ado about apocalypse". New Straits Times. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
- See Wilson, I., Nostradamus: The Evidence (Orion, 2002) p.274.
- Lemesurier, Peter: The Nostradamus Encyclopedia, 1997, pp. 146-147
- Wulff, Wilhelm Theodor Zodiac and swastika; how astrology guided Hitler's Germany, Pub. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan. New York 1973, (ISBN 0-698-10547-8)
- Lemesurier, Derwen Publishing, 2011. For summaries and reviews of The Nostradamus Effect, see here
- Alexander Kuprin, The Blue Star