Fears of a forthcoming Armageddon this month, as predicted over 450 years ago by the astrologer Nostradamus, have been dismissed by a leading historian at the University of Leicester.
Professor Richard Bonney said the prophecy of the sixteenth-century French seer that a calamity will befall the world in July 1999 was 'wild speculation exacerbated by the impending end of the Millennium'.
He said those pondering the end of the world this weekend or later this month were simply engaging in 'Nostradamania'.
Professor Bonney said: "Nostradamus rarely predicted the correct course of events even in his own lifetime."
"He thought that the conjunction of Saturn and Venus in August 1565 would be the occasion of the second coming of Christ. Obviously, that didn't happen."
However, there are some elements within the predictions which could be interpreted as having coming true, Professor Bonney noted: "There are other predictions where it is thought, with hindsight, that he got it right: the death of king Henri II of France from a jousting accident was said by Nostradamus' son to have been predicted, the premature death of the king's son, Francis II, and so on.
"There are even fairly obscure references which could be said, after the event, to describe the French Revolution and the Spanish Civil War (including the naming of Primo [for Primo de Rivera] and Franco within the context of 'schism' coming from Castile). He also talked of 'Hister' in conjunction with the Rhine, which has often been taken to mean Hitler."
But despite these predictions, Professor Bonney is convinced the Armageddon theorists have got it wrong: "It seems to me that Nostradamus' prophecy for this month has been mistranslated. Even if one can be confident about what he was trying to say, there is no reason to suppose that anything specific to inform our actions can be predicted from his prophecy."
For more information, please contact Professor Bonney on 0116 212 5677 or 0116 252 2800.
Please find following Professor Bonney's assessment of possible interpretations of Nostradamus' predictions.
* The sense of the prophecy for July 1999 is too obscure to be meaningful:
'L'an mil neuf cens nonante neuf sept mois,
Du ciel viendra un gran Roy deffraieur.
Resusciter le grand Roy d'Angolmois.
Avant apres Mars regner par bon heur.'
This has led to all sorts of unacceptable translations, e.g.:
'The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror.
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.'
One possible literal translation might be:
'In the seventh month of 1999
From Heaven will come a great king, [to settle accounts],
To resurrect the king of [or from] Angoumois
And war to reign by chance [or haply] where it once did cease.'
* The translation of the word d'effraieur [of terror] or deffraieur (as in the original text [= 'defraying', 'settling' or even 'buying off']) is crucial to the meaning. In other words, the passage does not necessarily refer to terror at all. For a Frenchman in the sixteenth century, the king from the pays d'Angoumois was François d'Angoulême, king Francis I (ruled, 1515-47), known for his great victories (Marignano, 1515) and defeats (Pavia, 1525). There is no necessary allusion to a modern Genghis Khan.
* Sixteenth-century astrologers and seers such as Nostradamus [ = Michel de Notradam (1503-66)] were asked their opinions by rulers such as the Regent, Catherine de Médicis. A number of these prophecies were 'tailor made' to suit the audience which in a sense commissioned them.
* The sixteenth-century French audience of Nostradamus interpreted the Bible literally (e.g. Noah and the Flood) and therefore prophecies concerning impending disasters were taken seriously (a great flood had been predicted in 1524-5). Among the Catholic population there was a sense of catastrophe as result of the progress made by the Reformation, which was seen as heresy. Among the Protestant Reformers, Calvin denounced the 'diabolical superstition of astrology' (1549).
* People in sixteenth-century France had a cyclical view of history to which predictions such as those made by Nostradamus appealed. Historians today reject the idea of a cyclical view of history, that specific events can be predicted and also that there is any necessary interrelation between natural and human events. They would argue instead that the causation of events is complex and not subject to any laws of inevitability. Similarly, scientists find it very difficult to predict natural phenomena such as the precise timing, location and force of earthquakes. Any relationship between the two sorts of events, natural and human, as in the Nostradamus prophecy for July 1999 is therefore ruled out.
* Whether or not Nostradamus' prophecy is an obscure reference to a second coming of Christ, as some sects appear to believe, most Christians understand Jesus's words as recorded in Mark 13:31-32 to mean that it is futile for humans to anticipate when a Second Coming will take place.
* Among the contemporaries of Nostradamus, Calvin in particular stressed trust in a providential God rather than 'vain speculations' by mere mortals.
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