First published in French as Nostradamus. Une médecine des âmes à la Renaissance, © Éditions Payot & Rivages, 2011 This English edition © Polity Press, 2018 Polity Press 65 Bridge Street Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK Polity Press 101 Station Landing Suite 300, Medford, MA 02155 USA All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
CONTENTS Translator’s Preface vii Permissions and Acknowledgements xi Introduction: Fragments of History 1 1 The Place Beyond Words 5 2 A Self-Contradictory Utterance 12 3 Treasure Beneath an Oak Tree 29 4 A Would-Be Astrophile 38 5 Thresholds Dependent on Subjectivity 47 6 An Evangelist Cogito 57 7 ‘For the Common Profit of Mankind’ 63 8 ‘A Burning Mirror’ 73 9 Divine Light 80 10 From the All to the One 84 11 The Word of Creation 93 12 An Episteme of Reason 104 13 Sacredness and Nothingness 116 14 The Energetics of Obscurity 123 v.
TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE Denis Crouzet is one of the most distinctive voices among France’s early- modern historians. In a sequence of landmark books, he has changed the way we think about religious tension and violence in the period of the post-Reformation, and especially in France. His approach is unconven- tional, his methodologies unusual, and his style of writing idiosyncratic. Until now, however, none of his major books has been translated into English, and the anglophone world has not had an adequate opportunity to sample his work. That is why I, a historian of early-modern Europe and not a professional translator, offered to undertake this task.
PERMISSIONS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The translator and publisher gratefully acknowledge Knut Boeser (ed.), The Elixirs of Nostradamus. Nostradamus’ Original Recipes for Elixirs, scented water, beauty potions and sweetmeats (Wakefield, RI, 1996) for an extract of that translation (from pp. 87–8) with modifications; also the French emblems website (http://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk) for its translation of one of Guillaume de La Perrière’s Latin tetrastichons from La Morosophie; also Peter Lemesurier for an extract of his translation of Nostradamus’ prologue to the Hiéroglyphes de Horapollo, located at http://nosrepos.tripod.com/orusapollo.html. They thank Sophie Bajard- Manchette, editor at Éditions Payot, Paris for her invaluable assistance in making this translation possible. The translator is grateful to an anonymous reviewer for suggestions to improve the translation, and to Paul Young at Polity for his patience in awaiting the delivery of the final version.
To my father, François Crouzet who, all of a sudden, on a day of despair, recited the opening lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto 1 (1–3)): La gloria di colui che tutto move per l’universo penetra, e risplende in una parte più e meno altrove.
Introduction FPNO# LPNO# FRAGMENTS OF HISTORY I have long regretted, these last three or four years, my decision to embark on a study of ‘Master Michel de Nostredame’, Michel Nostradamus. It has been an arduous task, verging on absurdity, even aberration. On the one hand, the prophetic astrologer remains a mystery, because the documents and sources that deal with him are scarce; on the other, because his prophecies remain impenetrable, they are unclear, and make no sense. The history, therefore, to the extent that it is feasible, is bound to remain fragmentary.
1 THE PLACE BEYOND WORDS Just when I was beginning to think that I should abandon this topic, a major piece of evidence caught my attention. Nostradamus, the writer of enigmas that he called ‘prophecies’ and ‘presages’, chose to call himself an ‘astrophile’. Yet if he tried to find an enduring science in the stars above, in the ‘movement of the celestial sphere’, ‘a Deo a natura’ (from God and from Nature), it was not without deeper reasons than those which determined his vocation as an astrologer. Like François Rabelais, his contemporary, he was first and foremost a ‘physician’ who, following his studies at the ‘perfect Faculty of Medicine’ in Montpellier, had prac- tised medicine, probably from the end of the 1520s or the beginning of the 1530s. He looked after his patients at particularly critical junctures such as virulent epidemics. According to his son César, writing later in his History of Provence, the city of Aix-en-Provence hired Nostradamus on 30 May 1546 to help with the ‘preservation of the city’ during a ‘terrible’ plague that lasted nine months. Cemeteries were so full of bodies that the city ran out of consecrated ground in which to bury its victims. In the second day of the outbreak, those afflicted fell into a ‘frenzy’, albeit without any sign of marks (buboes being the characteristic swellings of bubonic plague) on their body: ‘And those who were visited with such marks, they died suddenly while talking, without any change to their mouth, but after their death, their whole body was covered with black buboes; and those who died in frenzy, their urine was the consist- ency of white wine, and after their death, half of the whole body was the colour of the sky, tinged with violet blood’. The account continues: ‘The epidemic was so malignant and violent that one only needed to come within five paces of a victim to be contaminated. Many people had malignant pustules on their fronts and backs, and even down their legs. Those who had them on the back could be lanced, and most of them 5.
2 FPNO# LPNO# A SELF-CONTRADICTORY UTTERANCE It is difficult to start from any other point except that of a voice emanat- ing from nothing, a shadow of itself, unstructured even, because it seems to reject every classification and invalidate every norm or rule. It is not only the syntactical order of the Prophecies of Nostradamus that is dis- jointed by the almost complete absence of pronouns and conjunctions, or sometimes of verbs. It is also that the words do not carry a rational meaning. His prophetic quatrains play metaphorically with knowledge as though reflecting a cognitive illusion the better to question it:1 The bright star seven days shall burn Cloud shall cause two suns to appear: All night long the great mastiff shall howl, When great pontiff changes his abode.