Michel de Nostredame (depending on the source, 14 or 21 December 1503 – 2 July 1566), usually Latinised as Nostradamus, was a French apothecary and reputed seer who published collections of prophecies that have since become famous worldwide. He is best known for his book Les Propheties, the first edition of which appeared in 1555. Since the publication of this book, which has rarely been out of print since his death, Nostradamus has attracted a following that, along with much of the popular press, credits him with predicting many major world events.
Most academic sources maintain that the associations made between world events and Nostradamus's quatrains are largely the result of misinterpretations or mistranslations (sometimes deliberate) or else are so tenuous as to render them useless as evidence of any genuine predictive power. Nevertheless, occasional commentators have successfully used a process of free interpretation and determined 'twisting' of his words to predict an apparently imminent event. In 1867, three years before it happened, for example, Le Pelletier did so to anticipate either the triumph or the defeat of Napoleon III in a war that, in the event, begged to be identified as the Franco-Prussian war, while admitting that he could not specify either which or when
Born on 14, or 21 December 1503 in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Provence, France, where his claimed birthplace still exists, Michel de Nostredame was one of at least nine children of Reynière (or Renée) de Saint-Rémy and grain dealer and notary Jaume (or Jacques) de Nostredame. The latter's family had originally been Jewish, but Jaume's father, Guy Gassonet, had converted to Catholicism around 1455, taking the Christian name "Pierre" and the surname "Nostredame" (the latter apparently from the saint's day on which his conversion was solemnised). Michel's known siblings included Delphine, Jean I (c. 1507–77), Pierre, Hector, Louis, Bertrand, Jean II (born 1522) and Antoine (born 1523). Little else is known about his childhood, although there is a persistent tradition that he was educated by his maternal great-grandfather Jean de St. Rémy—a tradition which is somewhat undermined by the fact that the latter disappears from the historical record after 1504, when the child was only one year old.
At the age of 15 Nostredame entered the University of Avignon to study for his baccalaureate. After little more than a year (when he would have studied the regular trivium of grammar, rhetoric and logic, rather than the later quadrivium of geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy/astrology), he was forced to leave Avignon when the university closed its doors in the face of an outbreak of the plague. After leaving Avignon, Nostredame (according to his own account) travelled the countryside for eight years from 1521 researching herbal remedies. In 1529, after some years as an apothecary, he entered the University of Montpellier to study for a doctorate in medicine.
He was expelled shortly afterwards by the university's procurator, Guillaume Rondelet, when it was discovered that he had been an apothecary, a "manual trade" expressly banned by the university statutes, and had been slandering doctors. The expulsion document (BIU Montpellier, Register S 2 folio 87) still exists in the faculty library. However, some of his publishers and correspondents would later call him "Doctor". After his expulsion, Nostredame continued working, presumably still as an apothecary, and became famous for creating a "rose pill" that supposedly protected against the plague.
Marriage and healing work
In 1531 Nostredame was invited by Jules-César Scaliger, a leading Renaissance scholar, to come to Agen. There he married a woman of uncertain name (possibly Henriette d'Encausse), who bore him two children.  In 1534 his wife and children died, presumably from the plague. After their deaths, he continued to travel, passing through France and possibly Italy.On his return in 1545, he assisted the prominent physician Louis Serre in his fight against a major plague outbreak in Marseille, and then tackled further outbreaks of disease on his own in Salon-de-Provence and in the regional capital, Aix-en-Provence. Finally, in 1547, he settled in Salon-de-Provence in the house which exists today, where he married a rich widow named Anne Ponsarde, with whom he had six children—three daughters and three sons. Between 1556 and 1567 he and his wife acquired a one-thirteenth share in a huge canal project organised by Adam de Craponne to irrigate largely waterless Salon-de-Provence and the nearby Désert de la Crau from the river Durance.
After another visit to Italy, Nostredame began to move away from medicine and toward the occult. Following popular trends, he wrote an almanac for 1550, for the first time Latinising his name from Nostredame to Nostradamus. He was so encouraged by the almanac's success that he decided to write one or more annually. Taken together, they are known to have contained at least 6,338 prophecies, as well as at least eleven annual calendars, all of them starting on 1 January and not, as is sometimes supposed, in March. It was mainly in response to the almanacs that the nobility and other prominent persons from far away soon started asking for horoscopes and "psychic" advice from him, though he generally expected his clients to supply the birth charts on which these would be based, rather than calculating them himself as a professional astrologer would have done. When obliged to attempt this himself on the basis of the published tables of the day, he frequently made errors and failed to adjust the figures for his clients' place or time of birth. [a].
He then began his project of writing a book of one thousand mainly French quatrains, which constitute the largely undated prophecies for which he is most famous today. Feeling vulnerable to opposition on religious grounds, however, he devised a method of obscuring his meaning by using "Virgilianised" syntax, word games and a mixture of other languages such as Greek, Italian, Latin, and Provençal. For technical reasons connected with their publication in three installments (the publisher of the third and last installment seems to have been unwilling to start it in the middle of a "Century," or book of 100 verses), the last fifty-eight quatrains of the seventh "Century" have not survived into any extant edition.
The quatrains, published in a book titled Les Propheties (The Prophecies), received a mixed reaction when they were published. Some people thought Nostradamus was a servant of evil, a fake, or insane, while many of the elite evidently thought otherwise. Catherine de Médicis, wife of King Henry II of France, was one of Nostradamus' greatest admirers. After reading his almanacs for 1555, which hinted at unnamed threats to the royal family, she summoned him to Paris to explain them and to draw up horoscopes for her children. At the time, he feared that he would be beheaded, but by the time of his death in 1566, Queen Catherine had made him Counselor and Physician-in-Ordinary to her son, the young King Charles IX of France. Some accounts of Nostradamus's life state that he was afraid of being persecuted for heresy by the Inquisition, but neither prophecy nor astrology fell in this bracket, and he would have been in danger only if he had practiced magic to support them. In fact, his relationship with the Church was always excellent. His brief imprisonment at Marignane in late 1561 came about purely because he had published his 1562 almanac without the prior permission of a bishop, contrary to a recent royal decree.
Final years and death
By 1566, Nostradamus's gout, which had plagued him painfully for many years and made movement very difficult, turned into edema, or dropsy. In late June he summoned his lawyer to draw up an extensive will bequeathing his property plus 3,444 crowns (around $300,000 US today), minus a few debts, to his wife pending her remarriage, in trust for her sons pending their twenty-fifth birthdays and her daughters pending their marriages. This was followed by a much shorter codicil. On the evening of 1 July, he is alleged to have told his secretary Jean de Chavigny, "You will not find me alive at sunrise." The next morning he was reportedly found dead, lying on the floor next to his bed and a bench (Presage 141 [originally 152] for November 1567, as posthumously edited by Chavigny to fit what happened). He was buried in the local Franciscan chapel in Salon (part of it now incorporated into the restaurant La Brocherie) but re-interred during the French Revolution in the Collégiale Saint-Laurent, where his tomb remains to this day.
In The Prophecies he compiled his collection of major, long-term predictions. The first installment was published in 1555 and contained 353 quatrains. The second, with 289 further prophetic verses, was printed in 1557. The third edition, with three hundred new quatrains, was reportedly printed in 1558, but now only survives as part of the omnibus edition that was published after his death in 1568. This version contains one unrhymed and 941 rhymed quatrains, grouped into nine sets of 100 and one of 42, called "Centuries".Given printing practices at the time (which included type-setting from dictation), no two editions turned out to be identical, and it is relatively rare to find even two copies that are exactly the same. Certainly there is no warrant for assuming—as would-be "code-breakers" are prone to do—that either the spellings or the punctuation of any edition are Nostradamus' originals.
The Almanacs, by far the most popular of his works, were published annually from 1550 until his death. He often published two or three in a year, entitled either Almanachs (detailed predictions), Prognostications or Presages (more generalised predictions). Nostradamus was not only a diviner, but a professional healer. It is known that he wrote at least two books on medical science. One was an extremely free translation (or rather a paraphrase) of The Protreptic of Galen (Paraphrase de C. GALIEN, sus l'Exhortation de Menodote aux estudes des bonnes Artz, mesmement Medicine), and in his so-called Traité des fardemens (basically a medical cookbook containing, once again, materials borrowed mainly from others) he included a description of the methods he used to treat the plague—none of which, not even the bloodletting, apparently worked. The same book also describes the preparation of cosmetics.
A manuscript normally known as the Orus Apollo also exists in the Lyon municipal library, where upwards of 2,000 original documents relating to Nostradamus are stored under the aegis of Michel Chomarat. It is a purported translation of an ancient Greek work on Egyptian hieroglyphs based on later Latin versions, all of them unfortunately ignorant of the true meanings of the ancient Egyptian script, which was not correctly deciphered until Champollion in the 19th century.Since his death only the Prophecies have continued to be popular, but in this case they have been quite extraordinarily so. Over two hundred editions of them have appeared in that time, together with over 2,000 commentaries. Their popularity seems to be partly due to the fact that their vagueness and lack of dating make it easy to quote them selectively after every major dramatic event and retrospectively claim them as "hits" (see Nostradamus in popular culture).
Origins of The Prophecies
Nostradamus claimed to base his published predictions on judicial astrology—the astrological 'judgement', or assessment, of the 'quality' (and thus potential) of events such as births, weddings, coronations etc.—but was heavily criticised by professional astrologers of the day such as Laurens Videl for incompetence and for assuming that "comparative horoscopy" (the comparison of future planetary configurations with those accompanying known past events) could actually predict what would happen in the future.Research suggests that much of his prophetic work paraphrases collections of ancient end-of-the-world prophecies (mainly Bible-based), supplemented with references to historical events and anthologies of omen reports, and then projects those into the future in part with the aid of comparative horoscopy.
Hence the many predictions involving ancient figures such as Sulla, Gaius Marius, Nero, and others, as well as his descriptions of "battles in the clouds" and "frogs falling from the sky." Astrology itself is mentioned only twice in Nostradamus's Preface and 41 times in the Centuries themselves, but more frequently in his dedicatory Letter to King Henry II. In the last quatrain of his sixth century he specifically attacks astrologers. His historical sources include easily identifiable passages from Livy, Suetonius, Plutarch and other classical historians, as well as from medieval chroniclers such as Geoffrey of Villehardouin and Jean Froissart. Many of his astrological references are taken almost word for word from Richard Roussat's Livre de l'estat et mutations des temps of 1549–50.
One of his major prophetic sources was evidently the Mirabilis Liber of 1522, which contained a range of prophecies by Pseudo-Methodius, the Tiburtine Sibyl, Joachim of Fiore, Savonarola and others (his Preface contains 24 biblical quotations, all but two in the order used by Savonarola).[b] This book had enjoyed considerable success in the 1520s, when it went through half a dozen editions but did not sustain its influence, perhaps owing to its mostly Latin text, Gothic script and many difficult abbreviations. Nostradamus was one of the first to re-paraphrase these prophecies in French, which may explain why they are credited to him. It should be noted that modern views of plagiarism did not apply in the 16th century. Authors frequently copied and paraphrased passages without acknowledgement, especially from the classics. The latest research suggests that he may in fact have used bibliomancy for this—randomly selecting a book of history or prophecy and taking his cue from whatever page it happened to fall open at.
Further material was gleaned from the De honesta disciplina of 1504 by Petrus Crinitus, which included extracts from Michael Psellos's De daemonibus, and the De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum (Concerning the mysteries of Egypt...), a book on Chaldean and Assyrian magic by Iamblichus, a 4th-century Neo-Platonist. Latin versions of both had recently been published in Lyon, and extracts from both are paraphrased (in the second case almost literally) in his first two verses, the first of which is appended to this article. While it is true that Nostradamus claimed in 1555 to have burned all of the occult works in his library, no one can say exactly what books were destroyed in this fire. Only in the 17th century did people start to notice his reliance on earlier, mainly classical sources.[c] This may help explain the fact that, during the same period, The Prophecies reportedly came into use in France as a classroom reader. 
Nostradamus's reliance on historical precedent is reflected in the fact that he explicitly rejected the label "prophet" (i.e. a person having prophetic powers of his own) on several occasions:
Although, my son, I have used the word prophet, I would not attribute to myself a title of such lofty sublimity—Preface to César, 1555 (see caption to illustration above)
Not that I would attribute to myself either the name or the role of a prophet—Preface to César, 1555
[S]ome of [the prophets] predicted great and marvelous things to come: [though] for me, I in no way attribute to myself such a title here.—Letter to King Henry II, 1558
Not that I am foolish enough to claim to be a prophet.—Open letter to Privy Councillor (later Chancellor) Birague, 15 June 1566