The significance of Les Significations :
Theo van Berkel has raised the hypothesis1 that conflicting astrological data and interpretations concerning the lunar eclipse of September 1559 found in Les Significations de l’Eclipse, qui sera le 16 Septembre 1559 may point to the fact that this work is a forgery from some later period trying to promote the idea that Nostradamus had foretold the deaths of the kings Henry II and Francis II.
Torné-Chavigny, whose letter to Raoul de Tricqueville was published in facsimile in front of the facsimile edition of Les Significations in 1904, was the first to raise doubts that this text was indeed written by Nostradamus. His line of reasoning was that the orthodox Christian who had written the Prophétie meveilleuse and the Prognostication, the prediction of which in his opinion came true under pope Pius IX in the 19th century, could not have possibly plagiarized Cyprian Leowitz. The true aim of its author was to réduire à néant l’Astrologie as soon as the plagiarism became clear. Interestingly enough Torné-Chavigny did not point out specific statements in Les Significations which would serve as predictions of the death of Henry II. He rather saw this connection on a symbolic level. The dreadful eclipse was a sign pointing to the lethal eclipsing of Henry’s life, as the arms of Henry II show three crescent moons with the motto : Donec totum impleat orbem [Until he fills the whole world], which points to the image of the crescent moon that gradually fills the whole circle, or in Latin : luna impletur, the moon fills up. But of course, an exegesis on this level does not need a prophet to foretell the death of the king, it is enough that the eclipse took place in temporal proximity to the fatal event.
At that time Torné-Chavigny was not aware of the fact that Nostradamus did often plagiarize, as Pierre Brind’Amour has shown with great scholarship. Therefore the mere fact that a text by Cyprian Leowitz has been used to write parts of Les Significations is not reason enough to deduce that Nostradamus might not be the author.
Nostradamus: The inaccurate astrologer
Let us first consider the claim that the use of incompatible astrological sources, as van Berkel writes, weakens the statement that Nostradamus is the author of Les Significations. The use of incompatible astrological sources and the presence of conflicting astrological data and interpretations does not seem to be a valid argument in favor of the view that Nostradamus may not be the author of the Significations. We know from the seminal work of Pierre Brind’Amour2 that Nostradamus was rather sloppy in dealing with his astrological sources and had considerable shortfalls in calculating horoscopes.
To give just one illustration, compare for example the planetary positions for the year 1557 given in the Prognostication nouvelle pour 1557 (Jacques Kerver, Paris) with the Almanach pour l’an 1557 (Jacques Kerver, Paris). In the Almanach, we read on fol. Bvir : Declaration de May. Le premier quart de la Lune sera le v. à 4. minu. au signe de Leo, chaud & sec, augmentant en chaleur & inflammation… In the Prognostication he writes : May. Le premier quart de la Lune sera le 5. à 2. heu. en Libra, froide & seiche (fol. Ciijv). Another example from the same publications : Declaration d’Octobre. La pleine Lune sera le vij. iour à six heures 43. minutes au signe d’Aries… (Almanach, fol. Div), Octobre. Pleine Lune le 7. à 13 h. en Aries (Prognostication, fol. Ciiijr). Although these conflicting data and contradictory interpretations (one giving hot weather, the other cold weather) are not found in one single book, but in two publications for the same year, the astronomical data and the astrological interpretations should still be identical. However, they are not.
The difficulty that Nostradamus had in establishing valid data for planetary positions is well known, and Brind’Amour has offered many examples. One of these is the instance in which Nostradamus finds the ascendant of Lorenz Tubbe to be in Scorpio, whereas Tubbe himself and the two famous mathematical astrologers Erasmus Reinhold and Cyprian Leowitz found it to be in Libra.3 Bad for poor Tubbe, who of course believes in Nostradamus and accepts the incorrect and astrologically negative position of his ascendant instead of the correct and positive one.
Nostradamus also changed planetary positions deliberately if he found it appropriate. For example he found in the Horoscope for Prince Rudolf, following his own calculations, the point of fortune to lie on 17° 0’ Sagittarius, which already is a miscalculation. Given the positions for ascendant, Sun and Moon it ought to be placed at 13° 20’ Sagittarius. But Nostradamus deliberately moves the point of fortune to 20° 0’ Scorpio to the medium coeli, and justifies this in terms of the fact that this should be the position where the point of fortune should be for such an important future monarch.4
Moreover in order to disguise the fact that his mathematical abilities concerning the calculation of horoscopes were limited, Nostradamus often declared that he determined the positions following several methods. He calculated the birth-chart for Karl Rosenberger using the Indian, the Babylonian, and his own method.5 For the revolutions for Hans Rosenberger he relied on the Indian method and the method of his ancestors. Nostradamus interpreted the horoscope of prince Rudolf by using the jugement des Arabes Grecs Indicques Babilonicques et des antiquissimes Aegiptiens ne mectant en arriere le jugement des Arabes Grecs Latins et celluy de mes antiquissimes avites qui au jugement des astres en la iudiciaire ont vallu beaucoup.6
It is a result of this inconsistent dealing with astrological method that we often encounter incompatible astrological data throughout the work of Nostradamus. To some extent this is his trade-mark.
Van Berkel is of the opinion that the use of incompatible astrological sources in one and the same booklet made the authenticity of Les Significations dubious. He cites in this respect the opinion of Jacques Halbronn, who says that the inclusion of sources which incompatibility is overlooked, is a feature of the labor of forgers who are eager to finish their task. If the forgers were able to overlook such incompatibility concerning the position of Mars, why should not Nostradamus have been able to commit the same mistake, by relying on different sources or on his own calculations and the Eclipsium omnium by Cyprian Leowitz, given the fact that we know that his dealing with planetary positions was erratic and full of mistakes ? If the mistake is a result of overlooking something by forgers who are eager to finish their task, it would apply with the same reason to my own argument, as I said that Nostradamus was rushed to bring out his booklet in time before the eclipse.7 So when forgers can overlook something because of a rushed production, Nostradamus could equally well make the same mistake in his rushed work, given the fact that he committed similar errors in works in which he was not rushed to finish his task.
I think that van Berkel has reached his conclusions before studying attentively the Prognostication of maister Michael Nostredamus for 1559. Only very recently, published on his homepage, van Berkel wrote an interesting article on this prognostication in which he himself points to the incompatibility of lunar phase data between the Almanacke for the yeare of oure Lorde God 1559 and the English Prognostication for 1559, thus finding out by himself, that Nostradamus often made use of incompatible astrological data. Dismissing Les Significations on these grounds would result in dismissing almost all of Nostradamus’s prophetic works.
Van Berkel rejects my idea that Nostradamus used a publication on the effects of an impeding eclipse as a vehicle for transporting his counter-attack at his enemies to a large public, by arguing that the criticism of his opponents obviously sold quite well by themselves. He states : Couillard and Videl thought it worthwhile to publish an attack on Nostradamus without any prediction at all.8 This is not entirely correct, as Couillard specifically entitled one of his pamphlets against Nostradamus Les Prophéties du Seigneur du Pavillon lez Lorriz9 In fact this means hiding criticism inside a text which purportedly contains prophecies. The title would entice many to grab the booklet, expecting something else. Nostradamus somehow did the same, and the fact that he came up with the idea of incorporating his answer to his adversaries in a prognostication is no reason to deduce that it should not be by Nostradamus. Why, if supposedly someone else came up with this idea for promoting Nostradamus retrospectively as a true prophet, could not Nostradamus have had the same idea originally ?
In relying on the excerpts of Chavigny in his Recueil van Berkel makes some incorrect assumptions about it, obviously because he has not seen the manuscript of the Recueil of Chavigny. One is his statement that it was published in 1589 in Grenoble. In fact the Recueil was never published and remained in the form of a manuscript. Van Berkel also makes it seem as if the Recueil consists of two compilations, namely the Présages en vers and the Présages en prose. Indeed this distinction was only made by Chevignard in his edition of the first four books of the Manuscript. In reality in the Recueil the quatrains belonging to the almanacs are all copied along with the prose prophecies in the same order as they appear in the printed editions.
The idea of a pre-impact of the eclipse
Van Berkel maintains that we can see a change in the interpretation of the eclipse from the Prognostication Nouvelle for 1559 to Les Significations which consists mainly in a shift from religious troubles to the death of kings and rulers. Connected with this idea is one of his central arguments that the effect of the lunar eclipse in Les Significations is interpreted as having some kind of pre-impact. This, he argues, was used to justify that its malicious influence would already show an effect in the month of June, preceding the September in which the eclipse took place. Presumably this idea of a pre-impact, unknown to astrological theory, was invented in order to obtain an astrological event as a supposed reason for predicting the death of Henry II. Now the important thing is that the same idea of a pre-impact of the eclipse was already largely elaborated by Nostradamus in the Prognostication Nouvelle for 1559.
Although no original copy of the Prognostication Nouvelle for 1559 seems to have survived, we do not have to rely solely on the extracts from this publication in Chavigny’s Recueil. Fortunately enough the English translation of this text, The Prognostication of maister Michael Nostredamus for 1559, is still extant. This text is now under scrutiny by van Berkel, but evidently was not when he first wrote about Les Significations. Otherwise he would not have missed the many arguments of a very similar nature as the ones found in Les Significations. In the English Prognostication for 1559 Nostradamus writes of the prediction of Iune :
By the beginning of this present moneth of Iune .1559. I finde suche an extreme dright to continue, that the Eclipse whiche foloweth returned me to presage and prophecie, yet greater mutations and changes from the springe past, rodownding to the beginning of this moneth and to the other following: and that within the course of this moneth, the countrey and kyngdome of Spayne, shalbe in greatest and extremest necessitie that ever it was in.
Chavigny starts his excerpt for June only with the last sentence of the above cited section (PP 119). It becomes clear from the complete English version that Nostradamus already in his Prognostication for 1559 did hypothesize very clearly about a pre-impact of the eclipse. In his account this influence also contains general political effects, and not only effects in the realm of religious matters, as can be seen from the above-cited extract. The passage in the Prognostication for 1559 continues with the words :
And within this moneth the predictions of the Eclipse after the tumult and alteration made by the priests and byshoppes, bycause of the diversitie of sectes, the say de countrey shall suffre, not by Religion, although it shall not be cleane exempt: but by pestiferous diseases and contagious, famyne, oppression, sedition, commotion, and a thousand other exactions.
Here Nostradamus is very unambiguous that the effect of the eclipse is not merely on religious affairs, but has to be seen rather as very diverse disasters befalling mankind ranging from diseases and famine to oppression and sedition. Again Chavigny did not transcribe the sentence following his PP 120 which reads in the English prognostication : Than afterwarde by the presage of the same Eclipse awhile after it shall asswage in such sort that men shall passe over almost in many places dry shodd.
Chavigny has made excerpts of this passage and left out quite a few sentences and noticeably everything that sounds contrary to the Catholic Church (…the tumult and alteration made by the priests and byshoppes…), and he also left out a number of calamities that Nostradamus sees in connection with the eclipse of the moon, pointing to the interpretation that the effect of the eclipse goes far beyond religious matters. Furthermore Nostradamus had already associated lunar eclipses with the death of royalty in earlier works. We do find for example in his predictions for 1555 the following statement : La Lune icy eclipsée fait prediction de quelque default Royal, ou bien de Prince ou Monarque. Pour le seur quelcun d'iceux sera frapé aux cuisses par torment de feu. Ce qu'est à venir ès lieux où regne le Sagittaire. [PP 360 (I, 1555)].
Van Berkel did not draw our attention to the following two extracts from Prognostication Nouvelle for 1559 in Chavigny’s Recueil :
Les astres nous presagent par l'eclipse à venir que les actes militaires seront si abondans par Barbarique invasion que les citez qui estoyent & de present sont tant felices deviendront en extreme facherie & necessité, & plus par evenemens terrestres que par eaux. [PP 123 (IV)]
Le default Lunaire, qui sera près l'equinœce autonnal, pour estre en signe humain, signifie que par les humains & à iceux seront les evenemens de quelque grande ruine, qui à ce printemps & à l'autonne qui vient, & encores dans l'année 1560, seront plus apparans & de telle effectrice operation que les plus Grands & les plus haut elevez se verront les plus deprimez &, abaissez, & ceux qui estoyent mis en arriere seront les plus avancez. [PP 125 (IV)]
Again both presages describe effects of the eclipse concerning political matters and especially the rulers, as the mentioning of les plus Grands & les plus haut elevez implies monarchs, kings, and rulers. And during the month of September, when the eclipse took place, Nostradamus writes : Dans cette Lune mourra quelque Grand grand, qui sera cause de sa mort : & l’autre de sa grand blessure, violentos Troas aditurus [on the verge of going to the raging Troyans]. [PP 194 (IV)]
In order to emphasize his argument van Berkel maintains that in Les Significations religious troubles are only mentioned briefly.10 In reality the effect of the eclipse on religious matters is being treated extensively. Les ecclesiastiques and les iovialistes, meaning the members of the clergy, are mentioned explicitly on several occasions as being the focus of the eclipse, and on fol. A3r the text reads : …quelques autres sublimes entreprinses concernantes quelque fort hault & magnanime fait… mesmes entre les plus grands monarques de la religion Chersienne. The term mesme in Renaissance times meant in particular, especially. On the same page we read about a grand iacture à l’eglise Cherstienne.11 There is also a discussion about conspiracies against a queen [fol. A3v]. Why a queen, if the forger wanted the effect of the eclipse to point to the death of the two French kings ?
The connection of the eclipse with the death of a ruler was definitely there in the Prognostication and there is no such thing as a change of emphasis from religious matters to the death of a king between the Prognostication and Les Significations, as van Berkel suggests.
Van Berkel himself pointed out the prophecy of a ruler dying at the end of June in the Prognostication Nouvelle for 1559 (PP 133), which was subsequently interpreted by Chavigny as a prediction of the death of Henry II in his marginal note. Although the death of the ruler, according to Nostradamus, should not take place in France (PP 134), Chavigny of course tries to save his argument by stating : Ceci est dit pour deguiser le fait. So in fact there were already assertions in the Prognostication Nouvelle for 1559 that could and did serve to interpreters like Chavigny as predictions of the death of Henry II. Why should Nostradamus not have introduced the same type of predictions in Les Significations which again would lead to similar interpretations ?
By studying the English translation of the Prognostication Nouvelle for 1559 it becomes very clear, that the idea of the pre-impact of the eclipse was the brainchild of Nostradamus himself and not introduced by forgers in Les Significations. The concept comes up on several occasions in the Prognostication of maister Michael Nostredamus for 1559. In the prediction of August we read [pp. 51f]12 :
…and by the same putrefaction and corruption, domages diuerse discomodities, new matters strange and diuers: and bycause he shalbe retrograde to the proximitie of the Eclypse equinoctiall, the discomodities shall not be onely in one faction but in many and diuers kindes of noiaunce. Many and diuers stratagenes or policies shalbe wrought and executed, whiche shalbe more secret then they were euer, with long sicknesses, etikes, potifikes, dropsies, dissenteries, quartaines…
On pp. 64f Nostradamus presents a description of the eclipse with astronomical data :
…she [the eclipse] shall continue .3. howres .24. minutes, and shal not appeare unto us but about the ende couerid with .16. pointes .14. minu. Presaging and declaring like thinges past in the moneth of Marche, and of the thre moneths after the appearance of the same bycause that this Eclipse is very great by longitude and latitude…
Here again we encounter the strange idea of a pre-impact starting already in March, more than half a year before the eclipse took place. Interestingly enough on page 65 Nostradamus unexpectedly sets out on an attack of his adversaries, just like he did in Les Significations. In this respect it is of interest to read what Nostradamus wrote about in The prediction of Marche [p. 21] :
At the ende of this moneth shall many humayne monsters be borne. The prediction of the Eclypse of September shall woorke his wicked effects at the ende of the same moneth, and of the moneth followynge, in suche sorte, that all the worlde shall feele it. Hoate burnynge and pestilent agues shall beginne to spring vp, Martiall factions shall not be quenched. The retire of the Barbarians. Huy, qualis depredatio [O, what a devastation].
Let us consider some more quotes from the Prognostication for 1559. In The prediction of Aprill we read on p. 25 :
If euer it came to passe that people were moued in deuotion to praie God to mitigate his anger, now let euery man do it: For I finde that if of longe time ago it hath bene daungerous by reason of a great frost, the constitution of this moneth presageth it nowe, not of long continuance, but true it is although that the Eclipse befarre of from this moneth, and in a tyme opposite and contrarys, yet notwithstanding because it shalbe long and continue a good whyle as many monethes as howres in the.24. howres of the day, the colde one howre and than tending to heate, places of snowe shal not be exempt tempest, hayle, thonder, variable and inconstant weather.
Prediction of Iune [p. 38] :
O what calamitie and miserable affliction in this moneth, before this moneth, and after this moneth. The astres and planetes by the said Eclipse also is a presage vnto vs, and the warlike actes whiche shalbe so many by reason of a barbarike inuasion, the cities which wer and be so fortunate and plentifull, shall come into extrene trouble and necessite, and the more by chaunces on the lande.
Prediction of Iuly [p. 44f] :
Yet notwithstanding this moneth signifieth more the Iouialistes than any other, and constituteth within the. 12. many of them captiues, banyshed, murdered, spoyled of their goodes, honours and dignities. The equinoctial Eclipse presageth it, for in this moneth, Erit multus excessus frequens & turbulentus. Aequinoctialia ea sunt, ea immuniunt, quae religionis atque aequabilitatis sunt, quia religio medium quoddam est inter nos et deum maximumque vinculum conseruandae societatis. Which is euident that ther approcheth by the same meanes some great and straunge mutations & chaunge God of his goodnes set to his holy hand to pacifie al.
In the light of these documents van Berkels assertion that In Les Significations, the original time span of the impact of the September 1559 Lunar Eclipse was revised deliberately in both directions: an earlier beginning, a later end13 can safely be refuted. The idea of the pre-impact as well as a prolonged effect of the eclipse was already completely developed in the Prognostication for 1559. In addition van Berkel is of the opinion that the purpose of this concept in Les Significations was to relate the Eclipse to the fateful events to the Valois dynasty and that such an act could only have been done after December 5, 1560, the date of the decease of Francis II. With these arguments he postulates a change from religious impact (in the Prognostication for 1559) to troubles for the Valois dynasty14 (in Les Significations).
This heavy and incorrect speculation on the part of van Berkel is obviously due to the fact that he relied only on the extracts from the Prognostication pour 1559 in Chavigny’s Recueil and not on the English version of the Prognostication for 1559 still extant. Judging from the English Prognostication for 1559 there is definitely no change in the interpretation of the eclipse from religious to dynastic matters between the two texts in question. On the other hand, all the supposed effects of the eclipse on political matters in the Prognostication for 1559 and in Les Significations never mention troubles for the Valois dynasty, as van Berkels wants us to believe. The declarations of Nostradamus in this respect are - as usual with him - very general and all encompassing, that they might be applied to a wide variety of events. But never do we find anything that can be indisputably linked to the Valois. This is the interpretation given by Chavigny to certain sections of the Prognostication for 1559 (but notably not to parts of Les Significations !) in the marginal notes of his manuscript. Van Berkel follows this exegesis by assuming that the text of Les Significations by supposed later counterfeiters contains troubles for the Valois dynasty. Chavigny has several marginal notes for the Prognostication Nouvelle for 1559 in which he is convinced of having found predictions of the death of Henry II and Francis II. But oddly enough in his transcription of Les Significations, there is not one marginal note pointing to the death of the two kings ! If falsifiers had produced Les Significations by introducing astrological constellations which should be interpreted retrospectively as a prediction of Henry II’s and Francis II’s deaths, they would have done a miserable job. Not even Chavigny, who was looking ardently for any piece of evidence of prediction in the works of Nostradamus, found a presage in Les Significations as a prophecy of the death of either Henry II or Francis II. On the other hand he did find a few in the Prognostication pour 1559 in which of course the association of the presages to these events existed only in the mind of the interpreter, namely Chavigny.
Even if Nostradamus knew the generally accepted interpretation of the duration of the effects due to an eclipse he certainly does not stick to such an interpretation, but rather changes it whenever he likes. He takes the freedom of the divinely inspired prophet to surpass the licit realms of astrology in many occasions. At the beginning of his Almanach for 1561 (Chavigny, Recueil, VI, PP 4) we find for example the declaration : Mais à cause des eclipses precendens equinoctiaux, qui viennent à estendre leurs effets tout de long de ceste année,… Further down at the predictions for March 1561 (Chavigny, Recueil, livre VI, PP 86) Nostradamus states : Dans ceste Lune renouvellée les effets des eclipses precedents se viendront rendre; & pource naistra quelque grandissime discorde, rebellion, sedition, murtre, cas exorbitans au moyen de soustenir les uns & le autres prescheurs. Since he is speaking of les eclipses in plural, Nostradamus is probably referring to the eclipse of the moon of 11 March 1560 and the eclipse of the sun of 21 August the same year, both of which ought to extend their effects until March 1561, which at least for the eclipse of the moon surpasses the theoretical time span.
In order to further show how strongly interrelated our two texts under examination are, let me add some passages in the English Prognostication for 1559, in which Nostradamus turns his anger against his opponents, as he does this basically in the same style, as in Les Significations :
[pp. 21f] The venyme of malicious tonges maketh me to staye and retire my penne from writing that which were necessary to be declared: but I have no regarde De ignauo impetus [of the evil attack] of a company of vile persones, worse than Asses, whiche can not but speake evill if they shoulde burste, but God will make the truthe appeare, who preserve us.
[pp. 65f]…the presages therof extende not in general causes, but in particular, whatsoever some folish calves and asses do babble whose knowledge is not perfect. Sed perniciosa ignorantia et variis modis noxia mortalibus [but the ignorance is harmful and damaging for the mortals in several ways], and their ignoraunce shalbe as hurtfull to them that know him as this present Eclipse shalbe almoste to all the earth, principally in the particular places already declared, Sed cum talibus pecoribus luctari non est animus [but I lack the courage to fight with such animals]. It shoulde better behove them to make Soope to skoure their dull ignoraunce, and with lesse eatinge of fyshe. Now let us praye God to converte them from waye of heresie, and put them in the right path.
[p. 69] I thoughte it good here to joyne Astrologie with Philosophie against those that saye I wryte Deliramenta: it is them selves that dote, and bee madde, and wander every where & tota cello.
I am not quite sure about van Berkel’s arguments in respect to PP 186-187 (IV) from the Prognostication Nouvelle pour 1559. After citing the extracts van Berkel affirms : At that time, the reader of Les Significations was supposed to interpret these lines as a prediction of the death of several prominent persons in the period 1559-1560, i.e. Henry II and Francis II. But the prediction cited is from the Prognostication and not from Les Significations ! Since the Prognostication did appear in 1558, we either have to deal with a prediction fulfilled, or - which is by far more probable - with a lucky coincidence, not unexpected in regard to the many diverse predictions we find every year in the almanacs and prognostications of Nostradamus, especially about the imminent death of important persons. It is a significant piece of evidence that this presage is found in the Prognostication for 1559. Therefore it is not surprising that Nostradamus raises similar ideas in Les Significations.
One of the arguments brought forward to reject Les Significations as an antedated fake concerns the conjunction of Mars with Antares, as described following Cyprian Leowitz. According to astrological theory this conjunction is interpreted as a danger for someone’s eye and should have promoted the interpretation that Nostradamus had not only foretold the death of Henry II, but also that it would result from a wound to one of his eyes. The meaning of this Mars-Antares conjunction, though, is elaborated in a much broader sense in Les Significations, including many different illnesses, about which the text goes into much detail. The fact that such a conjunction was traditionally interpreted as the announcement of the danger concerning one’s eyes is not of much value to the general reader with no comprehensive information about astrological theory. It would only make sense if aimed at readers well versed in this field. If the author had intended to convey this meaning to his readers, he would certainly not have omitted to explain the traditional implication of this constellation. But we find no allusion to this meaning at all. It was obviously only taken “innocently” from the work of Cyprian Leowitz by the author of Les Significations without intending to convey any specific meaning.
The commentator of commentaries: The role of Jean-Aimé de Chavigny
Concerning Chavigny’s interpretations, Van Berkel wonders how he could possibly relate a remark about June 28 listed in a book which deals with 1558 to the year 1559 in order to associate it with the death of Henry II. It is not strange considering the principles of interpreting the prophecies of Nostradamus created by Chavigny. Of course his interpretations were guided by the notion of trying to find evidence of fulfilled prophecies in the texts of Nostradamus and came after the supposedly predicted events had taken place. Chavigny was the first one to come up with a whole system of how to interpret Nostradamus, in order to extract from his texts almost every prophecy that the interpreter wished to find in it. He was certainly not the average reader who was taking the prophecies at face value. He was convinced that Nostradamus’s prophecies were all true. His approach was in jeopardy as soon as he tried to find an agreement with the actual chronology of historic events. This conflict is very clear when studying the Recueil. The predictions in the almanacs and prognostications were meant for specific months and days of a year, but hardly ever could Chavigny find incidents at the corresponding dates matching the prophecies. In order to overcome this problem of cognitive dissonance Chavigny came up with an amazing arsenal of techniques of interpretation which till today form the basis of the uncritical exegesis of the prophecies of Nostradamus.15 One of this techniques was to simply state that Nostradamus would hide the accurate times of verification of his prophecies and deliberately assign them to wrong years and months in order to avoid presenting the truth to undeserving people. From then on he took the presages from almanacs and prognostications as predictions pertaining to a whole range of different epochs, only in very few cases pointing to occurrences on the dates which they were purporting to predict. In the Ianus François he assigns the quatrains from the almanacs to totally different years and months from for those for which Nostradamus had composed them. He finds for example events of 1589 predicted by Nostradamus in the monthly quatrains for May 1555, January and August 1557, November 1558, May 1560, May and August 1561, November 1563, and January 1564. Chavigny was of the opinion that the quatrains of the almanacs could be coordinated with historical events at will, and did the same with the présages en prose. When he could not find a fitting event, he sometimes concluded in his notes, that this related to the future. An analyst following such a method would certainly go out of his way to find in Nostradamus statements matching such important events as the death of Henry II as van Berkel notes with some surprise. Taking into consideration the complete work of Chavigny this is not unexpected at all, but rather his common approach to the problem of the Nostradamian texts.
The distinction between the texts of Nostradamus and the interpretations of Chavigny is not always clear in van Berkel’s paper, due to the fact the he relies only on the Recueil which is already an excerpted and “corrected” version of Nostradamus’s original pieces. His arguments in favor of Les Significations being a forgery from a later era rest on insufficient knowledge of the works of Nostradamus, his erratic dealing with the mathematical side of astrology and the role of Chavigny as interpreter of Nostradamus. Therefore his conclusion, in which he ponders the idea that Chavigny might be the real author of Les Significations, because the supposed pre-impact of the Lunar Eclipse of September 16, 1559 in both Les Significations and several interpretations by De Chavigny might justify such an idea16, must be rejected.
I have shown that the idea of the pre-impact is not new to Les Significations, nor due to Chavigny, but found already in the Prognostication for 1559 by Nostradamus and definitely his own creation. Moreover, if Chavigny were the impostor who wrote Les Significations and published it under the name of Nostradamus as an antedated work, in order to prove that Nostradamus had foretold the deaths of the two French rulers, he would certainly have done it in an unambiguous manner. In addition why would his excerpts from Les Significations in the Recueil differ in many instances from the published text if he was the author ?
The confused arguments of van Berkel in this respect might be due to some misunderstandings on his part concerning the role of Chavigny as interpreter of Nostradamus. Van Berkel writes :
In La premiere face du Ianus François, De Chavigny also discussed the decease of Henry II. In the Brief Discours sur la vie de m. Michel de Nostredame, he writes about commentaries of Nostradamus, especially on July 1559. De Chavigny refers to the decease of Henry II. Regarding the Centuries, this is the only historical fact to which he refers. He adds the decease of Henry II to Nostradamus’ palmares of predictions. However, there is no document in which Nostradamus comments July 1559.17
First of all this is certainly not the only historical fact to which he refers regarding the Centuries, as van Berkel suggests. The complete Ianus François is filled with historical references to the Centuries and the verse prophecies from the almanacs. It is indeed the very substance of his book to find historical events as having been foretold by Nostradamus. On the other hand there is obviously a basic misapprehension in van Berkel as to the use of the expression commentaire by Chavigny in respect to Nostradamus’s works. With the expression Commentaires sur l’an 1559 Chavigny of course means the prognostication in prose of Nostradamus for this year, as it can be regarded as commentaries to astrological themes. Accordingly the titles he gives in his Recueil for the excerpts of the almanacs and prognostications always reads Extrait des commentaires sur l’an… In the introduction of the Ianus François he refers the reader to the Commentaires … sur l’an 1559, as they are not part of his analysis in this book, which deals only with verse prophecies. An interesting example of this meaning can be found in Chavigny’s Pléiades, in which, by the way, he refers to a passage in Les Significations, which he terms a Prognostic fait sur l’an de grace 1559.18
Et si quelque estincelle de verité, si quelque brin de lumiere se peut tirer de l’espaisseur de ces nouages, qui nous cachent l’aduenir, nous dirons auoir remarqué de les Commentaires de Michel de Nostredame, deux temps & saisons pacifiques apres ces grands troubles, l’vne est particuliere à ce Royaume de France, l’autre generale à toute l’Europe & Chrestientè. De la premiere iceluy parle ainsi au Prognostic fait sur l’an de grace 1559. Apres les troubles [sic] tenebres passees, (sont les doubles guerres, pour la religion & pour l’estat) le tout viendra en sa pristine lumiere, par consideration pacifie.19
To conclude, it cannot be claimed that Les Significations was not written by Nostradamus on the grounds that he seems to not having relied on the Eclipsium omnium by Cyprian Leowitz before the publication of Les Signifiactions, as van Berkel suggests. Maybe it was only then that he got a hold of the book of Leowitz, which from then on he used at times. An example can be found in Nostradamus’s last almanac, which only survived in its Italian translation. This almanac is also interesting in relation to this present discussion, because in it the main concern of his prognostic content throughout the text is the interpretation of the eclipse of the sun on 9 April 1567. In the astrological chart for this eclipse in the Almanach per l’anno 1567 [fol. Eiiijv] Nostradamus speaks of the eclipse as being colore multum deformi et visu max. horrend[o] [of a very hideous color and a very horrible appearance]. Leowitz says that the eclipsed sun would be colore omnio deformi, fusco uidelicet & rubeo.
Interestingly enough in this Almanach per l’anno 1567 we find the same comparison with the eclipse of 1605 as Nostradamus had already drawn in Les Significations :
[Fol. fiv] Et l’anno .1544. furono quattro ecclissi & fra l’altri l’uno dil sole nel mese di Genaio. Ma questo de l’anno. 1567. sarà molto grande, & tale che simile ne fu ne sarà de lungo tempo, eccetto quello che sarà l’anno. 1605. nel mese d’Ottobre.
In Les Significations he had written :
[fols. Biv-Biir] … menasse quelque cas que tel autre & beaucoup plus sinistre & calamiteux aduiendra l’an 1605. que combien que le terme soit fort long, ce nonobstant les effectz de cestuy ne seront gueres dissemblables a ce luy d’icelle année…
In the Italian Almanach we encounter again the notion of a pre-impact, as Nostradamus speaks of meteorogical effects three months before the eclipse and three months after it : Tre mesi auanti & tre mesi doppoi, le emotioni & furiosi mouimenti, gli frutti, fiori & piante de tenerezza saranno in estremo periculo di gello, neue, niuole … [fol. Fiv].
Although van Berkel has pointed out a number of interesting contradictory features in Les Significations, he reached the wrong conclusions, in my opinion due to a lack of comprehensive knowledge of the complete work of Nostradamus. This shows once more the need of having a maximum of documents at our disposal for the study of Nostradamus, as Jacques Halbronn put it. I trust that van Berkel will himself shed additional light on the inconsistent use of astrological calculations in Nostradamus by examining in detail this aspect in different almanacs and prognostications in the future, as he is at present undertaking with the English Prognostication for 1559.
Elmar R. Gruber
1 T. W. M. van Berkel : Astrological traces of forgery in Les significations de l’éclipse du 16-09-1559. Analyse 44. T. W. M. van Berkel : Les Significations de L’Eclipse 1559 : Its origin, its disqualification. Analyse 55. Retour
2 Brind’Amour, Pierre : Nostradamus astrophile. Les astres et l’astrologie dans la vie er l’œuvre de Nostradamus. Paris, Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1993. Retour
3 Dupèbe, Jean : Nostradamus, lettres inédites. Genève, 1983, XVIII, p. 65. Retour
4 Elmar R. Gruber : Nostradamus. sein Leben, sein Werk und die wahre Bedeutung seiner Prophezeiungen, Berne, Scherz, 2003, p. 334. Retour
5 Dupèbe, op. cit., XXX, p. 94f. Retour
6 Ms Augsburg, fol. 10r. Cf. Gruber, op. cit., p. 308. Retour
7 Elmar R. Gruber : Reconsidering the ‘Nostradamus Plot’ : New Evidence for the Critical Evaluation of the Chronology of the Editions of the 'Prophéties'. Retour
8 Van Berkel, op. cit., Analyse 44. Retour
9 Paris, Antoine leClerc, 1556. Retour
10 Van Berkel, op. cit., Analyse 55. Retour
11 Actually it reads à l’Eclipse Chrestienne, but that is obviously a mistake. Retour
12 There are no page numbers and the numbering of the folios is erratic and wrong, therefore I number pages subsequently beginning with the first page of text after the frontispiece. Retour
13 Van Berkel, op. cit., Analyse 55. Retour
14 Van Berkel, op. cit., Analyse 55. Retour
15 Gruber, op. cit., pp. 413 - 416. Retour
16 Van Berkel, op. cit., Analyse 44. Retour
17 Van Berkel, op. cit., Analyse 55. Retour
18 Chavigny, Jean-Aimé de : Les Pleiades du S. de Chavigny Beaunois, divisees en VII. Livres. Lyon, Pierre Rigaud, 1603., p. 90. Retour
19 He refers to the passage in Les Significations on fols. A3v-A4r. Retour
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