The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Given my increasing level of insanity, I am susceptible to random thoughts. Last night I thought of the once famous Nostradamus for the first time in years.

I was introduced to the putative prophet (more like bad poet) over a decade ago through a documentary on him, narrated by Orson Wells, entitled The Man who Saw Tomorrow. As with all other Nostradamus programs, they claim that he had actually predicted everyting from Napoleon, Hitler, the Iranian Revolution, and everything in between. Of course, one can retroactively "prove" that any text, even Moby Dick, predicted such events.

The doc was created in 1980, and they used some of Nostradamus's quatrains to interpret some specific future events. It's worth seeing whether any of those were true.

Of course, you have nutjobs like John Hogue, an "expert" on Nostradamus who also looks eerily like him, making predictions, and then disappearing when they aren't realized. A few years ago I saw him on TV discussing the figure of Mabus, the supposed third Anti-Christ. Hogue, using some magical anagram formulas he made up on the spot, argued that Mabus is none other than Sadam Hussein. Well, Mr. Sadam, he dead!

Nevertheless, I think the video made predictions based on some quatrains that are not entirely without merit. First, they claimed that sometime in the near future (post 1980), there would be a worldwide famine, the like of which had not been seen. This didn't come true, BUT there was a massive famine in Africa during the mid to late 1980s.

Even more interesting is Nostradamus's supposed prediction of World War III. He claimed it would be caused by one Mabus, a dude from the middle east wearing a blue turban. The film's dramatization depicted an Arabic looking man wearing a blue turban firing nuclear missiles on New York City in the year 1999. This would start the third (and last) world war, which is to last 27 years.

As ridiculous as it seemed, something similar, though not as extreme, occurred: 9/11. Guys from the middle east, following a guy in a turban, attacked the "New City". Though this hasn't started WW III, it could very well be that the new world war is the "war on terror." Perhaps the whole business in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, that is going on now is the third world war.

This post requires a huge disclaimer: I don't believe in Nostradamus, and votaries of the man often make him say things he did not. His quatrains were random, poorly written, encrypted passages which require heavy interpretation. There was one putative quatrain circulating on the internet a few years ago, which supposedly proved that Nostradamus himself predicted 9/11. However, thirty seconds of research revealed that the quatrain in question was actually an assemblage of unconnected passages from Nostradamus's corpus, with some new words thrown in. Perhaps it's easier to say that the makers of the documentary predicted something like 9/11?

Here is one of the significant passages in question:

At five and forty degrees, the sky will burn,
Fire approaches the great new city,
Immediately a huge, scattered flame leaps up.

The "new city" is often interpreted as New York, so you can see how the interpretation game works. Other, more serious, scholars argue that the new city referred to here and elsewhere refers to a city in France, Nostradamus's native land. I could be wrong, but I recall hearing that the planes that attacked the WTC in NYC approached at a 45 degree angle. Whatever it means, NYC is NOT on the 45th parallell: this is somewhere in Canada.

Oh, I almost forgot the last sentence in the quatrain, which even the Orson Welles documentary omits:
When they want to have verification from the Normans. Res Ipsa loquitur.

This reminds me of the utter nonsense of the "Bible Code," promulgated a few years ago. The author (whose name escapes me) argued that the Bible actually predicted many major world events, including the "assasination" of Princess Diana. If you actually read the author's method, if there is one, you will see that, far from being a code, it is nothing more than a game of finding random words and letters to support pre-existing predictions. Some very clever people who wanted to discredity the author used his own method and "proved" that Moby Dick also predicted the assassination of Princess Di.

The lesson is that you can make anyone (any text, etc) say just about anything, and this is never easier than with a hack poet who lived five centuries ago. In my first published paper, I argue (among other things) that Roman Jakobson, the famous 20th century linguist, does just this: by citing some of what X says, and omitting other things, he often makes X say the opposite of what he actually did.

This post is going nowhere fast, so I will stop.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:15 p.m.  
Anonymous flaky mcflake said...

nostradamus predicted me getting a job in the public service!
i swear! my psychic helped me decypher his quatrains!
noone might read your thesis
but were you to write or produce a film about a crazy guy in a merlin hat who secretly predicted the downfall of humanity in a drunken coded language...something tells me u'd be famous...either that or write a self-help book on hapiness (keep your options open)

2:13 p.m.  
Blogger Pious Labours said...

I've been telling people for a few years that I'm thinking of writing a self-help book. Granted, I should be the last person on earth to do so, but it's so easy, and I think I'd be good at it.

Speak confidently and utter platitudes, that's all it takes!

Re: the thesis, if I play my cards right, people might actually read it since it concerns a titanic figure of modern thought!

2:21 p.m.  

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