Nostradamus's Preface to César
|Peter Lemesurier's complete translation,
revised and annotated in the light of Pierre Brind'Amour's research in 'Nostradamus:
les Premières Centuries ou Propheties' (Droz, 1996)
YOUR late arrival, César Nostradame my son [note spelling!], has caused me to set out in writing the (results of) the long periods that I have spent in ceaseless night watches, in order to leave you a memorandum, after the physical extinction of (this) your progenitor, and for the general benefit of mankind, of that about which the Divine Being has granted me knowledge through the (calculation of) astronomical cycles. And since it has pleased Immortal God that you have not reached this earthly shore with instinctive knowledge (of the future), not to mention (the fact that) your years - still less your months of March - are not yet more than one in number, and so cannot permit your weak understanding to take in what I shall be obliged to specify (for the times) after my death: seeing that it is not possible to leave you in writing what shall be obliterated by the ravages of time - for the hereditary gift of prediction shall be shut up within my bosom: considering, too, that the outcome of human events is uncertain, and that all of it is ruled and governed by the power of God Inestimable, inspiring us not by drunken frenzy, not yet by melancholic emotion, but by astronomical facts: 'Soli numine divino afflati praesagiunt & spiritu prophetico particularia' [Latin: 'Only those inspired by the divine godhead can prophesy, and only those inspired by the spirit of prophecy can prophesy detailed events' - quote from Pseudo-Ptolemy's 'Centiloque', 1st aphorism, in Pontano's translation.]
Although I have long repeatedly predicted, well in advance, what has since come to pass [quoted from Savonarola's 'Compendium revelationum'], and in particular regions, too - asserting the whole of it to have been done through God's power and inspiration - and having deliberately said nothing of, and refrained from putting in writing, other events both happy and unfortunate that were foreshadowed as increasingly imminent, and that have since come to pass in (various) regions of the world, for fear of attack [that's a good one!!] - indeed, concerning not only time present, but most of the future, too - because regimes, sects and religions shall undergo such diametrical changes with respect to the present that if I were to disclose what shall come to pass, members of governments, sects, religions and faiths [Nostradamus the walking thesaurus again!] would find it so out of kilter with the fantasies they have heard that they would condemn what will [eventually] be recognised as having been [truly] seen and perceived about future ages; considering also the statement of the true Lord: 'Nolite sanctum dare canibus nec mittatis margaritas ante porcos ne conculcent pedibus & conversi dirumpant vos' ['Do not give what is holy to the gods or cast pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, turn upon you and tear you in pieces' - Matthew 7:6, quoted amidst another passage borrowed from Savoranola]. This is what caused me to refrain from public utterance and prevented my putting pen to paper. [Yes, yes - excuses, excuses!] Besides, I had determined to go as far as declaring in abstruse and puzzling utterances the future causes of the 'common advent' [i.e. the coming of the common people to power], even those truly cogent ones that I have foreseen. Yet lest whatever human changes may be to come should scandalise delicate ears, the whole thing is written in nebulous form, rather than as a clear prophecy of any kind. True, 'Abscondisti haec à sapientibus, & prudentibus, id est. potentibus & regibus, & enucsleasti ea exiguis & tenuibus' [ 'Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, i.e. the mighty and kings, and hast revealed them to the small and weak' - a typically vague, expanded Nostradamian version of Matthew II.25, apparently quoted from memory, and once again echoing Savoranola] - and to the Prophets [who] *by the grace of immortal God and the good angels have received the spirit of prophecy, by which they see distant things and succeed in foreseeing future events (for nothing can be achieved without Him). So great is His power in them**, and his goodness to His subjects, that all the while they abide in these two - while still subject to all other influences - that prophetic heat and power visits us in the similitude of the essence of the spirit of goodness, just as the rays of the sun reach us, casting their influence over elementary and non-elementary bodies alike.* [the passage between * and * is translated directly - and so badly as to suggest that Nostradamus didn't fully understand it - from the Latin of Petrus Crinitus: 'De Honesta Disciplina', even failing to adjust the 'them' at **, which in the original refers to the gods (plural)!]
As for us humans, we can by our (own) instinctive knowledge and the application of (our own) ingenuity know nothing of the hidden secrets of God the creator, 'Quia non est nostrum noscere tempora. nec momenta' etc. [Latin version of Acts 1:7: 'For it is not for us to know the times or moments...'] However, it is possible that even today there may appear and exist people to whom God the creator has deigned to reveal, through imaginative impressions, some secrets of the future. as harmonised with judicial astrology, just as in the past a certain power and faculty of will came through them, appearing like a flame of fire, and inspiring them in such a way as to allow others to appreciate their divine and human inspirations [much of this is once again based on Crinitus]. For (those) divine works that are totally absolute are performed by God; those that are medial, or contingent, by the angels; and the third sort by those who are evil [Nostradamus's text here is an absolutely hopeless word-for-word translation from Crinitus (based in turn on Ficino) in which neuter plurals are mistaken for feminine singulars in a way that suggests he hadn't the foggiest idea of what Critinitus really meant!].
But my son, I am speaking to you here a little too obscurely [he can say that again!]: but as for the occult predictions that one manages to receive through the subtle spirit of fire which sometimes, as the disturbed intellect contemplates attentively the highest of the stars, surprises one with the written pronouncements (that emerge) - pronouncements made with neither fear nor expectation, nor with immodest loquacity - what shall I say? The whole of it has proceeded from the divine power of Almighty and Eternal God, from whom all bounty proceeds.
Although, my son, I have used the word 'prophet', I would not attribute to myself a title of such lofty sublimity for the present: for 'qui propheta dicitur, hodie, olim vocabatur videns' [Latin Vulgate: 'He who is nowadays described as a prophet was formerly called a seer' - I Samuel 9:9]. For, properly speaking, my son, a prophet is one who sees far-off things with the natural perception that every creature has [paraphrased from Savoranola]. Even in the case where the prophet seems, by way of the pure light of prophecy, to perceive clearly not merely things human, but things divine - this (simply) cannot be, seeing that the effects of future prediction extend (so) far (into the future). [More Savoranola] For the secrets of God are unfathomable, and the manifesting power that is contingent upon long-exercised instinctive gnosis, taking its immediate rise from free will, brings about the revelation of things that cannot of themselves reveal themselves to the mind, whether by human auguries or by any other occult knowledge or power beneath the concavity of the sky - (things, that is, concerning) each present moment out of the whole of eternity which embraces within itself the whole of time [end of passage vaguely borrowed from Savoranola]. But thanks to some indivisible timelessness (perceived) via epileptic trance, things are known (to us) through the movement of the heavens.
I do not say, my son - lest you misunderstand me, given that knowledge of such matters cannot (yet) imprint itself in your weak mind - that future, very distant things cannot be known by any reasonable creature: on the contrary, the intellectually minded person is well able to perceive things both present and far-off [provided] that [these] are not too utterly occult or obscure. But the perfect appreciation of things cannot be acquired without that divine inspiration, given that that all prophetic inspiration takes its prime moving principle (first) from God the creator, then from fortune and instinct. It is in this way that - various things being produced or not produced in various ways - the prophecy is partially arrived at, or has been arrived at [another paraphrase from Savonarola]. For intellectually-based understanding is incapable of seeing occultly in what direction things to come will tend - other than through the voice (that is heard) with the aid of the hem, and through the tiny flame [two familiar direct references to Iamblichus: 'De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum', as per I.2 and I.1 respectively].
And also, my son, I beg you never to devote your mind to such fancies and vanities, which desiccate the body, drive the soul to perdition and disturb the feeble intelligence - even that vanity of more-then-execrable magic that was long ago condemned by the sacred sciptures and divine precepts - from which the main exception is the judgement of judicial astrology, by means of which (and thanks to the divine inpiration and revelation [emerging from] continual night watches and calculations) we have drawn up our prophecies in writing [here Nostradamus once again echoes Savonarola, but contradicts him at the end in the matter of astrology, instead echoing Cornelius Agrippa's view that 'no perfect divination can take place without astrology'].
And even where that occult philosophy was not forbidden, I never wished to promulgate their wild views, even though many volumes that have been hidden for long ages have presented themselves to me. Instead, for fear what might happen, after I read them I offered them to Vulcan [i.e. the fire!] such that, while he was devouring them, the flames that licked the air gave out an extraordinary brightness, brighter than natural flame, illuminating the house like the light of a flashing jet of fire as if (the building) had suddenly caught alight. It is for this reason, in order that you should not be deceived by studying the supreme transmutation both lunar and solar, whether of the incorruptible metals under the earth or hidden underwater [i.e. recoverable from rivers, generally by panning], I reduced them to ashes.
But as for the conclusions that can be attained by means of astrological exegesis, that is what I should like to reveal to you [here]. It is by this means that one has knowledge of things to come, while rejecting out of hand all imaginary fantasies - and can through divine inspiration pin down precise places supernaturally in accordance with the celestial patterns. (Indeed, not only) places, (but) to some extent times, by hidden virtue of the divine power and intelligence, in the presence of which all three (dimensions of) time(s) are included in eternity, holding circuit with past, present and future causes. 'Quia omnia sunt nuda & aperta etc.' [Latin: 'For all things are naked and open' - half-remembered version of Matthew 10.26].
In this way, my son, you can easily understand, despite your tender brain, how things to come can be foretold (both) by the nocturnal and celestial lights [i.e. the stars] - which are (perfectly) natural - and by the spirit of prophecy. Not that I wish to attribute to myself either the name or the role of a prophet, but (rather rely on) inspired revelation, like any man whose senses are no less distant from heaven than his feet are from the ground.
'Possum non errare falli decipi' [Latin: 'I am able not to err, fail or be deceived' - N elsewhere quotes it without its 'non', which certainly seems superfluous in context here, as the following sentence suggests...!]. I am a bigger sinner than anybody in this world, and subject to all human afflictions. But being overtaken several times a week by (the spirit of) prophecy that lends a sweet odour to my nocturnal studies, I have by dint of long calculation composed [these] books of prophecies, each containing 100 prophetic astronomical quatrains, which I have intentionally arranged a little obscurely. They contain perpetual predictions for (the period) from now until the year 3797. Which will possibly cause some people to raise their eyebrows on seeing such a long prognosis; (yet these) things shall take place and shall be known everywhere beneath the sphere of the moon - by which I mean throughout all the earth, my son. For if you live (to) the natural human age you shall see in the area of your own native clime and heaven [these] future events take place.
God eternal, though, is the only one who knows the eternity of His light which proceeds from Himself. And I tell (you) frankly that into those to whom His immense greatness, which is immeasurable and incomprehensible, has deigned to reveal (things) through long and melancholic revelation [melancholics were at the time supposed to have a certain prophetic gift] - by way of that hidden thing which is divinely manifested - is poured one of the two main things that condition the understanding of the inspired prophet, illumining with supernatural light the person who is predicting via the doctrine of the stars, as well as prophesying through inspired revelation: namely a certain participation in the eternity of God, through (which) the prophet comes to judge what his divine [guiding] spirit has revealed through the agency of God the creator, as well as through an instinctive impulse: in other words, what he predicts is true and of celestial origin. Such light and tiny flame is totally efficacious and lofty, no less than the natural brilliance or natural light (that) makes philosophers [i.e. scientists and academics] so assured that, on the basis of the principles of the First Cause, they have succeeded in penetrating to the profoundest depths of the loftiest doctrines.
But in order, my son, that I may not wander (into waters) too deep for the future capacity of your mind, and also because I find that literacy shall undergo such a huge and unparallelled collapse [Brind'Amour correctly relates this to I.62], [-] I find that so many deluges and such deep floods shall befall the world before the universal conflagration that there shall be scarcely any land that is not covered by water: and for a long time things shall be such that, were it not for written accounts of peoples and countries, all would be lost. Moreover, both before and after these floods, the rains in many countries shall be so slight, and so much fire and so many meteorites shall fall from the sky, that nothing shall remain that is not consumed. And all this is to occur, in brief, before the final conflagration. [Most of this fire-and-flood scenario reflects the Babylonian Berosus, as reported by Seneca.] For now that the planet Mars is completing its cycle [under the terms of contemporary cosmology, this had actually happened in 1533, and the age of the Moon (governed by Gabriel) had already taken over - see I.48], and is at the end of its most recent period, so it shall take it up again [this piece especially scandalised Laurent Videl and other contemporary astrologers!] - but with some [of the planets] grouped in Aquarius for several years, and others grouped in Cancer for longer and more continuous periods [ significance unknown!]. And - given that we are now governed by the moon - before it has completed its full circuit, thanks to the omnipotence of God eternal, the (age of the) sun shall come (again), and then (that of) Saturn. [To the horror of the professional astrologers of his day, Nostradamus here extends the accepted 3-age, 7000-year system long espoused by Trithemius, Gaurico, Turrel, Roussat and others into a fourth cycle of ages, with the new Age of the Sun (governed by the Archangel Michael) theoretically starting in 1887, and the subsequent Age of Saturn (governed by the angel Orifiel) starting in 2242... See www.avesta.org/tritem.html and Brind'Amour, P.: 'Nostradamus Astrophile'. Commented Videl (tr. Lemesurier) in his 'Ignorances et seditions de Michel Nostradamus' of January 1558: "You show yourself up as an even greater ass when you venture to speak of the secret sciences and say that 'now that the planet of Mars is completing its cycle, and at the end of its last period, so it will take it up again'... it is thirty years now since Mars completed (its cycle), and then the moon took over power, as is evident and probable. But to say that it will take it up again? That is exceeding all bounds, in that even the Angels (who were supposed to be running the whole show! - PL) know nothing about it..."]. For according to the signs in the sky the reign of Saturn shall return, and the world is nearing a cycle of denouement: and before 177 years and 3 months from what I am writing about here, through pestilence, long-drawn-out famine, wars and additionally floods, the world shall - between now and the time that I have just laid down in advance, as well as several times before and afterwards - be so diminished, and there shall be so few people, that nobody shall be found willing to take to the fields, which shall be free (of cultivation) for as long as they have been subject (to the plough). And all this by interpreting what can be seen in the stars. Furthermore, we are now in the midst of the seventh count of a thousand (years) which brings everything to a close [compare X.74!], and approaching the eighth that corresponds to the eighth [celestial] sphere, which is at the altitude where God eternal shall accomplish the cycle during which the [former] patterns in the sky shall return to exert themselves (again), as well as being the upper driving-force that makes our earth stable and firm, (so that) 'non inclinabitur in saeculum saeculi' ['It shall not vary from age to age']. Yet all this shall be when His will is accomplished, and not otherwise.
Nevertheless, whether by vague hunches that exceed all natural reason or by inspired dreams, it also happens from time to time that God the creator, through the ministry of his messengers of fire, proposes in the form of the flame that he sends, even to our eyes, the causes of future predictions signifiying the future events that are to appear to the one who prophesies. [Note how Nostradamus's distinctly unpopular idea that there would be a fourth cycle of 'Trimethian' ages which would thus take humanity into an eighth millennium from the alleged Creation sems to be derived from the fact that even though there were supposed to be only seven celestial spheres, *these were governed by an eighth known as the 'Primum Mobile'*, which was more or less seen as the dwelling of (and almost cognate with) God himself - the 'grand moteur des siecles' or 'great mover of the cycles/ages', as N calls it at II.46.] For the prophecy arrived at via the exterior light must inevitably be arrived at with - and by the grace of - the interior light, even though in truth that part which seems to see through the eye of the understanding does so only by inhibiting the imaginative faculty. The reason is only too obvious - namely that all of it is predicted through divine inspiration and by means of the angelic spirit that is breathed into the one prophesying, pouring prophecies into him, illumining him, stirring his imagination with various nocturnal visions such that, in the (more certain) light of day he prophesies throught the application of astronomy in conjunction with the most holy revelation of the future - which consists, moreover, in nothing less than the exercise of free will [from Savonarola].
It should be understood at this point, my son, that I find through my (calculations of astrological) cycles, in accordance with revealed inspiration, that the sword of death is now about to descend on us through plague, war more horrible that has been for three generations, and famine which shall befall the world and often return, for the stars agree with the(se calculations of) cycles. Moreover, (God) has said 'Visitabo in virga ferrea iniquitates eorum, & in verberibus percutiam eos' ['I will visit their sins with an iron rod and strike them with lashes' - half-remembered version of Psalm 89:32, filtered through Savonarola], for the [ultimate] mercy of the Lord shall not have time to be spread abroad, my son, before most of my prophecies shall be fulfilled and reach the time of their fulfilment.
Then, over a repeated period, (there shall be) ominousl storms ('Centeram ergo', the Lord shall say, '& confringam, & non miserebor' [Latin: 'I will trample and break them, and will have no mercy' - vague reference to Isaiah 63:3]) and many other things to come that shall occur through floods and continual rains, as I have set out more fully in writing in my other prophecies which are written out at length, 'in soluta oratione' [Latin: 'in plain prose' (Cicero) - presumably his annual Almanachs and other writings], specifying the places, times and the the pre-ordained period - as future human beings shall see (for themselves), recognising that the future things (predicted) have (indeed) unerringly come to pass, just as we have noted in the other (prophecies) in clearer language. Their meanings shall admittedly be understood only vaguely, 'sid quando submovenda erit ignorantia' ['but when the time comes for the removal of ignorance'] the matter shall become clearer.
To bring this to a close then, my son, take this gift from your father M. Nostradamus, who hopes to explain to you [one day] every one of the prophecies set out in these quatrains. Praying God immortal that he will grant you long life, in good and prosperous happiness. From Salon, this 1st of March 1555.
Lemesurier = Peter Lemesurier's references in
'The Nostradamus Encyclopedia'
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