Following the terrorist attack on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, there was renewed interest in Nostradamus and his prophecies.
A lot of this interest was fueled by a series of email messages. One anonymous message, widely circulated in the United States, claimed that Nostradamus foretold the destruction in some detail. The message included this quatrain:
In the City of God there will be a great thunder,
Two Brothers torn apart by Chaos,
While the fortress endures, the great leader will succumb.
The third big war will begin when the big city is burning.
Ostensibly, the "two brothers" refers to the twin towers, the "fortress" refers to the Pentagon, the "great leader" refers to President Bush and "the big city" refers to New York. In fact, this quatrain is not the work of Nostradamus — it is a complete fabrication.
According to Snopes.com, the first three lines were taken from an essay written in 1997 by Neil Marshall, then a student at Brock University in Canada. Marshall included the made-up lines in the essay to demonstrate how easy it was to take vague imagery and use it as "proof" that a certain event had been foretold long ago. Apparently, someone picked up the verses, added an extra line and distributed the quatrain over the internet.
Other people added on even more lines to it, supposedly from Nostradamus, as the message made its way around the internet. One version described "metal birds" crashing into "two tall statues," an image that does not show up anywhere in "The Centuries." Others referred to "the city of York," another invention meant to sound like Nostradamus. One widespread message included these lines:
In the year of the new century and nine months,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror.
The sky will burn at forty-five degrees.
Fire approaches the great new city.
While this quatrain, as such, is not the work of Nostradamus, it does include some of his verses. It is an adaptation of two different quatrains:
Century 10, Quatrain 72:
The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:
To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols,
Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.
Century 6, Quatrain 97:
At forty-five degrees the sky will burn,
Fire to approach the great new city:
In an instant a great scattered flame will leap up,
When one will want to demand proof of the Normans.
Many Nostradamus followers believe that both quatrains refer to the attack on the World Trade Center. The references to fire and terror from the sky fit with the aerial attack, they argue, and New York City is around 40° 5' N latitude (relatively close to "forty-five degrees"). The date is also not far off. Additionally, several other quatrains refer to an Antichrist figure called Mabus, who supposedly will start a World War. The letters in Mabus can be rearranged to spell Usam B, leading some to believe Nostradamus saw the coming of Osama bin Laden.
Skeptics suggest that believers are paying attention only to the pieces that fit, and ignoring the parts that do not ("the great King of the Mongols," for example). Additionally, they argue that "the great new city" is a skewed translation of Nostradamus' lines. In the original French, Nostradamus referred to "Villeneuve," which literally means "new city," but is also the name of a town outside of Paris, near 45 degrees latitude. Critics credit the similarity of Mabus and Osama bin Laden to coincidence, noting that up until recently, many Nostradamus followers claimed Saddam Hussein was Mabus (Mabus spelled backward is Subam).
Since 2001, there haven't been any substantive claims of any Nostradamus predictions coming true. There was one rumor circulating in 2020 that he'd accurately predicted the Covid-19 pandemic, although the supposed prophecy circulating online — one referencing a plague originating in the East and spreading to Italy — doesn't appear anywhere in "The Centuries." He also did not say that a "feeble man" would "rule the western world with a jezebel" after the plague, which some Americans took as a reference to Donald Trump or to Joe Biden, depending on their political persuasion. Nostradamus' works make many references to plagues, which were common at the time he lived, but not in conjunction with these other elements.
Stephane Gerson, professor of French, French Studies, and History at New York University, told Reuters that Nostradamus' lasting appeal was due to the fact that his "arcane predictions could mean anything."
Originally Published: Sep 24, 2001