London: Thomas Ratcliffe and Nathaniel Thompson, 1672. Folio. [xxxvi], 522 pp. Title in red and black. Without the frontispiece portrait, missing in about half the copies extant. Contemporary calf, spine gilt with red morocco label; some leaves browned and foxed, otherwise a sound copy with the book label of Stewart of Glassertoun. Item #14338
First edition in English of the book of prophecies of Nostradamus, first printed in French in 1555 under the title Les propheties. It was originally done in three installments, the first containing 353 quatrains, or four-line poems. The second installment, containing 289 further quatrains, was printed in 1557, while the third installment of 300 new quatrains was printed in 1558, but apparently only survives as part of the “works” which was published after his death. Each quatrain is a prediction of future events, which Nostradamus claimed was based upon astrological assessment of the quality of an occurrence such as a birth, death, wedding, etc. Much of the work, especially the more dramatic prophecies, apparently paraphrase the endeavors of earlier writers such as Livy, Plutarch, and other classical historians. Many of his astrological references are taken almost word for word from Richard Roussat’s Livre de l’estat et mutations des temps (1549–1550).
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. Nostradamus was one of the first to re-paraphrase these prophecies in French, which may explain why they are credited to him. 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, a book on Chaldean and Assyrian magic by Iamblichus, a fourth-century Neo-Platonist.
Most of the quatrains deal with disasters, such as plagues, earthquakes, wars, floods, invasions, murders, droughts, and battles—all undated and based on foreshadowings by the Mirabilis Liber. Some quatrains cover these disasters in overall terms; others concern a single person or small group of people. Some cover a single town, others several towns in several countries. A major, underlying theme is an impending invasion of Europe by Muslim forces from further east and south headed by the expected Antichrist, directly reflecting the then-current Ottoman invasions and the earlier Saracen equivalents, as well as the prior expectations of the Mirabilis Liber. All of this is presented in the context of the supposedly imminent end of the world.