Nostradamus and 9/11: picking apart the proposed prophecy

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David Hambling
David Hambling is a technology journalist and author based in South London, specialising in scientific and military topics. He writes for the Economist, New Scientist, WIRED, Aviation Week, Popular Mechanics and Popular Science among others.

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This article originally appeared in The Skeptic, Volume 14, Issue 4, from 2001.

Did Nostradamus foresee the attack on the World Trade Centre, and does he predict terrible events to come? According to an e-mail doing the rounds in September 2001, the 16th century astrologer and cookery writer warns us:

“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…”

In the city of York there will be a great collapse,
2 twin brothers torn apart by chaos
while the fortress falls the great leader will succumb
third big war will begin when the big city is burning”

This would be quite amazing if it were accurate. In fact, the lines have been cobbled together from different sources and changed to fit the situation. The main body of Nostradmus’ predictions are the Centuries, each of which contains100 four-line verses.

From Century 10, there is the famous quatrain 72:

“The year 1999, seventh month,
From the sky will come a great King of Terror:”

So we’re a couple of years late on that one.

From Century 6, Quatrain 97:

“At forty-five degrees the sky will burn,
Fire to approach the great new city:”

Except that New York is at 41 degrees latitude, not 45 degrees. 45 degrees would be more like Montreal, or, as it happens, Belgrade.

The 9/11 memorial in New York, taken by Petr Kratochvil and released under Public Domain license.
The 9/11 memorial in New York, taken by Petr Kratochvil

The next three lines are not Nostradamus at all. They come from Neil Marshall, a Canadian student who used them as an illustration of a vague prediction that could be interpreted many ways. His actual words were somewhat different:

“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”

(My emphasis on the changed words)

The final line, about the third big war, appears to be a complete fabrication.

This kind of forgery is all quite unnecessary. With so many hundreds of quatrains to choose from, all written in cryptic ambiguities, you can always find something to fit the case with a little creative interpretation.

Century 2, Quatrain 83

“The Great Trade of a great Lyons changed,
The most part turns to early ruin
Prey to the soldiers swept away by pillage:
Smoke through the mountains.”

“The Great Trade” is the World Trade Center; “a great Lyons” is New York (like Lyons it is not the capital but a major banking centre), and the “mountains” are the skyscrapers of Manhattan. How amazingly accurate … I may have creatively translated “fog” as ‘smoke’ and left out the reference to Switzerland, but how many people are likely to notice that? Or that the quatrain was previously regarded as an uncannily accurate prediction of the siege of Lyons in 1795?

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