NOSTRADAMUS, also known as Michel de Nostre-Dame (1503–1566), French astrologer and physician. Both of his grandfathers, Jean de Saint-Rémy and Pierre de Nostra-Donna, were professing Jews, but when Provence became a French possession in 1488, Charles VIII's anti-Jewish policy induced them to convert to Christianity. Consequently Nostradamus was born and raised as a Catholic. In 1529 he graduated from the University of Montpellier as a doctor of medicine. The unorthodox but successful methods of combating the plague which Nostradamus later described in his Remède très-utile contre la peste (Paris, 1561) nevertheless failed to save his own wife and children in 1538. For some years thereafter he led a wanderer's existence and, while in Italy, is reputed to have sought out Jews, especially kabbalists.
On his return to France, Nostradamus turned to the occult sciences and, from 1550 onward, published a number of astrological works. The most famous of these, Les Prophéties de Maistre Michel Nostradamus (Lyons, 1555), consisted of some 350 quatrains couched in obscure French. The quatrains were arranged in groups of 100, and the work thus acquired its alternative title, Les Centuries. Among the many calamities predicted in it was the French king's death in a duel, and the astrologer's fame was assured when Henri II was accidentally killed at a royal tournament in 1559. In 1564 Nostradamus was appointed physician and counselor to Charles IX. The first complete text of the Centuries appeared in 1610 and ran to countless editions, not only in French but also in many other languages. Nostradamus uncannily predicts the English and French revolutions and even the rise and fall of a German dictator (whom he calls Hister). The most celebrated astrologer of all time, Nostradamus remains one of the most fascinating and enigmatic figures of the Renaissance.
J. Boulenger, Nostradamus (Fr., 1933); R. Busquet, Nostradamus, sa famille, son secret (1950); J. Laver, Nostradamus (Eng., 1952); E. Leoni, Nostradamus, Life and Literature (1961).