Perhaps Nostradamus Predicted Coronavirus After All...

A couple weeks ago, a meme started doing the rounds on social media, claiming that Nostradamus had predicted the coronavirus.

Everything written here is entirely false.
Everything written here is entirely false.

Snopes and Politifact quickly stepped up to point out that the claims in the image are fabricated nonsense, and Facebook has since started flagging and obscuring the image with a "false information" tag.

Nostradamus was notoriously vague in many of the predictions he made in his 1555 book, Les Prophéties. But even after nearly five centuries, humans still find themselves turning to his writings in times of woe—probably because of what he did get right.

Nostradamus victories include air travel ("People will travel safely through the sky"), the year of the great fire of London ("The blood of the just will be demanded of London burnt by fire in three times twenty plus six") and the rise of Hitler (though Nostradamus referred to him as "Hister.") It's worth noting that the astrologer also wrote about something that bears a striking resemblance to 9/11. ("The sky will burn at forty-five degrees, fire approaches the great New City. Immediately a huge scattered flame leaps up.")

In recent weeks, some Nostradamus fans, eager to find coronavirus content in Les Prophéties, have pointed to passages that are aggravatingly non-specific. Like the one that references "The great plague of the maritime city," and the one that says "And diverse plagues will be upon mankind." But this morning I found one that appears to be a lot more specific.

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The Prophecies of Nostradamus by Erika Cheetham is a complete translation of the original text, first published in 1973. Naturally, I just happen to have a copy lying around for lockdown and today I found both a reference to "plague, lightning and hail at the end of March," and, more importantly, this:

In the feeble lists, great calamity through America and Lombardy. The fire in the ship, plague and captivity; Mercury in Sagittarius, Saturn warning.

We can all understand the references to "plague and captivity" at this point, but everything else in this passage lines up too. Assuming "the feeble lists" refer to the sick and the dead, America and Italy (Lombardy is a region in the north of the country) are in the top three most infected countries so far, along with Spain.

Mercury entered Sagittarius in December 2019, which is when the first cases of coronavirus occurred, and Saturn moved into Aquarius on March 21, right as New York City was going into lockdown.

As for the fire in the ship, multiple cruise liners have become stranded at sea during this crisis due to coronavirus emergencies on board. This includes the Grand Princess, which docked in Oakland on March 9 with 21 confirmed coronavirus cases on board.

All of which suggests that Nostradamus did see this coming after all. It wouldn't be the first time. The following passage is often interpreted as predicting World War I and the flu epidemic that killed over 50 million people directly afterwards:

The dreadful war which prepared in the West, the following year the pestilence will come, so very horrible that young, nor old, nor animal (will survive).

Try not to feel too frustrated about our current predicament though. Things could always be worse. After all, Nostradamus has also predicted an imminent zombie apocalypse:

The year of the great seventh number accomplished, it will appear at the time of the games of slaughter, not far from the age of the great millennium, when the dead will come out of their graves.

Something for us to look forward to in 2027?

The text of this story was updated after several readers contacted KQED to confirm that Mercury entered Sagittarius in December.