Quatrain by Medler, John - HTML preview
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March 1538. Agen, France.
Julius Caesar Scaliger was the most noted scholar in Agen, and, indeed, most of Southern France. He was a poet, grammarian, author, orator, physician, soldier, scientist, botanist, and astrologer. He had a monstrously large wrinkled forehead and a receding hairline of curly brown hair which met in the middle in a pronounced widow’s peak. His eyebrows were pencil-thin and seemed too long for his popping, frog-like eyes, and the gray bags underneath his eyes were earned from too much reading. His most prominent feature, however, was his moustache and beard. His thick, twisted moustache was no match for the bushy, tumbleweed of a beard which went down to the top of his chest. Despite his unkept beard, however, he was a meticulous dresser, and was often seen strutting down the limestone streets of Agen with his walnut walking stick. Scaliger, a confirmed egomaniac, had an opinion about everything, and whatever the opinion was, he was sure to share it with as large an audience as he could find. He loved the scholarly debate with other brilliant minds, but truly felt that no one was his intellectual equal in the end. A friendly debate would often end with Scaliger sighing and feeling sorry for his opponent, who just could not seem to grasp why Scaliger’s own position was the superior one.
Scaliger had come to Agen in 1525 as the personal physician and good friend of Antonio della Rovero, the Archbishop of Agen. Scaliger liked to tell that he was born at Castle La Rocca and was a scion of the House of La Scala, a prestigious family of nobles who had ruled Verona, Italy for 150 years. He claimed to be related to Emperor Maximilian. A page at the age of 12, he fought as a soldier for the Emperor for seventeen years. At the Battle of Ravena, his father and brother were killed. Scaliger claimed that he performed dozens of acts of valor during the battle and, in reward, the Emperor had bestowed upon him the highest honors of chivalry, including the Order of the Golden Spur. Injuries during the war ended his prestigious military career, so Scaliger took up the study of medicine at the University of Bologna, where he excelled. Scaliger’s critics later claimed that much of this history was a web of lies; that he was really the son of Benedetto Bordone, a Verona map maker; and that he had not been educated in Bologna, but at a less prestigious university in Padua. In any event, no one in Agen assumed he was anything less than the genuine article, and the local politicians warmly welcomed and respected him.
Shortly after arriving in Agen, Scaliger had met a beautiful thirteen year-old Agen girl named Andiette de Roques Lobejac, who had never told Scaliger that she had fled to Agen as a young girl and had been adopted by a local family.. Even though she was thirty years his junior, he found her absolutely delightful and, after overcoming some objections from the girl’s father due to their age disparity, the two were quickly wed. His wife Andiette went on to have sixteen children, the oldest of which was Henriette. Henriette was a perfect child—intellectually and physically brilliant, obedient, hard-working, honest and loyal. Scaliger, who could find faults with everyone, nevertheless could find no fault with his eldest daughter, and saw her as a miniature version of himself. He loved teaching her fractions, puzzles, anagrams, and astrology. The child just absorbed knowledge like a sponge.
In 1531, when Henriette was five, Scaliger sent an invitation to a wandering physician named Michele de Nostradame, who had been reputed to have had some success curing plague victims. Scaliger, a doctor himself, could not wait to hear Nostradamus tell how he had discovered a cure for diseases which had ravaged the French countryside.
Nostradamus, for his part, was excited to meet Scaliger. Nostradamus’ career so far had not been as illustrious. On October 3, 1529, Nostradamus enrolled in medical school at the Medical Faculty at Montpellier to study for his medical doctorate. On the liber scolasticorum where Nostradamus had written his name for admission, the Student Registrar, Guillame Rondelet, scratched out Nostradamus’ entry, noting in the margin:
He whom you here see crossed out—mark well, reader—has been an apothecary or quack. We have established through Chante, an apothecary of this city, and through students, who have heard him speak ill of doctors. Wherefore as laid down by statute I have been enjoined to strike him out from the book of students.
Nostradamus had been expelled both for being an apothecary and for making obnoxious jokes about medical doctors. Booted out of medical school before he could even crack a book, Nostradamus went on the road, like a carnival doctor, traveling from town to town, seeking out medical cures, learning about plants and remedies, and hoping to make money curing the strangers that he met on his way. It was reported in some parts that Nostradamus actually cured certain plague victims. It is difficult to know whether these cures in fact occurred, and, if they did, whether Nostradamus’ cures were accidental, but whichever the case, his reputation as a healer began to spread through southern France. The invitation from Scaliger was a Godsend for Nostradamus. Nostradamus viewed Scaliger as an intellectual giant, stating that he was the “father to the eloquence of Cicero, in his perfect and supreme poetry another Virgil, in his medical teaching worth any two to Galen, and to whom I remain more indebted than to anybody else in this world.” In fact, Nostradamus would later name his eldest son Cesar in honor of Scaliger. Surely, Nostradamus thought, he could pick up substantial knowledge living in the orbit of this famous doctor and philosopher. And so it was that Nostradamus made his way across Southern France to the small town of Agen.
When Nostradamus arrived in Agen in 1531, the two men spent hours each day on Scaliger’s porch debating botany or astrology or grammar, and each enjoyed the other’s company immensely. Nostradamus was as impressed as Scaliger was with the quickness of his eldest daughter Henriette, and Nostradamus developed a true fondness for the girl. Seven years after Nostradamus arrived in Agen, the two doctors were sharing a smoke on Scaliger’s porch, when Scaliger brought up the subject of Nostradamus’ love interests. Scaliger had noticed that Nostradamus had turned down most of the invitations to fetes and galas thrown by neighborhood Agen women who were hoping to rope this eligible bachelor for their daughters. Wasn’t Nostradamus interested in love? And that’s when Nostradamus confessed to Scaliger that the only female he found interesting at all was Scaliger’s now-twelve year-old daughter Henriette. At first, this was somewhat repulsive to Scaliger. After all, Nostradamus had met the girl when Henriette was only five. Was this man some kind of pervert? But in 1538, a girl who was twelve was eligible to marry, and Scaliger could not deny that his own wife was some thirty years younger than he. Scaliger, too, had married a woman at a very young age. It was an awkward moment for the two scholars, but Scaliger quickly applied his keen logical mind to the problem. Suitors would begin coming for his daughter soon, that much was certain. There were not that many men of means or, more importantly, wit in the town of Agen. Surely, this doctor had the means to make a good living for his daughter. And the man was his friend, after all. Surely, he would not mistreat her. At least he knew Nostradamus well. He would not be able to say that about many of the other suitors who would come to call. And this girl was special. Most men would not appreciate her intellect. He knew that Nostradamus appreciated her for her mind as well as her other features. A brain like hers would be wasted on most of these Agen apes. When one analyzed the situation dispassionately with the cool lens of logic, the union made sense. So, after discussion of appropriate dowery, in January 1538, Scaliger gave his consent to Nostradamus to marry his eldest daughter.
Antonio Della Rovere, also called Marc-Antoine Della Rovere, was the Archbishop of Agen. The Della Rovere family came from modest roots in Savona, Liguira. However, two of the Della Roveres worked their way through the ranks to become Pope, Francesco della Rovere, who ruled as Pope Sixtus IV and his nephew Giuliano della Rovere, who ruled as Pope Julius II from 1503 to 1513. Pope Sixtus IV is known for having built the Sistine Chapel, which is named for him. After two members of the family became popes, the family’s wealth increased dramatically. The Della Roveres became patrons to the arts and sciences. Antonio Della Rovere became the Archbishop of Agen rather easily due to his family’s connections. Short, stout, and bald, with a friendly fat face and big cheeks, the Archbishop enjoyed both a good intellectual discussion and a good bottle of wine. The Della Rovere family had long been friends with Scaliger and had served as the doctor’s patron. For this reason, the Archbishop and Scaliger were quite close, and it was with no reluctance at all that Scaliger uprooted all of his belongings to become the Archbishop’s personal physician here in Agen. The Archbishop, too, also took a liking to Nostradamus, and often joined the philosophical discussions with the two men.
Today, the subject was Henriette’s vision of the future from the previous evening. Scaliger and Nostradamus had summoned the Archbishop, as a vision from God was certainly something within the Archbishop’s bailiwick, and he may have some keen insights on the subject.
Scaliger took out the small Bible which Henriette had used to write her verses and laid it on the table before the other two men.
“In analyzing this matter,” said Scaliger, “I think we should begin with what we know for certain. I can assure both of you gentlemen, without equivocation, that the girl is not fabricating. She is as innocent as a lamb and as certain as Polaris. She would no more concoct this story than the Archbishop would convert to Judaism.”
The Archbishop laughed, sipping on his red wine. “Now that would be something for the Cardinal to see.”
“I agree,” said Nostradamus. “Henriette is beyond reproach. However, while I believe that it may be possible, using certain scientific methods, to look through the mists, as it were, and divine certain happenings in the future, it is only with a rigorous scientific approach or natural divine skills that this can be accomplished. Merely daydreaming in the almond fields will not suffice.”
“I have heard you claim this before, Michel,” said Scaliger. “How exactly do you claim to know future events through a ‘scientific method,’ as you say? I am most interested in these theories, for they seem wild and preposterous to me. But if you are correct, and a man could truly read the future, that would be a significant power indeed, and that power should be used only by intellectuals to promote the common good.”
“I have done such a thing myself several times,” said Nostradamus. “All of you may recall the Great Scare of 1524. You may remember in that time, between February 13 and 25, 1524, every planet in the universe was in perfect alignment in the sign of Pisces, and 16 of 20 conjunctions were occupying Water signs. And every noted astrologer at that time predicted a great flood the likes of which were not seen since Noah. On January 24, 1524, when Mars had already joined Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces, thousands of people headed out of the cities, looking for higher ground. You may have heard of Count von Igelheim of Germany who commissioned the building of an ark for the occasion. The Elector of Brandenburg also made for the mountaintops.”
“I remember it well,” said the Archbishop. “I myself packed up my belongings and headed for the Franciscan Monastery just north of here, for it sits on high ground.”
“Quite so,” said Nostradamus. “And yet, in the eye of this hurricane of frenzied astrologers, I alone remained calm. And that is because I had rigorously applied a scientific method to the problem, and learned, from a review of various astrological texts, that the exact same alignment of planets had occurred in Libra in 1186! Absolutely nothing of significance happened on that day in 1186. Therefore, I concluded with great confidence that there would be no flood, and no cause for panic. And, as I successfully predicted, no such flood occurred.”
“Wait,” said the Archbishop incredulously, “You are claiming that when the planets are aligned in a particular way in one age of time, similar events will occur in history at a later point in time when the planets are arranged again identically?”
“Precisely!” said Nostradamus.
“That sounds like a very questionable theory,” scoffed Scaliger.
“It is not theory at all, gentlemen, but proven fact. For example, if one looks at the assassination of Julius Caesar, which occurred on the Ides of March-- March 15, in 44 B.C. and if one looks to the nearest alignment of at least four planets immediately preceding that date, at latitude 41 degrees 54’N, which is Rome, we see that Mars, Venus, Mercury, and the Sun were all aligned in the tenth house on that date and time, with the Moon in the twelfth house. The next time that alignment of planets will occur again is at geographical latitude 32 degrees to 33 degrees, between November 22, 1963 and November 29, 1963. Therefore, it is my prediction that a significant political assassination, on the order of the assassination of Julius Caesar, will occur between those dates at that latitude. In addition, this later alignment occurs in Sagittarius, the sign of the Archer, so I might also speculate that the victim is killed either by an arrow or projectile of some kind.”
“That is all well and good, man,” said Scaliger. “But I can just as well predict that 200 years from today, a man will have green beans explode from his nose. Since we will never live that long, we will never be able to verify if your prediction or my prediction is correct.”
“I agree,” said the Archbishop. “One could make that claim about anything.”
“But Julius," protested Nostradamus, "You have heard my account of the two pigs, have you not? Surely, that event convinces you that the prediction of future events is possible?”
“Oh, stars above! We are not going to hear about the pigs again, are we?”
“What pigs?” asked the Archbishop.
“Archbishop, have you never heard me tell of my famous encounter with the two pigs? Well, I shall tell the story again, although Jules has heard it many times. I was once the guest of the Lord of Florinville at the Castle of Faim, because I happened to be treating the Lord’s mother of a bad case of gout. As the Lord and I crossed the yard, there were two pigs, a white pig and a black pig, running about. The Lord had heard it tell before that I had a gift of foresight. He asked me, ‘Doctor, since you can foretell the future, tell me, which of the pigs shall we eat tonight, the white one or the black one?’ When I responded ‘the black one,’ my host went into the kitchen and instructed the cook to prepare the white one, so that he would prove me wrong. When the meal was served, my host asked me which pig was served, and again I answered the black one. Chuckling with delight, my host revealed that he had instructed the cook to prepare the white one instead. When I insisted that in fact we had eaten the black pig, my host summoned the cook, who confessed that while he was preparing the white pig, and left the kitchen momentarily, a tame wolf came into the kitchen and devoured the white pig. Having no choice, the cook prepared the black pig for the meal. This astounded one and all, and resulted, by the way, in an excellent additional compensation for me as well as one very fine meal!”
“Michel, my first response is that you had an even chance of guessing the right one either way, much as if I asked you to guess whether I am holding one finger or two fingers behind my back. Achieving success when you have a 50% chance of arriving at the conclusion by guessing is not that incredible. But Michel, even if we assume you had the gift of foresight to predict the correct pig, and you are a gentleman, so I take you at your word, you did not arrive at your conclusion for the pigs by looking at stars,” said Scaliger. “So how does the pig story support your scientific-method thesis?”
“Yes,” said Nostradamus. “You are correct. However, when events are closer in time to the prediction, they may be foretold by sensing the vibrations of the matter. Julius, in the same way that I move my arm as if I am throwing a ball to you, you will instinctively move your hands to catch it, you are predicting what will happen in the future because you are in tune with how balls move through air. Some people possess this same gift of foresight with respect to the actions of humans, and how one human will kinetically interact with another human. The rare few of us who possess this ability can see matters which will occur close in time. It is my intention to test my theories out in the future using a combination of techniques, both astrological and vibrational.”
“Well then, can you please predict for me where Doctor Scaliger’s finest bottle of Bordeaux is in this house, because I am in bad need of a refurbishment!” The Archbishop laughed like a jolly elf and excused himself to go into the house to look for more wine.
“So what do you make of this girl’s verses, Michel? She is an extremely bright girl, but I have never seen her write poetry before. These verses are all rhyming, and the meter of the rhyme seems fairly good. Do you think she could do this all by herself?”
“No, I don’t. And if she says she wrote these in a dream, I believe her, because she is a good Christian girl and God is with her. These things she writes of, however, are horrible, Jules. I fear we must not show these to anyone, at least in our lifetimes, as they may evoke horrible fears in people and they may seek to punish us—especially with the Inquisition constantly pestering us.”
Scaliger reviewed some of the passages in the Bible written in India ink. “Mass murders, savagery, wars-- this list is terrible. At the end of the verses there is reference to rams and hawks and eagles all attacking a great leader. Do you see that? What do you make of that?”
“I must confess, Jules, I do not know. These are probably references to great events in history which will only be understood after they occur. The thing I am most concerned about are these references to evil Popes. One of those appears to be Pope Julius II, who is related to our good friend the Archbishop. Do not mention those verses to him, or he will take great offense. You and I know Julius was a wicked man, but we must not offend our good friend.”
“Yes, I am concerned about those passages as well. The last thing we need is to anger the Inquisition. Although I must say, I am absolutely fascinated by this reference to the man Copernicus, who claims the Earth moves around the sun. I, too, have always hypothesized such an orbit.”
“Do not speak too loudly, Jules, for I am sure the Church would disagree with you there, too.”
“Quite so, Michel.”
“I think the best thing for us to do, Julius, is for me to safeguard this Bible and hide its contents from prying eyes. In the meantime, I will consult my astrological texts to see if anything written here can be verified through a logical scientific methodology. I will also meditate to see if I can sense any vibrations here which line up with what is predicted by Henriette in her Bible.”
“Very well,” said Scaliger. “She is your wife, after all.”
Nostradamus put the bible away. With that, Andiette Scaliger, Julius’ wife, came out with the Archbishop and an opened new bottle of wine. “What are you kind gentlemen discussing, Jules?”
“Oh, these verses written by Henriette the other day out in the field. Michel here was just explaining his theories on the prediction of future events.”
“Oh, I am most confident that certain people can predict future events,” said Andiette.
Nostradamus looked at her. “How do you know that?”
Andiette looked down at her apron silently. She did not want to re-live the shameful night she received her vision about Petit Paul and murdered another soul. “I don’t know. I just assume that God speaks to certain people. Like Joan of Arc, for example.”
“Yes,” said the Archbishop. “God most certainly speaks to people from time to time. He did it to Joan and to Daniel and to David and to many people in the Bible. This child of yours, in my opinion, probably speaks the truth. I have not read any of her prophecies, but she seems to be a genuinely innocent child. But the problem is, with the Inquisition everywhere, you just do not know how other people might interpret this. What we see as words from God may be interpreted as words from the Devil. So you need to be careful with this.”
“I agree,” said Scaliger. “Michel’s idea to safeguard the Bible is a good one. But before we put the book away, I would make one interesting observation. These 58 four-lined verses—we shall call them ‘quatrains’ for lack of a better term—include a prediction here written on top of Corinthians: II which contains one foot dragging its toe in our past, and one foot kicking into our possible future. Let me read it to you:
Suprême au pape lui-même, c’est le huitième,
Ceux qui protestent sont traités comme traîtres et assassiné.
Bouffi d’orgueil, il s’est marié avec la crème,
Des belles femmes: une morte, une survécu, deux divorcées, deux décapitées
Supreme to the pope himself, he is the eighth,
Those who protest are murdered and treated as traitors.
Fat with pride, he married the cream of the crop,
Beautiful women: one died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded
“The eighth” is obviously a reference to Henry VIII of England. “Supreme to the pope himself” is straightforward. We all know that Henry declared himself to be supreme to the pope. I am sure both of you are aware of the Act of Supremacy of 1534 and the Treasons Act of 1534, passed some four years ago. Although we would not say it publicly, as frank men standing on a porch, I think we can all agree amongst ourselves that ‘fat with pride’ is a moniker which some would give Henry. But note the last line, referencing six wives. Henry has only had three wives that I know of: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour. Henry divorced Catherine and beheaded Anne Boleyn. Nothing to date has happened with Jane Seymour. I think all we need to do to verify the accuracy and reliability of these quatrains is to wait and see what happens to the wives of King Henry VIII!”
“Why, that is fascinating!” exclaimed the Archbishop. “You are exactly right!”
Nostradamus was not as jubilant at Scaliger’s observation as the Archbishop. Frankly, he was somewhat peeved that these men failed to understand that Nostradamus was a man of science, with innate gifts plainly recognized by whomever he met. Why were these men falling all over themselves about the prattling of a twelve year-old girl? Well, he would keep this Bible hidden, lest others start believing that his true psychic gifts came from his wife. If that happened, he would become the laughing stock of France.
“I agree, it is most interesting,” said Nostradamus as fair-mindedly as he could. “I shall safeguard the Bible, and we shall see what happens to Henry.” Nostradamus raised his glass, trying to muster up cheeriness: “To the future wives of Henry VIII-- may they be prepared to lose their head for love!”
The three men laughed and drained their wine glasses.
“Now, Michel, pass me that wine bottle and let me explain to you both again why Vergil is so much better than Homer.”
The three men laughed and Nostradamus groaned. He hated Vergil. Nostradamus tucked Henriette’s Bible into his jacket for another day.