Did Nostradamus predict 9/11?

In the heightened days following September 11, 2001 there were a lot of reports that Nostradamus had predicted the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York!

You may have even read about the quatrain below:

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,
The third big war will begin when the big city is burning.

First off, let's say straight out that this was not written by Nostradamus at all. Yes it superficially resembles his style, but there is no such quatrain and he didn't write it. In fact, some sites that reference this verse state it was written in 1654 which would be an impressive feat for someone who died nearly 100 years before!

Before we look at who did write it, let us use it as an exercise in critical thinking. We will break down the key points it raises:

  1. City of God. This could match anything you like - Mecca, or a city with a lot of churches (e.g. Rome), or a city with many religions (e.g. Jerusalem), or a city which is unusually impressive. You name it.
  2. Two brothers torn apart by chaos. Again this could be anything. Allied countries, or political party coalitions, or two ajoining neighborhoods, or royalty where there have been numerous inter marriages. etc.
  3. The third big war. Give me a break. How many big wars have there been since Nostradamus was alive? Even excluding WW I & II, you should immediately think of Vietnam, the Gulf War, the US Civil War, the Napoleonic wars, the Crimea, the Russian Civil War, the Russia-Japan war, the American War of Independence, the Spanish Civil War. And so on. Tens if not hundreds of thousands died in each these conflicts. Is that not big enough?
  4. A big city burning.. Tends to happen in wars. Dozens alone in World War II - Dresden, London, Berlin, Stalingrad, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo.

When all is considered we are left with is a verse which is so ambiguous on every line that you could with little effort match it to many different possibilities.

So who wrote this quatrain and what was their point?

This quatrain was actually created by a student called Neil Marshall in an article called "A Critical Analysis of Nostradamus" [1]. His point in writing the above was to highlight that some Nostradamus quatrains are so vague as to be open to any interpretation after the fact.

In fact this is not the only phony verse to have been concocted after 9/11. The urban legends site Snopes.com [2] has plenty more.

So are there any genuine verses that have been attributed?

Yes, several have been cited which are listed below. The same form of critical analysis should be applied to each of them to find out how precise they actually are.

Here is Century X, Quatrain 72:

The year 1999, seventh month, From the sky will come a great King of Terror: To bring back to life the great King of the Mongols, Before and after Mars to reign by good luck.

One doesn't need a scholarship to realise that 1999, seventh month is not September 2001. Then is a "King of Terror" one airplane, the three (that struck), all four, the leader of the terrorists or even Osama bin Laden? How does the "King of the Mongols" relate to anything at all? Are we to believe that the Mongols, whether ancient or modern can even be tenuously compared with Islamic terrorists? Maybe it's Osama again, assuming you can jump enough hoops to turn a Saudi into a Mongol. This quatrain barely fits even with a liberal amount of massaging. In fact as you might expect, many quatrains including this one have been attributed to multiple events [3].

Here another oft quoted verse, Century VI, Quatrain 97:

At forty-five degrees the sky will burn, Fire to approach the great new city: In an instant a great scattered flame will leap up, When one will want to demand proof of the Normans.

Well, let's say immediately that New York is 40 43' degrees north of the equator so that wouldn't match. Beyond that, 45 degrees could be anything related to a temperature, an angle of something approaching, falling or some other measurement. No doubt someone would try to claim it meant a flight number if one of them had contained 45. After that what are we left with? A flame, a burning sky? Again this could apply to anything, a bombed city, an oil refinery explosion, a plane exploding, a forest fire. Is New York a new city? Well it has "New" in its title, but so do a lot of cities (Newark, New Orleans, Newcastle etc.) [4]. Besides, one could argue that many cities are new by virtue of being bombed flat or destroyed by fire some time in their existence. Are the Normans meant to be the French, in which case what have they to do with 9/11? Again this quatrain may superficially appeal to those looking for a 9/11 "angle" (no pun intended!) but if so it doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Another one that appears from time to time is Century I, Quatrain 87:

Earthshaking fire from the centre of the earth will cause tremors around the New City. Two great rocks will war for a long time, then Arethusa will redden a new river.

This is a straight translation from the French original but it doesn't look relevant does it? But that's because a far more embellished translation is being offered up:

Sea of fire at the world centre, The tower of the new city will tremble: Two great blocks will be at war for a long time, Then Arethusa will redden a new river.

Now we get why some claim this has something to do with 9/11. "Centre of the world" has been deliberately fudged as "world centre", as in "World Trade Center", "Two rocks" as "Two blocks" and so on.

James Randi takes on this particular myth, and convincingly suggests that it is referring to Naples whose Italian name of Napoli literally means New City [5].

Further to that, Naples is located between Mount Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei (two great rocks). Any volcanic activity by either of these or both would validate the prediction, especially if accompanied by a red river of molten lava. It is even plausible that the 1538 eruption of Campi Flegrei was what spurred Nostradamus to write this quatrain to begin with. Predicting volcanic activity in a city surrounded by volcanoes is arguably shooting fish in the barrel but clearly this quatrain has nothing to do with 9/11.

Nostradamus hits the charts

A very obvious sign of the hysteria whipped up by 9/11 can be seen in the sales of Nostradamus related materials in days following. According to the BBC sales rocketed at Amazon and Barnes & Noble [6]. Both saw Nostradamus books enter their best seller lists. And the bogus prophecies must have played no small part in all this.

Conclusion

It seems hard to escape the conclusion that Nostradamus did not predict 9/11. No quatrain even bears a passing resemblance to the events of that day. Those which have been highlighted are so superficial that they no more match 9/11 than they match other events. One cannot help feeling that Nostradamus should have been more specific if he expected us to think different. After all, what use is a quatrain as a prediction if it is so vague that it cannot be attributed to an event even afterwards?

Further reading

  1. Nostradamus: A critical Analysis, Neil Marshall. Note that the original article was taken down, so the link will take you to an archived copy of that site.
  2. False Prophecy, Snopes.com. This site specialises in urban legends.
  3. Skepdic.com, lists another treatment for Century X, Quatrain 72
  4. A list of cities in the United States of America. Count how many of them start with "New"!
  5. Nostradamus Nulled - James Randi commentary on CI-Q87
  6. "Nostradamus sales shoot up" according to the BBC