A Medical Footnote In Defense of Nostredame the Great Physician-Astrologer

The following letter appears to contravene the current English ‘wisdom’ that Nostredame may not have been much of a doctor-astrologer. (I suspect the current Nostradamus page in Wikipedia bows unctiously to both Anglo-Saxon academic defences at being faced with fear of supernaturalization and an “extravert” conjurer’s gain-making by leger-de-tête.)

“Monseigneur, ayant calculé l’affaire de votre maladie, l’accordant avecques une triple voye, par voye de médicine, chirurgie, ensemble les accords de l’astrologie judicielle et naturelle, n’ayant obmys aulcungs aultres jugemens secretz non de mespriser. Et premièrement, pour parvenir au bot et à la fin de ce que préthendés, qui est parfaicte guérison de votre maladie, est neccessaire que premièrement dimenche, à une heure après midy, ayant disné à vostre acostumée, que vous soyt aplicqué ung botton de feu au lieu ou je vous ay monstré et touché avecques le doigt, et que le botton soyt comme sensuict, et que l’on ne le proffonde pas plus que porte le circuyt de la teste dudict boton, que après que l’aplication de cauthère ardant sera faicte, que le digestif soit faict avecques moyeau d’ung oeuf, huille rosat et burre frescq, que après que l’escarre, qui est la brusleure que le feu aura faict, sera tombé, y mectrés dedans ung patinostre d’argent qui soyt faict demy cuyvre et demi argent, et soyt mis dedans le trou jusques à ce que soyt tout profondre dedans, puis après prandrés une ou deux feulhes de Hedera parietis la plus large et plus frèche, et la mectrés dessus, et le bender avec une petite bende, et le pencer en vingt quatre heures une foys, du matin ou du soyr.

Toutesfoys le soir, par lors que vous yrés coucher, sera le melheur, et le porterés continuellement, environ l’espace de sept moys, mais asseurés vous Monseigneur, que vous n’aurés pas porté l’espace de sept à huict jours lesdictes ouvertures aux deux jambes que vous sentirés tout à ung coup ung souverain àlègement, et la plus part d’icelle froydeur incluse dedans se perdra et cela non tant seulement vous proffictera à icelle maladie que vous prétendés, mais auqqi tant que porterés lesdictes fontames ouvertes, ne sentirés ne dolleur de teste, de cerveau, de fieuvre aulcune, ne mal d’espaules, d’estomach, ne de jambes, ne d’aulcune partie du corps, car a cecy ne si aproche médecine que soyt au monde concernant principallement ce faict.

Je ne vous en fays plus long discours des vertus et efficaces que vous mesmes en peu de temps cognoistrés plus ample tesmonaige de la vérité. Aussi ne failhirés de user de la distilation que je vous escriptz que vous y trouverés ung souverain remède, vous en frotant matin et soir toute la nuque et tous les spondilles du dos jusques au dernier, et une partie des joinctures, priant à Dieu, Monseigneur, que vous doinct ce que plus désirés.

Faict à Bésiers, en faisant mon chemyn de Province àNarbonne, ce XXe octobre 1559

Source: Archives Départementales de l’Hérault, Série G 261.

Auteur de la transcription: Jean-Claude Toureille, Fordham Jesuit University

See my own source at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/french/ordonan.htm

As my initial reaction and an instant rough translation (I am no linguist: neither for profit, nor by hobby or pretense) I offer you;

“Sir, I have given consideration to the matter of your malady, attending to this withall from three angles – from the viewpoints of medicine and surgery together with the findings of judicial and natural astrology there being no further methods or special techniques I am to undertake. And so, to come straight to your distressed foot and what remedies cure perfectly this affliction, it is necessary that your prime activity on Sunday, at an hour after midday having lunched and being with your close circle, should be that you apply a very hot pultice to the places withall and rub by fingertip the swellings, sensitively in the manner of the drawing (supplied) no more than is described and that a mix of egg, rose oil and fresh butter be concocted …. ”

Nostredame goes on to specify the necessity of doing what he has ordered, when to do what and how. Like all thorough doctors he fears that matters will worsen without action and secondary problems could develop if not carefully avoided. On stipulating either morning or evening application during the week’s treatment he becomes more discursively doctorish and allows that evening is best of all because a useful night’s sleep might hopefully follow on from it. He warns quite holistically that parts of the body can and do affect each other (with specific examples) and philosophizes that the principle factor in all medical matters is that medical advice given is acted upon in good time by honestly facing up to the truth of a physician’s testimony made in good faith. He concludes

“ … (regarding the potion of which I have written) do not fail to use it; you will find the note prescribes a royal/especial/splendid remedy that you massage over the whole nape of the neck and all spindles of the spine down to the lower back, both morning and evening, asking God, Sir, to grant you and direct you to a wanted outcome.”

The potion is possibly another distillation of rose oil – Nostredame’s old pharmaceutical trademark – and the affliction would appear to be club-foot. The proposed main remedy is rather fiery and there may have been more to this problem than we can now deduce. It’s a very interesting and rare document of its type and its time, signed by the hand of Michel de Nostredame and dated 20th October 1559 and addressed to a close-relative of Catherine de Medici, Queen in Senior of France.

See this wonderful Fifteenth Century medical astrological image full-size at www.christusrex.org/www2/berry/f14v.html
As with today, historic royalty may often be seen to be favouring in the long-term one odd physician over others. Even so – and despite his disparagers then as now – Nostredame was a royally accounted physician-astrologer and Counsellor and by the standards of his day he was definitively atop the professional tree (so by what earthly standards can any modern critic retrofit their personal assessment based on absent evidence and thin air to retrospectively re-grade him and how close to the mean-minded should any right-minded writer try to go?)

                                                   Nigel Raymond Offord © 2012