A portrait of the prophet as a young man

Prophecy buffs have been salivating for tonight's "The Lost Book of Nostradamus" on The History Channel (tag line: "He saved his biggest prediction for last!"). A 30-second spot has been teasing THE END OF LIFE! CHAOS! APOCALYPSE! ANARCHY! SATAN! OUR DOOM! all week.

And you thought we printed bad news.

The program, which airs at 6 tonight, will report that Italian journalist Enza Massa "stumbled upon" a 1629 manuscript titled: "Nostradamus Vatinicia Code" in 1994 at the Italian National Library in Rome. Sure she did. Here's the story behind the famed prophet's story.

FADE IN. A pleasant house in Salon-de-Provence, France, in 1549. NOSTRADAMUS, a hen-pecked little man haunted by an irrational fear of clowns, works with a quill pen at a writing table. An astrolabe lies among the beakers and retorts of an alchemist's lab.

NOSTRADAMUS: Let's see, now. ... The King shall give Catherine de' Medici — hmm — a warm puppy!

Nostradamus's wife, ANNE, enters, all business. He stuffs the papers in the desk.

ANNE: Michel! What are you hiding?

N: Nothing. It's my apothecary work, dear.

A: Let's see that (grabs the papers). The King shall give Catherine de' Medici a warm puppy? What kind of drivel is this?

N: It's a prophecy.

A: No, Michel, a prophecy is like beware the Ides of March. This is drivel.

N: Anne, this prophecy thing is gold. Anyway, I've done medicine.

A: Your Pink Pill?

N: It protected against the plague.

A: Some protection. Half of Marseille in the Romulan death grip.

N: That was an infestation of bad night air. Anyway, plague is in the past.

A: Is that a prophecy?

N: I'm just saying.

A: You want gold, invent a pill for housemaid's knee. (ANNE exits, slamming the door.)

N: (looking skyward) O, ye mists of time, part for me! (He goes back to his writing and doesn't notice his older, smarter brother, JEAN-MARIE, enter, wearing a red Bozo nose.)

JEAN-MARIE: Yo, No. Whasup?

N: Gaaa!

J-M: (removing the nose) Ha ha ha ha!

N: Very funny.

J-M: (eyeing the papers) A warm puppy? Hoo-boy!

N: It's a prophecy.

J-M: Who cares if the King gives whatsherface a puppy?

N: I think it's sweet.

J-M: Sweet? You kidding me?

N: In other quatrains I predict polio vaccine, the hula hoop, tuna casserole.

N: You don't get it, do you? Nice doesn't sell books, Bro. People wanna be scared. And they wanna hear that the rich and famous are as base and depraved as they are. Do those two things and you can say whatever you want.

N: Hm. As in, the King will give her ...

J-M: A social disease.

N: I can't say that!

J-M: But it's hot.

N: I'd be drawn and quartered.

J-M: Nah. It's just gotta be disguised, shrouded.

N: Shrouded?

J-M: You know, make it so vague that random chance combined with people's need to believe the unlikely will allow them to think you hit it on the head.

N: Um, the great Royal one of shining goldness ...

J-M: There you go. Will vouchsafe the dauphine, the hammer of the gods on the Huguenots ...

N: A puppy.

J-M: Shroud it!

N: A cute brute? A brute hirsute?

J-M: Two words: Scary. Vague. Faux-neoclassical. The seven-headed child of Romulus, its temples flooded by Malta's comet.

N: Ooh, ooh, I got it. ... Malta's comet — shooting flames and dripping blood as the kingdom crumbles into the abyss of doom!

J-M: Hey, that's nice.

N: And now you'll have to excuse me, Jean-Marie.

J-M: You gotta go à la toilette?

N: No. I've got some writing to do.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

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