Saturday, May 21, 2011

The whole sooth and nothing but the sooth - anyone know a good prophet?

Flowers around Caesar's statue in Rome (

THERE WAS a time when you could rely on the odd soothsayer or two to give you a head start, but the prophets of doom ain’t what they used to be.

As poor old Julius Caesar found out to his cost, it doesn’t always pay to ignore an advance warning. Every year on March 15 flowers are still laid at the foot of his statue outside the forum in Rome because he didn’t “Beware the Ides of March.”

Ancient Romans were keen on reading the signs and they had legions of religious officials - augurs - who foretold events by observing and interpreting signs and omens.

Even today, Romans are a bit stressed out because of so-called predictions. If you believe the interpretations, Raffaele Bendani, a seismologist, forecast in 1915 that a big earthquake would hit Rome on May 11, 2011. Not a murmur in Italy on the day, but an unusual quake in Lorca, Spain, kept the idea alive among the Twitterati - even though the quake was closer to Madrid than Rome.

Predicting the future has been a popular pastime since man emerged from the swamps. And, of course, if the soothsayer is vague enough, someone will interpret their visions as uncanny. Bendani forecast other earthquakes in Italy, but, as the country is in a quake zone, even I could do that.

If you actually believe in your own predictions, you might want to be a bit more specific - but throwing them a few hundred years into the future helps. US Christian broadcaster Harold Camping, 89, predicted that May 21, 2011 (ah, yes, today!) was the end of the world and his credibility has been shot to hell (if I make it beyond midnight, that is).

One of the most famous prophets of doom and gloom was Michel de Nostredame, or Nostradamus to you and me. The French apothecary and reputed seer published a book in 1555 called Les Propheties (The Prophecies) and is credited with predicting many major world events. Yet academics say his work is misinterpreted or mistranslated, often deliberately.
Nostradamus (left) was a happy soul who wrote about plagues, earthquakes, wars, floods, invasions, murders, droughts, battles, everything to cheer you up during your last day on Earth.

Enthusiasts say he predicted the Great Fire of London, and the rise of Napoleon and Adolf Hitler, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and many other things. But they only ever cite the events AFTER they have happened.

I, for one, like a bit of advance warning. A correct weather forecast wouldn’t go amiss now and then (especially if you are the Iranian President and say Europe is stealing your ‘rain’ just before it starts raining).

But I don’t really want to know if it is positively, absolutely the end of the world. So, if you spot a seagull flying in the wrong direction to negotiate a huge chunk of rock heading for Earth, keep it to yourself.


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