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Memoirs of Hadrian

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Both an exploration of character and a reflection on the meaning of history, Memoirs of Hadrian has received international acclaim since its first publication in France in 1951. In it, Marguerite Yourcenar reimagines the Emperor Hadrian's arduous boyhood, his triumphs and reversals, and finally, as emperor, his gradual reordering of a war-torn world, writing with the imaginative insight of a great writer of the twentieth century while crafting a prose style as elegant and precise as those of the Latin stylists of Hadrian's own era.

347 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1951

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About the author

Marguerite Yourcenar

220 books1,312 followers
Marguerite Yourcenar, original name Marguerite de Crayencour, was a french novelist, essayist, poet and short-story writer who became the first woman to be elected to the Académie Française (French Academy), an exclusive literary institution with a membership limited to 40.
She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1947. The name “Yourcenar” is an imperfect anagram of her original name, “Crayencour.”

Yourcenar’s literary works are notable for their rigorously classical style, their erudition, and their psychological subtlety. In her most important books she re-creates past eras and personages, meditating thereby on human destiny, morality, and power. Her masterpiece is Mémoires d'Hadrien, a historical novel constituting the fictionalized memoirs of that 2nd-century Roman emperor. Her works were translated by the American Grace Frick, Yourcenar’s secretary and life companion.
Yourcenar was also a literary critic and translator.

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Profile Image for Manny.
29 books · 13.7k followers
January 13, 2011
This book is the fruit of one of the most ambitious literary projects I have ever seen. At the age of twenty, Marguerite Yourcenar conceived the idea of writing the life of the Emperor Hadrian. She spent five years on the task, then destroyed the manuscript and all her notes. Over the next decade and a half, she returned to the idea several times, and each time admitted defeat. Finally, in her early 40s, she arrived at a method she could believe in, which she describes as "half history, half magic": she spent several years systematically transforming herself into a vessel for the long-dead Emperor's spirit. She read every book still in existence that mentioned him or that he might have read. She visited the places he had visited, and touched the statues he had touched. Every night, she tried to imagine that she was Hadrian, and spent hours writing minutely detailed accounts of what he might have seen and felt. She was acutely aware of all the pitfalls involved, and used her considerable skills to efface herself from the process; "she did not want to breathe on the mirror". She compiled tens of thousands of pages of notes and rough drafts, nearly all of which she burned.

The final result, the memoirs Hadrian might have composed on his deathbed but never did, represents the distilled essence of this process, and it is unique in my experience. The language is a beautiful and highly stylised French that feels very much like Latin; the cadences are those of Latin, and every word she uses is originally derived from Latin or Greek. (This effect must be hard to imitate in translation to a non-Romance language). The world-view is, throughout, that of the second century A.D. The illusion that Hadrian is speaking to you directly is extraordinarily compelling.

Hadrian emerges as a great man. With Trajan's conquest of Mesopotamia just before his accession to the throne, the Empire had reached its peak; indeed, it was now clearly over-extended and threatened with collapse. Hadrian's difficult task was to stabilise it to the extent possible and maintain the increasingly uneasy peace, and he succeeded well enough that it survived for several hundred more years after his death. He describes his work with measured passion, neither boasting of his successes nor despairing of his occasional dreadful failures; the Second Jewish War occurred near the end of his reign, resulting in the obliteration of Judea and the dispersal of the entire Jewish race.

He is candid about his private life, and Yourcenar's description of his tragic liaison with Antinoüs is probably the most impressive achievement of the book. Hadrian, who like most of his class was promiscuously bisexual, takes as his lover a fourteen year old boy. The relationship, like everything else in the book, is presented entirely within the context of Hadrian's own culture, and I was able to accept it as such. It's extremely moving; even if you are the absolute ruler of the known world, you are as defenceless against love as everyone else. When Antinoüs kills himself shortly before his twentieth birthday, Hadrian realises too late that he is the love of his life. His Stoic philosophy and his strong sense of duty keep him functioning, but from then on he only longs to be released.

It is fortunate that, every now and then, the world acquires for a brief moment a man like Hadrian or a woman like Yourcenar. Read this book and you will feel inspired to be a better person.
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews · 4,024 followers
March 10, 2023
There is a word that keeps popping up in my reading. I’d go so far as to say that this word is the underlying descriptor for the majority of my favorite books, in some way. The thing is that I can’t tell you exactly what that word is, nor what it means. In Turkish, the word is hüzün, In Korean, it is maybe something close to han, in French perhaps ennui (though I am far from satisfied with that), and in Japanese, mono no aware. None of these words mean quite the same thing, none has the same connotations, or the same cultural usage, really, but nonetheless they all get at something- something they all peek and pry at from different angles, but do not capture entirely. For me, the meaning of all these words is most exquisitely expressed in a Latin phrase: Lacrimae rerum. It is found in the Aeneid, and my favorite translation of it (which yes of course means I will ignore all others) is “tears of things.” It is said by Aeneas as he gazes at a mural of the Trojan War, overcome with anger and sadness, going to a place beyond either of these emotions to... the “tears of things".

This word.. whatever its meaning, does not exist in English. It needs several words to describe what it means in this language, and I think that some words need to be repeated and said in the right way to convey it in the same way. But it still wouldn’t work. It certainly wouldn’t work in America. America is the anti- this word. America is founded on the promise that everyone should be free to not know what this word means, and moreover that its residents should make it a point to laugh at it when they see it. This word is silly, eye-roll inducing, a “stage”. It is helpful that in the United States, imitations and shadows of it are mostly laughable, thought of as a way to sell black lipstick to 16 year old goth girls or let floppy haired boys think they are James Dean for owning a leather jacket. It doesn’t really have anything to do with that, though. I said I was surprised that Memoirs of Hadrian isn’t considered a part of the canon here. I’m not, really. How could it be? The closest we get to this book is Gatsby and Jay Gatsby’s nouveau riche problems are (mostly) beside the point. Our coming of age novel is Catcher in the Rye. One of the French ones has a title that translates as The Lost Estate. I think the title says enough.

This is not a historical version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being that I’m pitching here. But it does have something to do with time, time and the weight of it. It has something to do with the last time I was in Italy. I wandered off the standard routes into the side streets and came on an idle construction site- a building with its foundations dug out, standing on stilts, shining and new, but idle, the sign said, since the previous March. This was because someone had found the remains of pottery, art and other foundations from the Roman Empire. The national authorities were so backed up with other discoveries of this kind around the country that they hadn’t gotten around to clearing it out, nearly a year and a half later- and this was a site near the center of Rome. It isn’t about the fact that it happened, only, though.

Memoirs of Hadrian is a meditation on finding a pile of pottery shards and deciding what to do with them. Your decision depends very much on what you see in them, or really, more precisely who you see in them. What tale takes shape in your brain- what is relevant to be put down on paper, if you think there’s anything genuine to be found or what genuine means to you, and most of all if perhaps you’d just as well better get on with building your office park, which is after all supported by some stilts right now and won’t (and shouldn’t) wait forever. Yourcenar changed her mind about her particular pile of pottery shards many times. She changed her mind so hard the first time, she burned the remains. Then she did it again, five years later. But she retained one sentence from her 1934 bonfire: "I begin to discern the profile of my death.” With that sentence she had, like a “painter who moves his easel from left to right,” found the proper viewpoint for the book. But pottery shards look different in the light of Europe, 1939. They look even more strange in 1942, in a Yale library next to newspapers whose headlines speak of many, many office parks that need to be rebuilt, and some that never will be, until one thinks of the shards “with something like shame for having ever ventured upon such an undertaking.”

But then a trunk arrives from Switzerland in 1948. It bears letters from old friends, many of whom are now dead... and one letter to someone who has been dead much longer. “Dear Mark,” it begins. Something else escaped Europe’s bonfires, something she hadn’t remembered she’d created at all- the beginning of another letter, from an imagined Hadrian, to his young heir, Marcus Aurelius. Somehow, it survived. And then she thought of something else to do with her pottery shards- perhaps it was time to begin putting them back together. Or better, it was time to tell the young heirs how to put them back together.

But how do you do that? How do you pick up the pieces and go on when you can’t even honestly say you know where they should rightfully go? You may have lived more than thirty years trying to figure it out, immersing yourself in the craft of it until you could do it blind, but you’re just guessing in the end. Aren’t you painting it just a little bit shinier than it was before? Doesn’t everything fit together better than it should? What should you do with this notation from a critic that says there was a crack in it from the very first time he saw it? Do you restore the cracks? Or do you have a responsibility to put the best face you can on it, to present it as the maker would have ideally wanted it to be seen? Don’t the ideas matter more than the reality? Whatever the answers to these things, you have to start with the hardest task: looking the remains in the face.

“Sheltering the flame of my lamp with my hand, I would lightly touch that breast of stone. Such encounters served to complicate memory’s task; I had to put aside like a curtain the pallor of the marble to go back, in so far as possible, from those motionless contours to the living form.. Again I would resume my round; the statue, once interrogated, would relapse into darkness; a few steps away my lamp would reveal another image; these great white figures differed little from ghosts. I reflected bitterly upon those magic passes whereby the Egyptian priests had drawn the soul of the dead youth into the wooden effigies… I had done like them; I had cast a spell over stones which, in their turn, had spellbound me.”

Who is the story of your life for? Why are you creating this memory for someone? Why should one more pottery shard rule someone’s life, for however long? Is it only a decoration for an already grand tomb? Or, perhaps, is it one more way to make your peace with your own point of view before it too, is thrown on the bonfire? Hadrian is at delving into his memory as deeply as he can, and fighting it at the same time. He just wants to leave advice for an heir, and it is advice that is needed more than ever. It is, after all, being left for a young man who is at the most an afterthought- a lucky find after a series of disasters wherein the chosen heirs proved monstrously unworthy or have already died uselessly and horribly from an excess of virtue. He is simply the one left standing in the ashes while an old man is staring his death throes in the face, and, like all his predecessors, finding it difficult to let go.

So what do you do, to tell him all he should know? Someone not of your blood, who you haven’t had the education of, not really. What you can do? You tell him what happened to you- as fairly as you can, with whatever inner battles you need to fight laid open. You tell him a story. You tell him a story with as much as you can bear to tell left in, and let it go on… and on... and on. Make sure he feels the years as you build one temple after another, and fall in love and out again, win one city and watch another fall. Make sure he hears about your errors, your flaws. Especially make sure to destroy the biggest positive myth about you- he must know the way it is, lest he look to myths for support when you are gone and find nothing but air. You may have constructed gods, but he will need to support them and say why they are there, in order for them to live on. You should temper the worst tales about you, but not too much- it is better if find out for himself that you’ve no need to protest your innocence. He must feel your despair, your Spenglerian conviction that the Faustian wintertime has come, that there is nothing more to be done:

“I was beginning to find it natural, if not just, that we should perish. Our literature is nearing exhaustion, our arts are falling asleep. Pancrates is not Homer, nor is Arrian a Xenophon; when I have tried to immortalize Antonious in stone, no Praxiteles has come to hand. Our sciences have been at a standstill… our technical development is inadequate…even our pleasure seekers grow weary of delight… the masses remain wholly ignorant, fierce and cruel when they can be so, and in any case limited and selfish…”

He'll read these words, words from the mouth of a generation so far removed from his own, brought up with such wildly different expectations and knowledge about the world, irrevocably shattered by events that they could not conceive of… It could almost make you laugh with relief to read this and then think of Michelangelo’s angels screaming out of the marble. Then, almost unnecessarily, you can tell him that:

“Life is atrocious, we know. But precisely because I expect little of the human condition, man’s periods of felicity, his partial progress, his efforts to begin over again and to continue, all seem to me like so many prodigies which nearly compensate for the monstrous mass of ills and defeats, of indifference and error. Catastrophe and ruin will come; disorder will triumph, but order will too, from time to time. Peace will again establish itself between two periods of war; the words humanity, liberty, and justice will here and there regain the meaning which we have tried to give them. Not all our books will perish, nor our statues, if broken, lie unrepaired; other domes and other pediments will arise from our domes and pediments; some few men will think and work and feel as we have done, and I venture to count upon such continuations, placed irregularly throughout the centuries, and upon this kind of intermittent immortality.”

That is how you make a memory without burden- to reconcile Catcher and The Lost Estate after all. If you cannot do it, someone else will. To paraphrase Stoppard: we die on the march, but nothing is outside of it and nothing can be lost to it. If a sixteen year old math prodigy does not make calculus known to the world, another man, not long later, will do it. The weight of these statues, these ghosts, is not your obligation. They are there for those who need to look at them and find themselves in their shadows, and that is all. Time can continue to pile down minute by minute, but you are not its prisoner. Merely a welcome guest, who may stay as long as you like. If you do not choose to walk in Time’s garden, your loss will not bring haunting down upon you in another, New, world- there will be enough who choose to stay. Those who do stay will not be unmarked by it, and those who leave will be the same with their choice- we can but choose and choose and choose again. We are what we consistently do. What Time throws up for notice enough times to be remembered.

…There is an epilogue, though. Of course there is. Telling him the essential information to get through the day isn’t enough. Not even telling him a story and setting him free. No- he needs to know why you got up every morning- he needs to know about the lacunae between the temple building and warring in the desert. He has to know why he should listen to you. Digressions, pauses, and footnotes make the man, and the boy you are reading to knows that better than anyone, or he will, by the time he finishes this. So tell him about how heaven is the constellations in the Syrian night, about the wind whispering out of the sands of Judea, about the memory of an old man in a garden in Spain. He needs to know about women you cherished and men you hated. But most of all, most of all, he needs to know about the man you loved, how you loved him, and for how long- how you thought of him more and more as death came close. How Love seemed to be the way your story would end. But it wasn’t. We end with only ourselves. History is in the last line of this book- what Hadrian dies with is why History exists and should exist and we should all remember, and yes, beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
3 books · 248k followers
December 20, 2019
”I was beginning to find it natural, if not just, that we must perish. Our literature is nearing exhaustion, our arts are falling asleep; Pancrates is not Homer, nor is Arrian a Xenophon; when I have tried to immortalize Antinous in stone no Praxiteles has come to hand, Our sciences have been at a standstill from the times of Aristotle and Archimedes; our technical development is inadequate to the strain of a long war; our technical development is inadequate to the strain of a long war; even our pleasure-lovers grow weary of delight. More civilized ways of living and more liberal thinking in the course of the last century are the work of a very small minority of good minds; the masses remain wholly ignorant, fierce and cruel when they can be so, and in any case limited and selfish; it is safe to wager that they will never change.”


Hadrian ruled from 117-138 and was the 14th Emperor of the Roman Empire. He was the third of five emperors that are referred to as the good emperors. He had good men to follow and also provided a good example of leadership to those that followed in his footsteps. He was the adopted son of Trajan (Roman Emperors seemed to routinely struggle to produce offspring.), and the first controversy of his ascension to power was that Trajan had never officially named him as his successor, but on a deathbed edict signed by Plotina the wife of Trajan, not by the Emperor, Hadrian was named to succeed.

He was uniquely qualified to lead Rome. As a soldier he was able to view the empire from a different perspective than any of the leadership in Rome. He fought courageously, but was discomforted from all the killing that was necessary to put down rebellions or conquer new territory. To Hadrian the warriors, women, and children they were killing were people that could have made good Roman citizens. This experience convinced him to change the policies of his predecessors. As Emperor he stopped the expansion of the empire and spent his time shoring up the relationship of Rome with the people of all the nations that composed the Roman Empire. He wanted everyone to have skin in the game. ”I was determined that even the most wretched, from the slaves who clean the city sewers to the famished barbarians who hover along the frontiers, should have an interest in seeing Rome endure.”


He rebuilt the Pantheon. ”I myself had revised its architectural plans, drawn with too little daring by Apollodorus: utilizing the arts of Greece only as ornamentation, like an added luxury, I had gone back for the basic form of the structure to the primitive, fabled times of Rome and to the round temples of ancient Etruria.” Hadrian was enamored with Greece and brought their philosophies and focus on art back to prominence in Roman thought. He built cities, repaired sculptures and ancient architecture, not just in Italy, but throughout the territories. He wanted his thinking, his beliefs to be felt everywhere. He was the first Emperor to travel to all of the geography of the Roman Empire. Instead of conquest, he built walls, most famously in England, to keep out nations hostile to Rome. He spent more time away from Rome than he did in Rome and improved the feeling towards Rome just by being a presence in areas most disaffected and disenchanted with being part of the Empire.

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian loved meeting people from different cultures and as a good Roman always wanted to assimilate the best of all humanity. He was a deep thinker who had a broad understanding of philosophies and religions. He liked to take time to think, to fantasize about a new life, a new world, but at the same time found that even entertaining such ideas he was alone among men of his class. ”I played with the idea...To be alone, without possessions, without renown, with none of the advantages of a civilization, to expose oneself among new men and amid fresh hazards...Needless to say it was only a dream, and the briefest dream of all. This liberty that I was inventing ceased to exist upon closer view; I should quickly have rebuilt for myself everything that I had renounced. Furthermore, wherever I went I should only have been a Roman away from Rome. A kind of umbilical cord attached me to the City. Perhaps at that time, in my rank of tribune, I felt still more closely bound to the empire than later as emperor, for the same reason that the thumb joint is less free than the brain. Nevertheless I did have that outlandish dream, at which our ancestors, soberly confined with the Latian fields, would have shuddered; to have harbored the thought, even for a moment, makes me forever different from them.”

Even Emperor’s dream of being someone else.

Marguerite Yourcenar

Yourcenar, as you can tell from the quotes I have shared, tells this story from the first person narrative in the form of a letter to Marcus Aurelius. We are in the mind of Hadrian. We experience the building of his philosophies, the implementation of change he had envisioned while only a tribune, and the compassion and retribution he shows his enemies. We feel the grief, on par with Alexander for Hephaestion, when Hadrian’s very close lover, a Greek youth named Antinous, drowns. Rome was lucky to have him as Emperor during a time when they were struggling to maintain control of an empire that had grown too large. He certainly extended the life of the Roman Empire and put forward concepts, in particular to equality, that were far ahead of their time. This novel is considered a classic of historical fiction and like all good literature I know I will be thinking about it for a long, long time. Highly Recommended!

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Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews · 4,644 followers
December 31, 2020
“Like a traveler sailing the Archipelago who sees the luminous mists lift toward evening, and little by little makes out the shore, I begin to discern the profile of my death.”

By now, many of my friends here know that I like to indulge with a glass of bourbon or bourbon cream on occasion. I don’t like to guzzle it down, however. I prefer it in a rocks glass, with three ice cubes, and I like to sit and savor it. Swirl it around in my mouth a bit before swallowing. You can’t rush through anything that brings so much pleasure. That’s how I felt with this incredible book by Marguerite Yourcenar. It’s not a long book, but it’s full-bodied and rich with detail.

“The truth which I intend to set forth here is not particularly scandalous, or is so only to the degree that any truth creates a scandal. I do not expect your seventeen years to understand anything of it. I desire, all the same, to instruct you and to shock you, as well.”

This is a work of historical fiction written in the form of a letter from the Emperor Hadrian at the end of his life to his adopted grandson and successor, Marcus Aurelius. One can get lost in this and forget it is actually a work of fiction. It’s so personal and reads just like a memoir. It’s a story of a life which is deeply reflective, philosophical, and honest. I say honest because I had the sense it was told with such authenticity as if it was truly penned by Hadrian himself. The emperor shares all with a frankness that seems so natural at the end of one’s life.

I have very little knowledge of his history or these times stored away in my mind, but that didn’t matter one bit. I don’t know how Yourcenar managed to squeeze a lifetime into a mere 350 pages, but she did. I learned of his rise to the throne, the battles fought (despite his aversion to warfare in general), his successes and failures, his friends and lovers, grief, his admiration for books and art, and his high regard for everything Greek. He admits his flaws and confesses his moments of weakness. I walked away from this with the feeling that not only was he the great leader he was renowned to be, but also deep down he was just as human as the next guy.

“Like everyone else I have at my disposal only three means of evaluating human existence: the study of self, which is the most difficult and most dangerous method, but also the most fruitful; the observation of our fellowmen, who usually arrange to hide their secrets from us, or to make us believe that they have secrets where none exist; and books, with the particular errors of perspective to which they inevitably give rise… The written word has taught me to listen to the human voice, much as the great unchanging statues have taught me to appreciate bodily motions. On the other hand, but more slowly, life has thrown light for me on the meaning of books.”

I’m sort of in awe over Memoirs of Hadrian, making the task of reviewing a bit of a challenge. I’m not going to get into the meat of Hadrian’s accomplishments and losses. Marguerite Yourcenar does that a million times more effectively with her sophisticated and lush prose. I can only urge you to read this if you are at all inclined to do so. This one is a class act; the kind of book you come across only a few fortunate times in your reading life. I’d call this serendipitous, but then that’s not exactly true. My Goodreads friend Charles gets heaps of gratitude from me for this recommendation.

Since I can’t pick just one closing quote to share, here are a handful of favorites that will give you a taste of the stunning prose:

“Of all our games, love’s play is the only one which threatens to unsettle the soul, and is also the only one in which the player has to abandon himself to the body’s ecstasy.”

“Our great mistake is to try to exact from each person virtues which he does not possess, and to neglect the cultivation of those which he has.”

“I knew almost nothing of these women; the part of their lives which they conceded to me was narrowly confined between two half-opened doors… I should have desired more: to see the human creature unadorned, alone with herself as she indeed must have been at least sometimes, in illness or after the death of a first-born child, or when a wrinkle began to show in her mirror.”

“Friendship was a choice to which she devoted her whole being; she gave herself to it utterly, and as I have done only to my loves. She has known me better than anyone has… No bodily intimacy ever existed between us; in its place was this contact of two minds closely intermingled.”

“The founding of libraries was like constructing more public granaries, amassing reserves against a spiritual winter…”

“Catastrophe and ruin will come; disorder will triumph, but order will too, from time to time. Peace will again establish itself between two periods of war; the words humanity, liberty, and justice will here and there regain the meaning which we have tried to give them.”
Profile Image for Luís.
1,864 reviews · 522 followers
March 31, 2023
Convinced that the human being is immortal as an animal species and finite as an individual being, Adriano, the most powerful man of the Roman Empire, exposes the essential characteristics of human nature with minute details and beautiful metaphors.
Despite having absolute power, he feels incapable of modifying the natural development of his own life. With a lucid mind, full of wisdom and knowledge of the desires of human beings of all social conditions, he regrets the contradiction between his body and his mind, old and sick.
Reflect, comparing if it has been worth playing the role of omnipresent and all-powerful with the immense loneliness he has felt countless times at night in his rooms for many periods of his reign after participating in orgies, official acts, religious ceremonies, or deciding the fate of life or death of another human being.
All earthly joys, sexual experiences without limit, trips by the empire's territory, participation in the rites of diverse religions, and the birth of a new belief: Christianity considers inoffensive. For being directed to the poor and enslaved people, the knowledge of various cultures, his admiration for the Greek culture, his successes in front of the military legions, the official banquets, the eternal adulation, the conspiracies, the political assassinations, everything seems to have turned into a bucket full of ashes.
Winner of many military and political battles, he feels humiliated when his favorite servants must give him constant help to perform the simplest acts of daily life.
At the end of his life, the human established throughout the Pax Romana empire cannot achieve his inner peace. A historical novel fully shows the permanence and complexity of the human condition over the centuries.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
458 reviews · 3,242 followers
August 5, 2020
Through the mists of time the clouds lift (but only partly, always remain overcast they never give up their deep secrets), and the myths will continue such is history such was the Roman Emperor Hadrian of the second century, no Julius Caesar but who was? Sill a very capable man born in Italica, what is now Spain to a Roman family of landowners and Senators, they had left Italy centuries before and prospered. His cousin Emperor Trajan many years his senior later adopts the young man, sent to Rome for an education by his family at 12, with a trusted guardian the father had just expired at 40. The future ruler shows promise studies hard and does well... in the army he is fearless against the enemy maybe even reckless, his men always cheer him as a civilian too a good magistrate in Rome, though like many men of his age spends his money foolishly, loving both men and women and goes into debt this annoys Trajan greatly. The tough old soldier Emperor more comfortable leading his conquering army than playing the politician in the capital, it would be the same for Hadrian. A crisis appears the dying, feeble ruler is in no hurry to officially name his successor ( maybe this will insure his demise), too busy planning and fighting a war in faraway Mesopotamia ( and dreams of future conquests, for his glory ) a bloody conflict that cannot be won. The Empress Pompeia Plotina a close friend of Hadrian, helps him to be declared Emperor at the passing of his cousin. Not a lover of women he had a few that were instrumental in his rise to power, strangely Matilda his mother-in- law but not his second cousin Sabina, his neglected wife... she hated him but didn't cause any scandals to the grateful Hadrian. And Hadrian wants peace his Empire needs it badly an inveterate reader lover of the Arts, he fixes the economy reforms the law the army, brings back wealth to its ignored citizens . Yet he will leads the Romans in war as he does in Palestine, suffering countless thousands of casualties against the Jewish uprising... In Asia Minor what is now Turkey, meeting a Greek boy Antinous in Claudiopolis, the Roman province of Bithynia...sent to Rome to receive schooling this attractive child grows up and becomes the love of Hadrian's life. Years later the returning handsome teenager travels with the Emperor, they become constant companions but in Egypt on the Nile River a mystery happens, the lifeless body of Antinous 19 is found an apparent drowning... or murder, suicide, an accident? We will never learn the truth...For the rest of his days the melancholic Emperor mourns, numerous statues made a magnificent new city built Antinoopolis by the river near where he the boy died, an ardent cult begins to worship him, games played for his memory deified also by Hadrian but he Antinous will still be gone forever. An ailing Hadrian in his last few months sees that everything he has done. will vanish as the desert sands shift so too does the hearts of men, all is vanity... A terrific historical novel one of the best if not the greatest ever written. This book gives you an idea what the Roman Empire was like at its summit. Well worth reading for those interested...
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
779 reviews
April 5, 2020
In the notes at the back of this book, Marguerite Yourcenar tells us that in 1941 she stumbled upon some Piranesi engravings in a shop in New York. One of them was a view of the interior of Hadrian’s Villa as it might have looked in the 1740s. I say ‘might have’ because the famous Piranesi had a talent for adding interesting layers to his engravings of the monuments of Rome. What his contemporaries viewed as simply ruins, took on new life in his rendering, imbued with the phantasms of his peculiar imagination.

Yourcenar, who had been researching Hadrian’s life for many years, interprets Piranesi’s version of Hadrian’s Villa as the inside of a human skull upon which strands of vegetation hang like human hair. She recognizes Piranesi’s genius in conveying an hallucinatory echo of the tragic interior world of the Villa’s former owner, the Emperor Hadrian, and she praises Piranesi’s medium-like gifts, his ability to be an extraordinary intermediary between the Villa and the Emperor.

When I had digested her words, it occurred to me that this is exactly how I’d describe her own achievement in this book. Hers too are medium-like gifts; she is an extraordinary intermediary between Hadrian and the reader. We are inside his head, quite an hallucinatory experience.

And there’s a further parallel between the Piranesi engraving and Yourcenar’s book. Piranesi chose to represent the part of the villa known as the Temple of Canope which Hadrian had created as a space to commemorate Antinous, the dead Greek youth he idolized. The statue of Antinous which Hadrian had placed in the centre of that space was no longer there in Piranesi’s time but it is interesting that among the many possible views of Hadrian’s Villa which Piranesi could have selected, he chose the exact site of the missing statue. Antinous dominates Piranesi’s work by his absence - just as he dominated Hadrian’s life by his absence, and Yourcenar’s book in turn.

It seemed fitting to seek out the missing statue though it’s not been an easy task. We know it was a Bacchus but among the many statues of Antinous that exist, several depict him as Bacchus. The large marble known as the Braschi Antinous, now in the Vatican Museums, corresponds best perhaps to Yourcenar’s description of the statue that she believes once stood in Hadrian’s Temple of Canope.

Yourcenar mentions the fine Italian marble from which the statue has been delicately chiselled, and the motif of vine leaves circling the slightly bent and sorrowful head which she interprets as a reference to the early harvest of the young man’s life: L’œuvre d'Antonianus a été taillée dans un marbre italien...Elle est d'une délicatesse infinie. Les rinceaux d'une vigne encadrent de la plus souple des arabesques le jeune visage mélancolique et penché : on songe irrésistiblement aux vendanges de la vie brève, à l'atmosphère fruitée d'un soir d'automne..

Yourcenar’s book is itself as beautiful as that block of marble and as delicate as the vine motif.
No one has ever created fictional biography quite like this.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
6 books · 1,303 followers
May 14, 2023
A doua lectură. Mai puțin impresionat ca la cea dintîi. Dar una este să citești pentru a citi și cu totul altceva pentru a scrie. La prima lectură, te lași în voia frazelor și a meditațiilor. La a doua, devii aspru și acru, privești critic, cum ar veni. Sper, totuși, că nu m-am acrit complet.

Există cititori și scriitori cărota romanul nu le-a plăcut. Îi numesc doar pe Gore Vidal (autorul lui Iulian) și pe George Steiner. Amîndoi i-au reproșat autoarei că Hadrian vorbește pe limba ei și nu a împăratului. Că Hadrian este, de fapt, Marguerite Yourcenar. Pe Gore Vidal îl putem înțelege (era marcat de o foarte firească invidie), pe George Steiner, mai puțin sau deloc. În definitiv, Steiner ar fi trebuit să aprecieze stilul somptuos al prozatoarei, dar și erudiția ei.

Memoriile lui Hadrian, o lungă epistolă testamentară către viitorul împărat și filosof Marcus Aurelius (120 - 180), mi s-a părut (și la prima lectură, dar și acum) o dureroasă meditație despre insinuarea destrămării și neființei în oameni și lucruri. Dar mai ales în oameni. Timpul e nemilos. Totul se degradează: pielea, culoarea ochilor, vocea. Pe zidul templelor apar fisuri neînsemnate la început, care se lărgesc treptat și prefac edificiile în pulbere. Această percepție acută a nimicirii ordonează rîndurile împăratului Hadrian (76 - 138).

Unii au observat că romanul lui Marguerite Yourcenar nu are acțiune (Hadrian nu a fost un mare cuceritor, un neînfricat ostaș, a participal la puține războaie), că intriga e minimă (preluarea puterii, la moartea suspiciosului Traian, cu ajutorul împărăteseei Plotina, ctitoriile, iubirea pentru Antinous, moartea neașteptată a lui Antinous), dar există o acțiune a ideilor și trăirilor și asta întreține interesul nostru. Hadrian se definește ca un „Ulysse fără vreo altă Ithaca decît aceea din lăuntrul lui”.

Există o scenă care m-a impresionat și acum. În Golful Persic, la marginea mării, împăratul Traian izbucnește într-un plîns stăruitor. Înțelege că nu va putea cuceri niciodată Asia. Înțelege că puterile omului sînt limitate. Înțelege că e muritor. Hadrian își va începe domnia tocmai cu această concluzie...
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
3 books · 5,547 followers
June 30, 2017
This is a gorgeous book by Marguerite Yourcenar with the emperor writing to future emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius about his life and the burdens of leadership. Its tone is a perfect balance of nostalgia, regret and pride all mixed together. A true masterpiece that took her ten years to write, it is also very short and a magnificent read. I found that it was very inspirational and was amazed in how this period of Roman history comes alive under Yourcenar's able pen. An incredible read!
It is rather unfortunate that few current political leaders give off such a breath of humanity and maturity.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,180 reviews · 1,940 followers
February 27, 2019
This ought not to work on a number of levels and ought not to be as good as it is. A historical novel about the Romans (there is so much temptation to go into Life of Brian mode at this point), indeed about one of their emperors. Hadrian dominated Marguerite Yourcenar’s life for many years with rewrites, abandonments, acres of notes and thoughts, and an immense amount of research (including travel to places Hadrian had been). The novel is in the form of a letter from Hadrian to his adopted grandson Marcus Aurelius. It is in the first person. Hadrian is in his final illness and is looking back over his life. If you are looking for snappy dialogue then this is not the book for you, nor is there any “action”. It is a series of musings, reflections, philosophizing and making comment as Hadrian works through his life.
The novel is essentially interior and Yourcenar does say why she selected this particular interior to focus on. It stems from a quote she found by Flaubert;
“Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone”
This seems to have been the attraction of Hadrian. The novel was published in 1951 and there may also be some connection between the post Second World War situation and Hadrian’s time.
Hadrian’s musings are wide ranging and cover love (especially Antinous his teenage lover), administration (managing and empire), war, religion, philosophy (especially Greek), food, marriage, pastimes (hunting et al), politics, friends and enemies, travel and much more. Hadrian is a great liker of things and generally quite positive, not afraid to compromise to get things done.
Yourcenar puts into Hadrian’s mouth all sorts of aphorisms and wise words. For example;
"Men adore and venerate me far too much to love me,"
"Meditation upon death does not teach one how to die."
“Our great mistake is to try to exact from each person virtues which he does not possess, and to neglect the cultivation of those which he has.”
“I am not sure that the discovery of love is necessarily more exquisite than the discovery of poetry.”
“The technique of a great seducer requires a facility and an indifference in passing from one object of affection to another which I could never have; however that may be, my loves have left me more often than I have left them, for I have never been able to understand how one could have enough of any beloved. The desire to count up exactly the riches which each new love brings us, and to see it change, and perhaps watch it grow old, accords ill with multiplicity of conquests.”

There are dozens more like that, usually making the book a joy to read, occasionally irritating or provoking. You can tell this novel has really been polished and honed, worked on over and over again.
This is so good a novel that it is easy to forget this isn’t real history. Mary Beard’s Guardian article explodes some of those myths;
This is fiction, but its great stuff and a great novel. I am also interested in reading more by Yourcenar, her life was also very interesting.
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews · 2,217 followers
May 9, 2016

Margerite Yourcenar’s Hadrian is not only the Roman Emperor, citizen of the world and deified ruler, whose heart throbbed at the cadence of Greek poetry, whose resilient physique conquered the barbarian borders of northern Britannia, whose strategic mind enforced groundbreaking laws to regulate the use of slaves and to promote culture in the Pantheon, whose modesty silenced insurgent voices and whose excesses intimidated allied ones.

“I have come to think that great men are characterized by the extreme position which they take, and that heir heroism consists in holding to that extremity throughout their lives. They are our poles, or our antipodes.”

Underneath the imposing greatness of the historical figure that Yourcenar pens with unfaltering dexterity, a moribund man exhales his last breath prostrated on his deathbed and confronts his contradictory selves. Drowned in erotic ambiguity, haunted by idyllic remembrances of platonic love and superfluous infatuation, Hadrian drops the mask of formidable Emperor and shows himself as a vulnerable man plagued by his remorse, aggressive pride and reckless ambition who can’t impede the upcoming dissolution of the world he has so meticulously constructed with obsessive discipline and bloodstained sacrifice.

Combining prodigious refinement with erudite depth, Yourcenar masters the first person narrative and becomes a multifaceted ventriloquist that deconstructs the layers of Hadrian’s overpowering personality while unfolding his intimate ponderings about ageing and death, friendship and true love, art and philosophy, justice and social order with academic rigorousness and aesthetic excellence, creating a dramatic tension that reaches its peak through self-absorbed observation rather than galloping action.

And when the last line is avidly consumed and the confessor meets its nemesis, no historical grandeur or remarkable feat will be imprinted on the reader's ephemeral memory. The intoxicating scent of literary perfection is what will linger in anonymous nostrils, the texture of velvety words is what will invade mental taste buds, and a wave of disarming tenderness and stunned regret will choke the humbled witness of the remnants of two thousand years of magnificence, folly and debatable progress that meander the moors of remote lands that once yielded to one of the greatest men of ancient history.

Hadrian's Wall, November 2014
Hadrian's Wall, November 2014
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,645 reviews · 5,109 followers
July 29, 2016
"But books lie, even those that are most sincere. The less adroit, for lack of words and phrases wherein they can enclose life, retain of it but a flat and feeble likeness. Some, like Lucan, make it heavy, and encumber it with a solemnity which it does not possess; others, on the contrary, like Petronius, make life lighter than it is, like a hollow, bouncing ball, easy to toss to and fro in a universe without weight. The poets transport us into a world which is vaster and more beautiful than our own, with more ardor and sweetness, different therefore, and in practice almost uninhabitable. The philosophers, in order to study reality pure, subject it to about the same transformations as fire or pestle make substance undergo: nothing that we have known of a person or of a fact seems to subsist in those ashes or those crystals to which they are reduced. Historians propose to us systems too perfect for explaining the past, with sequence of cause and effect much too exact and clear to have been ever entirely true; they rearrange what is dead, unresisting material, and I know that even Plutarch will never recapture Alexander. The story-tellers and spinners of erotic tales are hardly more than butchers who hang up for sale morsels of meat attractive to flies. I should take little comfort in a world without books, but reality is not to be found in them because it is not there whole."

Reality may not be found in books, but truth can exist there, in some books.

Marguerite Yourcenar imagines the life and perspective of the roman emperor Hadrian, utilizing literally a lifetime of research on her topic. Insofar as the specific activities and people in Hadrian's life are recounted, when the evidence is not there to back up her narrative, she wings it - but in such an elegant way that her own suppositions blend seamlessly with that research (and, happily, she notes each of her additions in her afterward). "Seamless" is a pretty good word to use when describing the entire enterprise. Nothing jars. It is all of a piece. A brilliant book and a thing of beauty.

The seamlessness of its story is also rather besides the point. The author is doing so much more than reimagining certain incidents; she is imagining a whole person. Memoirs of Hadrian is a reconstruction and an ode, a love poem to a man long dead and the means to understanding that man. Hadrian is not the main character in the book, he is the book itself.

And so it reads like an actual memoir - and I'm not sure that that is what I expected. The narrative is one man's life; although there is plenty of excitement and even some suspense, it is a life recounted by a person who knows himself, who wants to explain his life and the things he's learned, but who is not really interested in the kind of storytelling that provides escapist fantasia or thrilling adventure. Although the book is full of enchanting prose that richly illustrates the details of a past world through imagery that is palpable, sublime... I did not find myself really living in ancient Rome, not in the way that I've lived there in more traditional novels or in various television series like Rome or Spartacus or the stagey but ingeniously realized I, Claudius. Rather, I found myself living inside of Hadrian: he is this novel's world. It is an excellent head to live in. His musings and recollections made me muse and recollect; reading Hadrian challenge his own perspective made me challenge my own point of view, my own way of living my life. One would think that contemplating politics and battle, love and beauty, life and death and sickness and fate, on such a potently intellectual level... that this would make for a dry and heavy book. Quite the opposite: I found the effect to be calming, it inspired meditation. Memoirs of Hadrian soothed me.

Not including two afterwords, it is divided into six parts.


The beginning starts at the end. Hadrian takes his own measure and finds himself at times wanting but often satisfied as well.

Meanwhile, I took measure of the novel. I did not know what to make of it. Was this all some sort of idiosyncratic introduction? When would the proper story start, when would the familiar pleasures begin to happen? While I waited, certain things struck me. The joy of moderation. Love-making as a true path to understanding a person. Sleep, precious sleep.


Hadrian recounts his early life and the stops & starts on his way to becoming emperor. His relationships with his predecessor, emperor Trajan, and with Trajan's highly impressive wife Plotina. And many other people - personages both major and minor are all rendered equal in Hadrian's musings. The beginning of his lifelong love affair with Greece; a similarly long-lived fascination with cults and the occult, with the world beyond, with signs and wonders. Hadrian the diffidently ambitious young man, the nature-loving warrior, the clear-eyed mystic.

This is where I became enchanted. I realized that this was not truly a novel; Memoirs of Hadrian is a conversation. Despite being the listener, I was an equal part of the conversation. Memoirs of Hadrian told me fascinating stories and I was duly fascinated - but even more, I came to understand a way of looking at the world, at life, at all of its mysteries. The conversation was not a debate and so it did not matter if I agreed or disagreed. Nor was the conversation one between friends around a campfire or lifelong partners retelling tales to each other, comfortably. It was the sort of conversation you have in the beginning of a relationship: you are hearing stories but mainly you are learning about a person; you are learning how to understand them, and so you are learning about yourself as well. How you feel about what they feel. How they think and see and act and move about in the world - and so how you think, and see, and act, and move about in the world. The similarities and the differences and the gaps and bridges in between. I became enchanted, but not just with Hadrian. I became enchanted with the process, with the way I was learning and evaluating and reacting and, above all, how I was moved to constant contemplation. I was enchanted - by Marguerite Yourcenar. By her ability to become Hadrian and to speak to me in his voice.


In this lengthy section, Hadrian recounts his goals and challenges and accomplishments as emperor.

This is painful to admit, but I will be frank: I was often bored by this section. Hadrian was a superb emperor, a liberal of the old school, admirable in nearly every way. And so it all became a bit much, this meticulous listing of admirable actions. Just as I am bored when listing my own accomplishments - or, unfortunately, when hearing others list their accomplishments. It doesn't matter that they are excellent achievements and that they say important things about a person and that person's perspective. I will applaud that person. But reading a lengthy resume is rather a chore.

The saving grace for me occurred at the ending of this section: Hadrian and the night, the stars, the mystery and strangeness of the world above and beyond us. Here was the Hadrian I wanted to know.


The beloved youth Antinous: his introduction to Hadrian, their life together, his death, Hadrian's sorrow.

Oh that voluptuous grief! It spawned coinage and cults, temples and cities. I'm familiar with that excessive sadness, that paroxysm, I've seen it and I've felt it. Hadrian became his most real yet when he was at his lowest point. That intensity, that rage, the grief at a life over too soon, that burning need to show the world who that person was, to make the world grieve with you. That inability to express yourself clearly, the feeling that no one can understand your sorrow, not really, not the way you are actually experiencing it. All of this described with passion and delicacy, in language that shimmers, but with the same distance as all else is described. The remove of a memoir written by a thoughtful man. Hadrian describes his excess of emotion meditatively - without excess. That stripping away of drama provided yet another opportunity to step back, to calmly contemplate such terrible things, to better understand others who have experienced the same. Oh Hadrian! Oh, life.


Hadrian's recounts the autumn of his reign. A bitter uprising in Judea and various thoughts on the nature of religion. Fanaticism is punished and it is given approbation; as always - on matters not relating to Antinous - Hadrian is the most even-handed of men. And at last he introduces the emperors who will follow him - the gentle, decent Antoninus and the s(S)toic, modest Marcus Aurelius.

By this point I knew Hadrian as I know my own hand. I was in a relationship with him, a positive and supportive relationship that had moved beyond and outside of romance into a sort of loving warmth, a complete ease with his viewpoint, a genuine empathy. It was not so much that he could do no wrong - I saw him as I see a true friend. He was a man to me and not a character in a book. I looked up to him but he was no god; he remained mortal through-and-through. At different times in the book Hadrian describes a particularly faithful ally or servant or lieutenant - not in terms of servility but as someone who actually sees him, who sympathizes with him out of understanding and respect, not by command and not with open-mouthed awe. I could be such a person to the Hadrian of this book. Yourcenar somehow, somewhere along the way, made her love for this good emperor a love that I experienced as well.


Hadrian wrestles with his sickness, his longing for death. He contemplates the end of things and those things that will continue beyond him. He muses on death itself.

I read much of this book while my friend was dying. I read it in his living room while he slept, bed-bound for weeks at a time, yet not really believing his death was approaching despite all signs to the contrary. I read it at home and at work. I took a long break from the book as well, and then returned to its pages as if meeting up with a sorely-needed friend. I read it in the hospice where I had taken my friend to spend his last days - a beautiful place, a place of contemplation. I read it as he slept there, moaning, hands clenching, legs kicking fitfully. Hadrian and my friend were entirely different but their similarities were deep ones. A fascination with mysticism. An awful loneliness after the loss of their love. And a need to do the right thing - to do right by the world, for the world. They shared those things and they also shared terrible pain at the end, messy and humiliating, an inability to go gently into that good night. I read this last section after my friend had passed on. It was a hard and beautiful thing to read. All men live and love and suffer and all men will die. Some die with eyes closed but others die with eyes open, weary but still curious, still a part of this world, to their very end, and beyond.

Tomorrow I pick up his ashes, his death certificate. They seem like such small things.

His last coherent words to me: "Mark, remember... one book does not make a library!"

Such an odd and funny thing to say. I wonder what he meant. I will probably always wonder.

I miss you already, my friend. Rest a while. I will see you again.
Profile Image for Labijose.
960 reviews · 417 followers
September 19, 2021
“Los dioses no estaban ya y Cristo no estaba todavía”, Flaubert.

Marguerite Yourcenar consiguió con “Memorias de Adriano” una colosal y poética recreación de la vida de este emperador, en una novela que le costó muchos años de investigación y posterior redacción. Valió la pena. La obra se lee a caballo entre la ficción y la biografía, dejando un poso de buena literatura, muy pocas veces superada incluso por ella misma. Es una obra imprescindible, incluso si no te gusta ni la historia en general, ni la época romana en particular. En mi caso, amante de ambas, disfruté enormemente con su lectura. La recomiendo encarecidamente.

Profile Image for Garima.
113 reviews · 1,775 followers
May 8, 2014
I stepped on deck; the sky, still wholly dark, was truly the iron sky of Homer's poems, indifferent to man's woes and joys alike.

But the man looking at the limitless space above him was not indifferent. He knew the woes of his people and joys of his imperium sine fine. He knew he was both human and supremely divine. Hadrian the Good. Hadrian the ‘Almost Wise’.

I didn’t know much about Hadrian. Only his name along with some cursory details occupied a negligible space of my knowledge bank. I didn’t know Marguerite Yourcenar or Grace Frick either. So to read about a Roman Emperor by way of fictional memoirs was an unlikely venture for me. I was curious rather than interested as to what exactly this book has achieved which made several of my friends here to write some really exceptional paean in its honor. And now, here I am adding another voice in telling others that no matter how big or small your library is; it is essentially incomplete without Memoirs of Hadrian.

The traces of a golden era which existed centuries ago can be found among the walls of royal palaces, the colors of timeless paintings and the magnificence of stationary sculptures. They not only tell about the artist’s muse but the artist themselves. But every so often a thick curtain of those very centuries comes in between the creator and the creation. It is then that a need arises of transcending the margins of history books, of crossing the vanished borders, of being a different person altogether. The insight required in depicting a time period other than one is born into and the love required in capturing the beauty of an important individual one has never met becomes the steadfast foundation of an unparalleled wonder. Marguerite Yourcenar has given us one such wonder which would stay by your side both in this lifetime and beyond.
When useless servitude has been alleviated as far as possible, and unnecessary misfortune avoided, there will still remain as a test of man's fortitude that long series of veritable ills, death, old age and incurable sickness, love unrequited and friendship rejected or betrayed, the mediocrity of a life less vast than our projects and duller than our dreams; in short, all the woes caused by the divine nature of things.
Being a dying person and still feeling a sense of tremendous responsibility towards the mankind is a mark of a true leader. Hadrian while on his death bed bequeathed a small package of valuable reflections in the form of a lovely letter to young Marcus Aurelius but behind the salutation of ‘Dear Mark’ one can imagine their own name being addressed. These are the most beautiful and honest thoughts I have ever laid my eyes on. This is how Yourcenar has given us a memorable trip to a glorious world which was and where Hadrian still is. She hasn’t presented her hero in the shining bright light of perfection and righteousness. Hadrian was fallible but he knew how to strike that difficult balance between the different philosophies of life. If his conquests had humility, his losses contained prudent lessons. If he had immense love for his empire, he had deep respect for other cultures. If he cultivated virtues of his men, he mitigated his own vices too. He was not God, but he was Godlike.

With mesmerizing writing, exquisite translation and the portrait of a majestic ruler, everything here is much more than what their title suggest- Hadrian was more than an Emperor, Marguerite was more than a writer, Grace was more than a translator and this book, it is much more than a book.

Hospes Comesque.
Profile Image for Sarah (Presto agitato).
123 reviews · 162 followers
July 15, 2014
This is a book that I don’t think I would have read if it weren’t for Goodreads. I probably would never have even heard of it. Technically, I suppose this obscure novel would be considered “historical fiction,” but that’s misleading. It is that, but it is also biography, philosophy, meditation, poetry.

Hadrian was Emperor of Rome from AD 117 to 138. Marguerite Yourcenar wrote this novel in the form of a memoir, written by Hadrian near the end of his life and addressed to then 17-year old future emperor Marcus Aurelius. Hadrian discusses his public role and his attempts to use diplomacy more than bloodshed. By the standards of the Roman Empire, his reign was considered peaceful (this in spite of a war with the Jews resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and the banishment of the Jewish people from Jerusalem).

Most of the emperor’s recollections, however, focus on the personal, even the trivial. He reflects on moderation in diet, his love of hunting, and his admiration for Greek culture. With a reserved tone that belies his depth of feeling, he relates his love for the young Bithynian, Antinous, and his sorrow at Antinous’ death. Hadrian deals with his grief by deifying the youth and creating a cult which long outlasts them both. There must be hundreds of statues of Antinous in the world’s museums today, a testament to an emperor’s attempt to cope with a very personal sorrow.



Yourcenar seems to channel this character of antiquity, speaking with an authentic dignity and distance that is not modern in feel. Hadrian speaks to us, but not in a tell-all confessional. In her notes on the writing of the novel, Yourcenar quotes from Flaubert about the period when Hadrian lived, “Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone.” Her Hadrian is a man of that age, not ours.

The mood of this book is quiet, thoughtful, and peaceful. It evokes the feeling of walking among ancient ruins, with the eerie sensation that comes when other tourists are out of view, as the warm Italian sun gleams off fragments of stone, and for a moment there is a strange perception that the ruins are whole again, with time somehow distorted.


Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli
Profile Image for Annetius.
308 reviews · 87 followers
August 7, 2021
Δεν ξέρω να βρω τα κατάλληλα λόγια για να σχολιάσω αυτό το βιβλίο. Ξεκινώ τραυλίζοντας την κοινοτοπία πως ναι, είναι ένα αριστούργημα. Η Γιουρσενάρ επιδεικνύει μια αμίμητη ικανότητα να σκιαγραφήσει τον Ρωμαίο αυτοκράτορα Αδριανό, έναν άνθρωπο σχεδόν θεοποιημένο που είχε θαρρείς την εποπτεία ολόκληρου του κόσμου της εποχής του.

Το κλείστρο της Γιουρσενάρ είναι ευρύ και τα περιλαμβάνει όλα. Η οικουμενικότητα του έργου της αυτού σκορπίζει εκτυφλωτικό φως και δίνει αβίαστα στον αναγνώστη το εισιτήριο που τον εκτοξεύει σε όλα τα μήκη και τα πλάτη της γης, τον εκπαιδεύει σε ένα ανώτερο αισθητήριο πάνω στη λογοτεχνία, το οποίο προβλέπεται να γίνει η νέα του μονάδα μέτρησης, να σταθ��ί ως νέο σημείο αναφοράς της κρίσης του για το τι είναι Ωραίο και Υψηλό, ένα εισιτήριο χωρίς επιστροφή.

Το έργο αυτό στέκεται περήφανο και υπέρκομψο, σαν ογκόλιθος σμιλεμένος από τα πιο λεπτά και ευαίσθητα χέρια, χωρίς υπερφίαλη γλώσσα αλλά με την έκταση όλων των δυνατοτήτων της, πάνγλυκο χωρίς να λιγώνει, ένα παλλόμενο κείμενο που σπαρταράει από ζωή, αρετή, μια μεθυστική νηφαλιότητα και κυρίως μια έμπνευση που χαρακτηρίζει τα έργα ζωής ενός μεγάλου καλλιτέχνη.

Το έργο αυτό είναι επίσης ποιητικό, ένα εφαλτήριο που μας υπερυψώνει απευθείας στον ουράνιο θόλο για να δούμε τον μάταιο τούτο κόσμο μέσα στη ροή των αιώνων να περνάει σαν αιωρούμενη κορδέλα κάτω από τα πόδια μας· φευγαλέο, εφήμερο, βαθιά αληθινό και ανθρώπινο.

Αυτή την περίοδο της Ιστορίας, ένας ικανός αυτοκράτορας, με σημαία του την ιδέα της ειρήνης, πήρε να στρώσει ξανά τον δρόμο του πολιτισμού με ροδοπέταλα, να ξεχορταριάσει τα κακώς κείμενα. Το ξετύλιγμα αυτού του νήματος, μας επιτρέπει να πατήσουμε πιο στέρεα τα πόδια μας στον κόσμο, να αδράξουμε τον μίτο του παρελθόντος και να τον ενώσουμε με το παρόν· να βγούμε κυρίως από τη σταγόνα του παρόντος, από τον μικρόκοσμό μας, και να συνδεθούμε με το παρελθόν με έναν τρόπο που μας κάνει να κατανοήσουμε σχεδόν βιωματικά πως από κάπου όλα ξεκινούν και κάπου οδηγούνται.

Είναι, τέλος, μια πραγματεία στον θάνατο, μια σπουδή τόσο καλά μελετημένη, μια θεώρηση τόσο συγκεκριμένη όσο και άπιαστη, που ο αναγνώστης κινδυνεύει να ελπίσει πως όταν έρθει η δική του ώρα, θα μπορέσει να τον αντιμετωπίσει με το θάρρος, την αρετή και τη σοφία που το έκανε ο Αδριανός, αυτός ο γενναίος και περήφανος άντρας, αυτοκράτορας της Ρωμαϊκής Αυτοκρατορίας.

Ο Αδριανός, σκιαγραφημένος και ανα-συντεθειμένος όσο πιστότερα στάθηκε δυνατό μέσα από την αξιοσύνη αυτής της γυναίκας, μπορεί σε κάθε γωνία, αστείρευτα, να μας δίνει ένα μάθημα επάνω στη ζωή. Μέσα από τη ζωή του, επαναπροσδιορίζει κανείς τη ματιά του πάνω στα πράγματα, την Ιστορία, το παρόν και το μέλλον. Υπήρξε ένας άνθρωπος όσο θεός θα θέλαμε να είμαστε αλλά και ένας θεός όσο άνθρωπος θα θέλαμε να είμαστε. Ο δρόμος της ζωής του ήταν συνυφασμένος με την αριστοτελική μεσότητα και δε χρειάζεται κανείς λόγο άλλον πλην αυτού για να καθαρίσει τ’ αυτιά του, να ανοίξει τα μάτια του, να ακονίσει τις κεραίες του και να πάρει χαρτί και μολύβι. Η αρετή, η δύναμη, η σοφία των αρχαίου ελληνικού πνεύματος, το ζύγισμα της σκέψης, η ιδέα της φιλίας και προπαντός του Έρωτα, η εμπιστοσύνη και ο σεβασμός στους θεούς, η ευρεία ματιά και ο στοχασμός πάνω στον κόσμο και το υλικό που είναι φτιαγμένος, αυτές και άλλες τόσες Ιδέες χορεύουν μέσα στις σελίδες με το μέσον μιας γλώσσας εκπάγλου καλλονής, με την ηρεμία και τη σύνεση ενός τεχνίτη με σίγουρο χέρι, που ξέρει να χειριστεί τη λεπτομέρεια που θα αντανακλάσει την ομορφιά άμεσα και κατακλυσμιαία πάνω και στον πιο αδαή δέκτη. Ένας απλός χωρικός όσο και ένας ηγέτης μπορούν να μεταλάβουν αυτές τις φωτεινές ιδέες, να μεταβολίσουν την ακτινοβολία του Αδριανού, στο βαθμό που τους αναλογεί, στο μέτρο των ικανοτήτων τους.

Μέσα από τα σημειωματάρια στο τέλος του βιβλίου, εξίσου λαμπρά κομψοτεχνήματα και αυτά, θραύσματα σκέψεων της συγγραφέως πάνω στο βιβλίο, αναδύεται ο άνθρωπος Μαργκερίτ Γιουρσενάρ. Και πάλι, μόνο μια υπόκλιση μπορώ να κάνω. Η δουλειά της προσομοιάζει στα μάτια μου αυτή του αρχαιολόγου. Δεν ξεχνώ το ρίγος που ένιωσα όταν διάβασα την επιγραφή του Μανόλη Ανδρόνικου στο μουσείο της Βεργίνας, όπου αναφέρεται στη στιγμή που αντιλήφθηκε πως μόλις είχε ανακαλύψει τον τάφο του Φιλίππου. Ένιωσα πως η Γιουρσενάρ θα έπρεπε να δοκίμαζε, αν όχι τα ίδια, αλλά αντίστοιχα συναισθήματα «ανασκάπτοντας» την προσωπικότητα του Αδριανού· ένα φτερούγισμα σε κάθε νέα ψηφίδα, έναν επιπλέον χτύπο σε κάθε νέα λεπτομέρεια που συνέθετε το μωσαϊκό αυτού του σπουδαίου άντρα. Γιατί δεν πρόκειται απλά και μόνο για την παρουσίαση ενός αξιομνημόνευτου αυτοκράτορα· πρόκειται για την εναπόθεση ενός ολόκληρου λαμπρού και ακμαίου κόσμου του χθες μπροστά στα πόδια μας, σαν δώρο. Η χαρτογράφησή του υπήρξε επίπονη και εξαιρετικά χρονοβόρα για τη συγγραφέα· κουβαλούσε τον Αδριανό στις πλάτες της από τα 20 της χρόνια για να το ολοκληρώσει στα 48 της· το αποτέλεσμα θα πρέπει να της πρόσφερε τη μεγαλύτερη δικαίωση.

Η σοφία πλημμυρίζει το έργο αυτό· μένει να σταθούμε στο ύψος των περιστάσεων που ορίζει και να κολυμπήσουμε ώστε να βγούμε στην απέναντι όχθη, κατάκοποι αλλά σαφώς δυνατότεροι.

Αν είστε αναγνώστης που υπογραμμίζει όπως εγώ, σας οικτίρω προκαταβολικά που θα πέσετε στην παγίδα να υπογραμμίσετε τόσα πολλά, αποκλείοντας τα υπόλοιπα, που θα έπρεπε να τα υπογραμμίσετε και αυτά. Αν είστε απ’ τους παστρικούς, σας μακαρίζω γιατί θα έχετε την ηδονή να ανακαλύψετε ξανά από την αρχή ένα κορυφαίο κείμενο, φρέσκο και καινούριο, όπως και οι ιδέες του. Γιατί βεβαίως αφήνω να εννοηθεί πως αυτό το βιβλίο αξίζει να ξαναδιαβαστεί.

Δεν έχω διαβάσει βιβλίο άλλο σαν κι αυτό. Βγήκα πλουσιότερη.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews · 56.6k followers
June 1, 2021
Mémoires d'Hadrien = Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar

‏‫‬‭Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar‏, Translated by Grace Frick in collaboration with the author. ‏‫‬‭Harmondsworth‏‫‬‭: Penguin books‏‫‬‭, 1978‏‫‬‭ = 1357, 252 Pages. ISBN ‏‫‬‭014001358x

Memoirs of Hadrian is a novel by the Belgian-born French writer Marguerite Yourcenar about the life and death of Roman Emperor Hadrian (from 117 to 138).

The novel is told in the first person by Hadrian and is framed as a letter to Marcus Aurelius (Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher). The other chapters form a loose chronological narrative which he often breaks with various insights and recollections.

The story begins with Hadrian, who is around sixty years of age, describing his incurable illness. He therefore wishes to recount important events in his life before his death.

His earliest memories are his boyhood years in Italica.

He also talks of his early interest in astrology and his lifelong passion for the arts, culture, and philosophy of Greece; themes which he revisits throughout the book.

He visits Athens to study, travels to Rome for the first time, and witnesses the accession of Trajan.

He eventually joins the army and participates in the Dacian campaign.

Hadrian, who is around thirty years old at the end of the war, describes his successes in the army and his relationship with Trajan who is initially cold towards him. He slowly gains Trajan's favor and secures his position for the throne with the help of Plotina, the emperor's wife, and also by marrying Sabina, Trajan's grandniece.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش

عنوان: یادمانهای هادریانوس (هادریان)؛ نویسنده مارگریت یورسنار؛ موضوع داستانهای تاریخی از نویسندگان بلژیکی تبار فرانسوی - سده 20م

امپراتور روم «پوبلیوس آئلیوس ترایانوس هادریانوس (زادروز بیست و چهارم ماه ژانویه سال 76میلادی - درگذشت روز دهم ماه ژوئیه سال 138میلادی)» از سال 117میلادی تا سال 138میلادی امپراتور «روم» بودند؛ ایشان در «ایتالیکا، هیسپانیا بایتیکا» در خانواده ای «ایتالیائی-اسپانیائی» که اصل و نسبشان به شهر ایتالیایی «اتری» در «پیچه نوم» بازمی‌گشت، و در «اسپانیا» میزیستند؛ پدرش مقام سناتوری داشت، و عموزاده (یا عمه زاده ی) امپراتور «تراژان» بودند؛ «هادریان» با نوه ی خواهر «تراژان»، به نام «ویبیا سابینا»، به سفارش همسر «تراژان» با نام «پومپیئا پلوتینا» ازدواج کردند؛ «پلوتینا» به همراه دوست صمیمی، و مشاور «تراژان»، به نام «لوکیوس لیکینیوس سورا» نگرش مثبت نسبت به «هادریان» داشت؛ زمانیکه «تراژان» از در بگذشتند، بیوه اش ادعا نمود، که «تراژان» پیش از مرگ خویش «هادریان» را نامزد جانشینی خود نموده بودند؛

ارتش و «سنای روم» نیز، جانشینی «هادریان» را تأیید نمودند، اما به زودی چهار تن از سناتورهای برجسته، به مرگ محکوم شدند؛ آنان با «هادریان» مخالف، یا جانشینی او را به چالش کشیده بودند، و «مجلس سنا»، «هادریان» را، مسئول اعدام آنان دانست، و هرگز وی را مورد عفو قرار نداد؛ به بوته فراموشی سپردنِ سیاست‌های توسعه طلبانه ی «تراژان»، و دستاوردهای مرزی وی در «بین النهرین»، «آشور»، «ارمنستانِ روم»، و بخش‌هایی از «داکیه»، توسط «هادریان»، نارضایتی هرچه بیشتر نخبگان سیاسی را، سبب شد؛ «هادریان» ترجیح داد، برای پیوند مردمان پراکنده ی امپراتوری، سرمایه‌ گذاری نمایند؛ ایشان برای ساختن دیوار «هادریان» نامدار هستند، دیواری که حدود شمالی «بریتانیا» را مشخص کرد؛

هادریان، با شور و علاقه ی شخصی، به همراهی یک هیئت امپراتوری، از کارشناسان، و مسئولان اجرایی، از بیشتر ایالات امپراتوری آن روز «روم» بازدید نمودند؛ وی آمادگی نظامی و انضباط را تشویق کرد؛ و مؤسسات گوناگون مدنی، مذهبی و پروژه‌ های ساختمانی را طراحی، یا شخصاً مورد حمایت مالی قرار داد؛ در خود شهر «روم» نیز، وی «پانتئون» را بازسازی، و معبد بسیار عظیم «ونوس و روما» را بنا نمود؛ در «مصر» شاید وی بوده که «سراپیوم اسکندریه» را، بازسازی کرده‌؛ ایشان یک ستاینده ی پُرتوان «یونان باستان» بودند، و کوشیدند «آتن» را پایتخت فرهنگی امپراتوری قرار دهند، و برای همین، به ساختن شمار بسیاری، معبد پرشکوه در «آتن»، سفارش نمودند؛ وی شورش «بارکوخبا» در «یهودا» را سرکوب نمود، و سپس باقیمانده ی دوران حکمرانی او در صلح سپری شد؛

سال‌های پایانی زندگانی «هادریان»، با بیماری دیرپایی سپری گردید؛ وی دو سناتور دیگر را، به سبب اتهام توطئه‌ شان علیه خود، اعدام نمود، و همین امر خشم هرچه افزونتر نخبگان را برانگیخت؛ ازدواج وی با «ویبیا سابینا» نامیمون بود، و آنان صاحب فرزندی نشدند؛ وی «آنتونینوس پیوس» را به فرزند خواندگی برگزید؛ و در سال 138میلادی وی را، جانشین خود اعلام نمود، «هادریان» در همان سال در 138میلادی، در «بای (باکولی)» وفات یافت، و «آنتونینوس پیوس» با وجود مخالفت «سنا»، وی را تقدیس نمود؛ «ادوارد گیبون» وی را، در زمره ی «پنج امپراتور خوب» و یک «دیکتاتور خیرخواه» جای می‌دهند؛ «مجلس سنای» زمان «هادریان»، اما وی را شخصیتی منزوی، و اقتدارگرا میدانست؛ «هادریان» دارای شخصیتی دارای سخاوت شخصی فراوان، و هم سنگدلی توصیف شده؛ و به واسطه ی کنجکاوی حریصانه، خودپسندی، و جاه طلبیش، هماره به جلو رانده شده؛ نیز به لطف همین رمان «خاطرات هادریان (1951میلادی)» نوشته خانم «مارگریت یورسنار»؛ «هادریان» دوباره زنده شده‌ اند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 10/03/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Matt.
1,017 reviews · 663 followers
January 13, 2015
Gorgeously written, wise and stately. Meditative, deep in a philosophical probing sort of way, moves smoothly and contains a sort of magnificence...the prose is given room to breathe. I have pretty much every reason to believe it's not taking too many liberties with historical accuracy. Yourcenar spent years researching it and getting the details right and it shows.

Her notes on the research and composition at the end are illuminating and tersely eloquent...worth the price of admission in their own respect.

It's virtually unknown...a diamond in the rough. I would quote it at length but I just don't have the copy handy. Highly, insistently, awestruck recommendation for this one....

this is the kind of book which one wants to speak about at great length but I sense that its power is also the type which absorbs perhaps too deeply for simple summary....

Read it and continue to recommend it to your friends. There is much wisdom here, philosophical speculation, psychological insight, historical grandeur and subtle, eloquent, illuminating prose.

Plus, there's some etchings of various Roman sites of antiquity thrown in which are rather breathtaking even when viewed in black and white on the page.

Seriously, if you're reading this....READ THIS GODDAMN BOOK!


I thought it would be worth mentioning that I recently picked this book up again by chance (it was given back to me from a friend who'd read it and put it on his bookshelf for maybe 6 months...isn't it funny how sometimes books you borrow end up sort of absorbing into your own collection, adopted unconsciously into the family of your library and vice versa? Do books have a gravitational pull for their rightful owners?) and read it for solace in the evening after the bottom dropped out in a rather important part of my life. It soothed me, it moved me, the stoic (lower case s) wisdom of the man was calming and enlightening. Cleared the mind while enchanting the imagination, like a subtle wine on a summer afternoon.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,549 reviews · 1,824 followers
April 5, 2020
No, this is not an uplifting book. Except that it is, rather as poor Atlas uplifts the Heavens.

At first I admired this book much more than I liked it, until I reached the central chapters which crystallised it for me.

Yourcenar has written a book about a lonely, depressed, ageing, Roman Emperor Hadrian suffering from a congenital heart condition, and if that does not sound enticing enough to the prospective reader, he has been brooding over a certain event which he perceives, or he shows us unconsciously, as illuminating his entire life.

The book is written in the form of a letter to his adopted successor the future Emperor Marcus Aurelius . I am not entirely convinced that the Hadrian we meet in this book would have written this intimate letter to his designated successor, we don't see him being intimate in that way at all in the book - which no doubt is part of his problem.

Yourcenar struggled with writing the book - she started shortly after Robert Graves wrote I, Claudius in the 1930s (which may have been coincidental or something to do with the Zeitgeist, she does not mention that book as an inspiration) and she had several false starts, struggling to find a way of letting Hadrian speak without being drowned out by other voices. The form of a letter seems a perfect solution, it is effectively a monologue but without the idea that he is silencing other voices

At one point in the narrative Hadrian thinks of himself as a god, or at the very least god's instrument on earth; "I perceived differently my relations with the divine. I could see myself as seconding the deity in his effort to give form and order to a world, to develop and multiply its convolutions, extensions, and complexities. I was one of the segments of the wheel, an aspect of that unique force caught up in the multiplicity of things; I was eagle and bull, man and swan, phallus and brain all together, a Proteus who is also a Jupiter.
And it was at about this time that I began to feel myself divine."
(p.127), and at a certain point further on in the narrative this suddenly seemed very reasonable as I vaguely recalled the story of Zeus and Semele, as Yourcenar essentially tells much the same tale, the god desires to love, but a mortal drawn too close to a god will be burnt up. The mentality of the Greek and Roman gods was such that they could cope with that kind of thing , or at least they could cope with it better than Yourcenar's Hadrian does.

Yourcenar's technique was to read, or rather steep herself in the writings of the Roman empire during the second century, there is not much surviving about Hadrian directly so this involved reading round him, this she felt enabled her to inhabit, as far as possible, the same mental world as Hadrian. she says that she was inspired by a letter of Flaubert's; "In turning the pages of a volume of Flaubert's correspondence much read and heavily underscored by me about the year 1927 I came again upon this admirable sentence:
'Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone.' A great part of my life was going to be spent in trying to define, and then to portray, that man existing alone and yet closely bound with all being."
(p. 269).

Hmm, just as the Simpsons were still praying for the great depression to end, so too for me unbaptised and certainly not pagan, the human stands alone. The great thing about this novel for me, is how Yourcenar was both inspired by Flaubert yet in her fiction transcends his statement. We see how Hadrian is initiated into Mithraism and the Eleusinian Mysteries and how their notions of life emerging from death intersect with his personal experience.

And this is a tremendous literary work - it is all about the intersections, everything is interwoven, this is the kind of book of which I can believe that Yourcenar sweated over adding a comma in the right place in the morning and in the afternoon realised that it had to be taken out again.

But appallingly anglo-centric as I am, Yourcenar's book led me not to think of Flaubert but of Gibbon's judgement in his the Decline and fall of the Roman empire that there was a happy era of human existence under the 'good' emperors around the time of Hadrian. Maybe this was an unconscious attraction for her, inspired in the inter-war period and completing her book after the Second World War she is writing about a world leader who drew back from conflict and war and presided, aside from a major Jewish revolt, over a period of peace and certainty, the age of the Pantheon when religious cults co-existed, apparently calmly, with philosophical speculation, it is not like the 1930s and 40s in Europe, it is a safe haven.

Yourcenar's Hadrian's thoughts suggest a feeling that time is cyclical "this firmament will become again what it was in Hipparchus' time; it will be again what it is in the time of Hadrian" (p.130) in the context of the novel that might have a purely personal meaning to Hadrian, but we can also read it more broadly - the era of violence and disorder will pass, order and peace will arise from it.

I recalled also Mary Renault who, like Yourcenar, lived in a same sex relationship and set some of her fiction in a past when certain kinds of same sex relationships were culturally sanctioned. Perhaps that fed into the appeal that Hadrian had to Yourcenar. Yourcenar's not-wife, Grace Frick, translated the book into English - a literal labour of love.

If for me this is a four star novel then Yourcenar's notes on her writing process which complete the volume are five star an utter delight, but maybe I think this is better than a four star novel.
Profile Image for Silvia ❄️.
143 reviews · 21 followers
August 20, 2021
L’imperatore Adriano ha ormai 60 anni, è malato, non ha speranza di guarire e ogni suo respiro potrebbe essere l’ultimo. Decide di scrivere una lunga lettera a Marco Aurelio, suo nipote adottivo e suo successore, destinato, quindi, a diventare imperatore a sua volta. È il suo saluto alla vita, alla bellezza, lo fa ricordando l’amore per il giovane Antinoo, la gloria delle sue conquiste e del suo operato, la passione per l’astrologia e la cultura greca.
Marguerite Yourcenar ha attinto da fonti autorevolissime (la Storia Romana di Cassio Dione e la biografia di Adriano contenuta nella Historia Augusta) per delineare la figura di un imperatore romano acculturato e moderno, cambiando qualche particolare per la linearità della narrazione o per la scarsezza di fatti storici comprovati. Dopotutto, si tratta di un romanzo storico in forma epistolare oppure saggio storico-filosofico (definitelo come più vi piace), non di una biografia storica ufficiale, ispirato da un’osservazione di Flaubert:«Quando gli dèi non c'erano più e Cristo non ancora, tra Cicerone e Marco Aurelio, c'è stato un momento unico in cui è esistito l'uomo, solo». Adriano è vissuto nel periodo a cavallo tra la caduta del paganesimo e la diffusione del Cristianesimo, quindi un momento di estrema delicatezza per le convinzioni del genere umano.
Dopo molte versioni, ripensamenti e manoscritti bruciati, finalmente Yourcenar è giunta alla conclusione del capolavoro di cui noi possiamo godere.
Illuminante, profondo, sono rimasta estasiata da tanta ricchezza di contenuto e armonia. Una vera e propria esperienza immersiva, comprensiva di uno stile di scrittura elegante e brillante.
Ha di sicuro conquistato un posto sulla vetta dei miei romanzi del cuore.
Profile Image for Nikos Tsentemeidis.
405 reviews · 207 followers
October 27, 2017
Κάτι που δεν έχω συναντήσει ξανά. Είναι τόσο καλογραμμένο που προς στιγμήν νομίζεις ότι είναι η αυτοβιογραφία του ίδιου του Αδριανού, ενός πολύ ενδιαφέροντος ιστορικού προσώπου. Από τους πιο συμπαθείς αυτοκράτορες, ιστορικά και παγκοσμίως, ένας φιλόσοφος, φιλέλληνας κτλ.

Ένα έργο πολύ ώριμο, πρωτότυπο και εντέλει καταπληκτικό. Μετά από κάποιο σημείο είναι λίγο κουραστικό, ίσως επειδή από την πρώτη σελίδα απαιτεί την απόλυτη συγκέντρωση του αναγνώστη. Βέβαια, δεν υπάρχει άλλος τρόπος για να διαβαστεί, ώστε να αποτελέσει μια απόλαυση. Σε καμία περίπτωση δεν επηρεάζει φυσικά την αξία του.
Profile Image for Sidharth Vardhan.
23 books · 687 followers
March 6, 2021

“But books lie, even those that are most sincere.”

It is supposed to be the historically most accurate novel - I can’t judge about that but I’m willing to take the word of knowledgeable people on that. What is so far more incredible is the way the author managed to make herself invisible in her work – you know how novels have their authors’ personality in them. You can’t normally come out of a novel without having some idea of the author’s personality. Narrators of Proust and Celine look like so much like their mirror images; in other cases it is true to a lesser extent – but not in this case. The only thing you will have guessed about Yourcenar by reading Memoirs of Hadrian, is that she is a genius.

If I believed in spirits, I could have asserted that Hadrian’s had possessed Yourcenear. An innocent reader can easily be led to believe that is written by someone who if not a king, is a really old man living in ancient Rome.

The narrative is the first person – so we enter with a bit of suspicion about the reliability but soon that suspicion is removed. Hadrian is old and looking forward to his inevitable death. I guess different people react differently at that stage – Hadrian has grown a bit distant from his own self – distant enough to look at his own self objectively:

“I have come to speak of myself, at times, in the past tense.”

Another thing which shadow of death does is that it makes the king of one of the most powerful empires look so much like an ordinary, powerless man.

Not that Hadrian is your regular arrogant kings. Besides the hard qualities of builders, soldiers, and generals that you would expect from a Roman king; he has the soft qualities of being knowledgeable, philosophical, lover of arts, at times poetical and perhaps wise; which we associate with people of ancient Greece – and Goodreads. His philosophical reflections and lyrical prose are almost seductive.

Rowling once said, "To a well-organized mind, death is but the next best adventure." That is Yourcenar 's Hadrian for you. The narrator impresses on the reader’s mind an image of a wise old man accepting his inevitable death with the confidence of conviction (rather than the arrogance of ignorance as is normally the case) and giving his last lesson (in most lyrical language) to his disciple; perhaps with one hand raised to heavens like in ‘Death of Socrates’.

I’ve whole pages of quotes from the book. The following are only a small sample:

“Morals are matter of private agreement; decency is of public concern.”

“We talk much of the dreams of youth. Too often we forget its scheming.”

“To me, who had not yet given first place to anything except to ideas or projects, or at the most to a future image of myself, this simple devotion of man to man seemed prodigious and unfathomable. No one is worthy of it, and I am still unable to account for it.”

“I knew that good like bad becomes a routine, that the temporary tends to endure, that what is external permeates to the inside, and that the mask, given time, comes to be the face itself.”

“I am not sure that the discovery of love is necessarily more exquisite than the discovery of poetry.”
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,164 reviews · 511 followers
May 2, 2017
The statue of Hadrian, the 14th Emperor of the Roman Empire, was brought alive by the French author Marguerite Yourcenar in this novel. She climbed into his thoughts, philosophies and personality and wrote his memoir for him. Hadrian was never a conqueror, but rather a strong leader who brought controversial changes to the Roman laws which made life more bearable and humane for the vast empire.

By allowing Hadrian to be the protagonist of his own letter to Marcus Aurelius, the long forgotten man was recalled from the dead, his life and history revived. Like an archaeologist, the author uncovered the relics from the past that was buried deep in the mind of an emperor who thought differently about humanity, leadership and statesmanship.

Although this novel was published in 1951, it was already finished in the 1940s and became an instant success. Her hope was that Churchill could become the same kind of leader as the humane Hadrian was and bring peace to the world.

Hadrian was Spanish by birth, Roman by descend, Greek by culture, and a peacemaker by principle.

The epistolary-style novel deserves the accolades it received. It is a piece of linguistic art. Philosophical and introspective in style. The translation was brilliant.

An interesting article on Hadrian the emperor can be viewed here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/200...
Profile Image for Warwick.
824 reviews · 14.5k followers
July 11, 2013
Near the beginning of this book, in one of its many lyrical and precise descriptive passages, Hadrian writes about his intimations of mortality.

Comme le voyageur qui navigue entre les îles de l'Archipel voit la buée lumineuse se lever vers le soir, et découvre peu à peu la ligne du rivage, je commence à apercevoir le profil de ma mort.

[As the traveller navigating between the islands of the Archipelago sees the luminous mist rise towards the evening, and discovers, little by little, the line of the shore, so I begin to notice the contours of my death.]

This passage sets out perfectly both the book's theme – mortality – and its method - a melancholy prose style whose brilliance can sometimes take your breath away.

I was hugely impressed by Mémoires d'Hadrien. Purporting to be the memoirs of the Roman emperor, Yourcenar's book pulls off the narrative voice so well that you sometimes have to remind yourself that it's fiction; every sentence seems heavy with the wise sadness of someone who has lived for a long time and through many momentous events.

The novel took more than twenty years to write and the quality shows in every line, every phrase. It's not a perfect book, perhaps – although it's short, it is dense (like the book Alice's sister was reading, it contains no pictures or conversations), and I found it dragged slightly in the back end – but that's admittedly perhaps because I was reading it in French.

Though the book is a life story, it is also tightly-controlled. This is not a sprawling epic, but rather a thematic portrait of a man at the end of his life dwelling mostly on those experiences which have come to preoccupy him, primarily his own impending death and the moments of love which – just perhaps – will have made it all worthwhile.

For Hadrian, in Yourcenar's conception of him, love and death are closely intertwined. Perhaps that is why he can't leave either of them alone. Architecture sets him off: his passages on the immortality of buildings represent a great meditation on architecture to be set beside that of Hugo in Notre-Dame de Paris.

Ces murs que j'étaie sont encore chauds du contact de corps disparus; des mains qui n'existent pas encore caresseront ces fûts de colonnes.

[These walls that I prop up are still warm from contact with bodies that have disappeared; hands which do not yet exist will caress the trunks of these columns.]

Ideas of death being transcended through architecture are followed by sketches of deaths variously from old age, natural disaster, war, and suicide. Hadrian does not draw conclusions from this catalogue of mortality, but the reader is well able to if he or she wishes. There is also an interesting section where Hadrian reflects on his own deification: as emperor, the people consider him literally to be a god, something which, characteristically, he tries to find useful:

Loin de voir dans ces marques d'adoration un danger de folie ou de prépotence pour l'homme qui les accepte, j'y découvrais un frein, l'obligation de se dessiner d'après quelque modèle éternel, d'associer à la puissance humaine une part de suprème sapience. Être dieu oblige en somme à plus de vertus qu'être empereur.

[Far from seeing in these signs of adoration a risk of madness or authoritarianism for the man who accepts them, I found them to be a restraint – the obligation to model oneself on some eternal prototype, to link human power to an element of supreme wisdom. Being a god, in short, calls for more virtues than being an emperor.]

Part of the impetus for the novel, Yourcenar has said, was a fascination with this period of history when belief in the Olympian gods had disappeared but before Christianity had really emerged – a brief moment, in Flaubert's phrase, when man alone existed. This book evokes the idea perfectly.

There is a looming sense of disaster in all this brooding on death, a disaster which finally comes with the fate of Hadrian's beloved Antinous. There is something exceptionally artful in the way that Antinous's story takes up only a small part of the novel, while the ramifications are yet so infused in every sentence Hadrian writes. Yourcenar – or Hadrian – is coy about the physical side of their relationship, but the book is full of brilliant and perceptive comments on love as an emotion.

Mais le poids de l'amour, comme celui d'un bras tendrement posé au travers d'une poitrine, devenait peu à peu lourd à porter.

[But the weight of love, like an arm draped tenderly across one's chest, became little by little heavy to bear.]

It's in this character of Antinous that the themes of death and love are united – and the reason, perhaps, that they are so united in Hadrian's mind. It's a union that means Hadrian is reluctant to ignore death or pass over its unsavoury features: he's determined to consider it as fully as he can, and understand what he himself is facing.

Cette mort serait vaine si je n'avais pas le courage de la regarder en face, de m'attacher à ces réalités du froid, du silence, du sang coagulé, des membres inertes, que l'homme recouvre si vite de terre [...].

[This death would be in vain if I did not have the courage to look at it head-on, to concentrate on these realities of cold, of silence, of coagulated blood, of inert limbs, that man recovers so quickly from the earth.]

In a way the whole book is an attempt to do this, only somehow it's not half as depressing as I just made it sound. On the contrary, it's life-affirming, moving and thought-provoking – and built from a prose style which, on occasion, looks something like genius.
Profile Image for Eric.
569 reviews · 967 followers
January 21, 2010
What are masterpieces? Let us name a few...the Testament of Villon, the Essays of Montaigne, the Fables of La Fontaine, the Maxims of La Rochefoucald and La Bruyère, the Fleurs du Mal and Intimate Journals of Baudelaire...In feeling, these masterpieces contain the maximum of emotion compatible with a classical sense of form. Observe how they are written; many are short and compressed, fruits of reflective and contemplative natures, prose or poetry of great formal beauty and economy of phrase. There are no novels, plays or biographies included on the list, and the poetry is of the kind that speculates on life. They have been chosen by one who most values the art which is distilled and crystallized out of a lucid, curious and passionate imagination. All these writers enjoy something in common, “jusqu’au sombre plaisir d’un coeur mélancolique”: a sense of perfection and a faith in human dignity, combined with a tragic apprehending of the human situation, and its nearness to the Abyss.

Add Memoirs of Hadrian to Cyril Connolly��s Latinate, festal-funereal list, on which it will manifest the novel (where’s Madame Bovary?), and perhaps biography, a mode Yourcenar at once avoids and transcendently augments. Like Lolita, Memoirs of Hadrian is a model of the sustained and elaborate testamentary récit, the world told in a dying voice. Warrior-peacemaker, austere sensualist, skeptic/cultist, philosopher/mythomane, avid connoisseur of all gods and rites, of humanity’s myriad senses of the sacred, the mobile and various emperor Hadrian, “that man alone and yet closely bound with all being,” is an ideal humanist mouthpiece, Yourcenar his learned animator and prefect of “that imperial guard which poets and humanists mount in relay around any great memory”:

I have sometimes thought of constructing a theory of human knowledge which would be based on eroticism, a theory of contact wherein the mysterious value of each being is to offer us just that point of perspective which another world affords. In such a philosophy pleasure would be a more complete but also more specialized approach to the Other, one more technique for getting to know what is not ourselves.

Hadrian wants to know where flesh becomes soul, how the experienced body becomes the soul’s knowledge and transport:

Thus from each art practiced in its time I derive a knowledge which compensates me in part for pleasures lost. I have supposed, and in my better moments think so still, that it would be possible in this manner to participate in the existence of everyone; such sympathy would be one of the least revocable kinds of immortality. There have been moments when that comprehension tried to go beyond human experience, passing from the swimmer to the wave. But in such a realm, since there is nothing exact left to guide me, I verge upon the world of dream and metamorphosis.

Reading the swimmer to the wave, and another passage in which Hadrian pictures the body’s sleep as a time when the soul is washed back out into an unconscious ocean of all being, I was reminded of similar imagery in a novel I read a few weeks ago, A Single Man, whose author Christopher Isherwood and protagonist George Falconer were, like Hadrian, aging lovers of boyish partners, though only George and Hadrian were deprived of Antinous. I took down Isherwood’s Diaries and in 1955, “I read Marguerite Yourcenar’s novel about Hadrian, which bored me at the time, but which I now feel has penetrated quite deeply into my consciousness at some other level.” Both novelists explore the consciousness of the dying animal; and read again, George’s drunken Forsterian Only Connect outburst shows its affinity with Hadrian’s faith in sensual receptivity and earthy rootedness as passageways to other states. Borges once wrote that the powerful recurrence of human dreams is greater miracle than any of the biblical levitations or apparitions.

Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews · 3,381 followers
December 18, 2009
This book is not nearly as funny as the similarly titled Diaries of Adrian Mole, so don't get them confused! In fact, this book is not funny at all, which is probably my only serious criticism of it. Other than that, it is pretty fucking great.

Um yeah, so it kind of makes my brain hurt that someone wrote this book. I'll probably write a real review soon, it being so good and all.... In the meantime though -- and in case I die suddenly or see something shiny and get distracted, and don't get around to it -- I must note that I think the somewhat creepy, suspicious hype surrounding this book is well deserved, and then some. You know that one pair of pants you have that makes it look like you've got a terrific ass, even though in reality, most days, you might not in truth? This book was a bit like that, except instead of flattering your butt, reading it makes you feel smarter than you probably are. Not annoying smart, either -- or I'd at least like to think so -- but just more thoughtful and interested in abstract ideas and whatnot than you actually might be in normal life. It did take me awhile to get truly absorbed, but all the "work" did pay off, and I really recommend it. A reader who, unlike me, knows anything AT ALL about the Roman Empire and what have you would get more out of this than I did and would feel up to speed. I myself am fairly ignorant of the classical world, and what affection I've got tends to be for Greece. Fortunately for us, though, Hadrian felt the same (about Greece being more appealing, that is; he was up on his Rome).

Yeah and so, this a fabulous novel which really explores some fascinating territory and the potential of that form, and of our brains and humanity and mortality and whatnot. Human experience, blah blah blah blah.... History and something something, blah blah blah blah. It's really good! I just can't be articulate about it, mostly because I'm embarrassed even to try. I would not recommend this to people who find that everything about the Roman Empire leaves them cold; for everyone else, though, I'd say give it a shot. For me this book was the level of "hard" where I found it hard to concentrate on reading while other people were talking. It was the level of "good," though, where I'd tell them to shut up, or at least I'd get up and walk to the other end of the subway car where it was quieter. This book changed my thoughts, which is kind of all I want. I didn't just think about what was happening in the narrative -- just to clarify, nothing was happening; it was essentially Gilead, if you've read that, only instead of a dying Iowa preacher with heart trouble writing a letter to a young boy, it was a dying Roman emperor with heart trouble writing a letter to a young man -- I thought about the world and civilization and the experience of being a human being differently.... which, you know, I appreciate. I mean, I can use that. Who couldn't?

At the end of this volume, in Yourcenar's "Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian," (yeah, it's that kind of book) she quotes this line from Flaubert's letters: "Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone." The book is about that moment. It's about a lot of other stuff too, though. It's got what I think is one of the most unique and memorable literary love stories. And pictures! It's got beautiful pictures. And it's just excruciatingly well-written..... During the first quarter of reading this, I noticed that I was getting really depressed about my life and lack of accomplishment and just feeling like a total loser all the time, and then I realized why: I was comparing myself to the Roman Emperor Hadrian! Compared to Hadrian, I really am a big loser. I mean a BIG loser. But it's not a fair comparison. I was talking last weekend to this somewhat patrician gentleman (I use the term "gentleman" loosely) about this book, and he told me that they read this as undergraduates at Harvard, where according to him many readers suffer from the opposite problem.

Anyway, I'm rambling on, and I don't mean to. It's past my bedtime, and I can't say anything worthwhile about this book, so I'm just sort of yammering away uselessly. Where I think I might have been going with that I'm-no-Roman-emperor line was: Yourcenar's project has an inherent empathy problem, which she solves. I'll never be the most powerful man in the world, and I won't even ever be the erudite and brilliant Marguerite Yourcenar, who was, the back cover informs us, "the first woman to be elected to the prestigious French Academy" and who, the cover further notes, in an intimidatingly sober tone, "writes only in French." But that's okay. I've got a library card. Apparently, as I'm learning, that gets me close enough.
Profile Image for Labijose.
960 reviews · 417 followers
September 19, 2021
“Los dioses no estaban ya y Cristo no estaba todavía”, Flaubert.

Marguerite Yourcenar consiguió con “Memorias de Adriano” una colosal y poética recreación de la vida de este emperador, en una novela que le costó muchos años de investigación y posterior redacción. Valió la pena. La obra se lee a caballo entre la ficción y la biografía, dejando un poso de buena literatura, muy pocas veces superada incluso por ella misma. Es una obra imprescindible, incluso si no te gusta ni la historia en general, ni la época romana en particular. En mi caso, amante de ambas, disfruté enormemente con su lectura. La recomiendo encarecidamente.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
996 reviews · 1,135 followers
May 10, 2021
Written as a deathbed letter to Marcus Aurelius, “Memoirs of Hadrian” is a poetic and elegiac novel about the life of one of Rome’s “Five Good Emperors”. More interested in the cultural flourishing of his Empire than in adding to it, Hadrian’s life is mostly spent in travels, in exploration and while some armed conflict did mark his reign, it is not what he is remembered for. History knows him more as a philosopher, a moderate ruler who tried his best to preserve peace and who wanted nothing more than to leave an ordered realm to his successor.

Yourcenar focuses mostly on his inner thoughts, and the book can be a bit confusing if one doesn’t have much background information on the history of Hadrian’s reign to put those thoughts in context, and I had to look up things on Wikipedia a few times, as I was more familiar with the history of the Republic and the early years of the Empire than with the middle period. What is striking in her interpretation of Hadrian is his deeply rooted understanding of the temporary state of his Empire, but also of the world. He knew Rome would one day end, just as it had one day began, and chose to focus on using his time as ruler to make it as good as he could.

Having read John Williams’ “Augustus” just not long ago (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), I was unable to avoid comparing the two works, and I confess a preference for Williams’ work. As beautiful as Yourcenar’s prose is, an as detailed as her story may be, I did not feel as transported by it as I had been by the polyphonic novel about the first Emperor. The period, however, is very interesting, as it is sort of an in-between: the Mystery cults are slowly dying, and while Christianity is gaining momentum, it is still a fringe religion, barely a century old, so there is a sort of spiritual void in Hadrian’s world, which he seeks to fill with poetry, hunting and visiting and restoring as many of the old temples as he can. Yourcenar also chose to focus on a few more nebulous aspects of Hadrian’s life, such as his relationship with Antinous, instead of focusing on the more famous historical events, such as the building on the Wall, which is an interesting exercise in historical speculation, but which I found just a little bit frustrating, as I craved more details about known events – whilst knowing that this was not her goal at all. I think I was craving a bit more emotion, and besides the passages about Antinous’ death, Hadrian as written by Yourcenar is almost always even tempered, which makes for a very interesting story, but not one that gripped me.

That aside, I can’t praise the gorgeous writing enough: the prose is rich and delectable, like a good caramel. As Candi’s review points out so well, it is a book to be savored slowly. And really, when you think about it, it’s the right way to read a man’s reflections on his life, without rushing, noting the flaws but letting them be gently washed over by the flow of words. Bittersweet, philosophical and lush – I will be reading this one again.
Profile Image for P.E..
762 reviews · 529 followers
March 22, 2020
An ambitious inner portrait of Emperor Hadrian by thoughtful Marguerite Yourcenar.


An exciting journey throughout the Roman Empire, following a coin from current-day Scotland to Irak.

Histoire de la Rome antique
A small-sized, infinitely gorgeous miscellany about who the Romans were.

L'univers, les dieux, les hommes
Greek myths told by historian and anthropologist Jean-Pierre Vernant, member of CNRS and professor in The Collège de France.


C'est le portrait intérieur sympathique et ambitieux que Marguerite Yourcenar fait de l'empereur Hadrien, avec un certain succès à mon avis. J'ai eu beaucoup de plaisir à le lire.

Pour moi, ce livre témoigne d'une des aspirations les plus essentielles de la littérature : faire se rencontrer plusieurs subjectivités et se rencontrer à travers elles.


Un prétexte à voyage dans l'empire romain sous l'empereur Trajan (98-117), le prédécesseur d'Hadrien (117-138).

Histoire de la Rome antique
Tout petit livre de la collection « Que-sais-je ? », c'est une introduction sympathique à la vie sociale, professionnelle, culturelle des Romains.

L'univers, les dieux, les hommes
L'historien et anthropologue Jean-Pierre Vernant raconte les mythes fondateurs de la Grèce ancienne. Un plaisir sans m��lange.
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