[BOOKS] ✭ Memoirs of Hadrian ✯ Marguerite Yourcenar – Thomashillier.co.uk

Memoirs of Hadrian 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 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


10 thoughts on “Memoirs of Hadrian

  1. says:

    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 h z n, 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 con 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 h z n, 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 istears of thingsIt 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 thetears 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 over 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,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 bonfireI begin to discern the profile of my death With that sentence she had, like apainter 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 evenstrange 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 shardswith 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 longerDear 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 livedthan 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 matterthan the reality Whatever the answers to these things, you have to start with the hardest task looking the remains in the faceSheltering 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 onepottery shard rule someone s life, for however long Is it only a decoration for an already grand tomb Or, perhaps, is it oneway 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 neededthan 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 nothingto be doneI 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 thatLife 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 immortalityThat 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 himandas 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.


  2. says:

    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 mag 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 hundredyears 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 Antino s 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 Antino s 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


  3. says:

    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 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 andliberal 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 HadrianHadrian 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 gameI 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 endurePantheonHe rebuilt the PantheonI 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 EtruriaHadrian was enad 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 spenttime 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 WallHadrian 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 classI played with the ideaTo be alone, without possessions, without renown, with none of the advantages of a civilization, to expose oneself among new men and amid fresh hazardsNeedless 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 Further, 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 stillclosely 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 themEven Emperor s dream of being someone else Marguerite YourcenarYourcenar, 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 If you wish to seeof my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at


  4. says:

    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, sen 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,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 Bithyniasent 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 truthFor 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


  5. says:

    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 peculi 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 view spoiler hide spoiler 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 uvre d Antonianus a t taill e dans un marbre italienElle est d une d licatesse infinie Les rinceaux d une vigne encadrent de la plus souple des arabesques le jeune visage m lancolique et pench on songe irr sistiblement aux vendanges de la vie br ve, l atmosph re fruit e 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


  6. says:

    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 grand 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 muchHadrian 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 necessarilyexquisite 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 meoften 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 dozenslike 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 is fiction, but its great stuff and a great novel I am also interested in readingby Yourcenar, her life was also very interesting


  7. says:

    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 onesI have come to think that great men are characterized by theMargerite 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 onesI 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


  8. says:

    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 andbeautiful than ourBut 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 andbeautiful than our own, withardor 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 hardlythan 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 muchthan 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 intraditional 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.ANIMULA VAGULA BLANDULAThe 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.VARIUS MULTIPLEX MULTIFORMIS 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 , 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.TELLUS STABILITA 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.SAECULUM AUREUM 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.DISCIPLINA AUGUSTA 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.PATIENTIA 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 meMark, 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


  9. says:

    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 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


  10. says:

    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 didnI 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 beyondWhen 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 thingsBeing 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 muchthan what their title suggest Hadrian wasthan an Emperor, Marguerite wasthan a writer, Grace wasthan a translator and this book, it is muchthan a bookHospes Comesque


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