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Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)

by Marguerite Yourcenar

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,5671071,852 (4.14)194
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.… (more)
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» See also 194 mentions

English (69)  French (9)  Spanish (8)  Italian (7)  Catalan (6)  Dutch (3)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  German (1)  All languages (107)
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
Leí Memorias de Adriano cuando se puso de moda, allá por los 80, cuando un triunfante Felipe González dijo que era, o había sido, su libro de cabecera. En aquel momento me costó trabajo leerlo pero lo terminé sin ningún provecho ni histórico, ni poético ni narrativo. Pero vamos, igual que Felipe González, que no debió entender nada tampoco.
Dice la Yourcenar que se complació en el retrato de un hombre que casi llegó a alcanzar la sabiduría. Estamos de acuerdo, pero esta afirmación también le atañe a ella por haber conseguido una obra tan bien documentada (la bibliografía que aplicadamente nos relata en sus notas al final lo demuestra), en un lenguaje a veces poético y otras más prosaico, pero también un estudio filosófico y humanista, del hombre y su tiempo.
Una maravilla esta obsesión de la autora por un personaje realmente interesante y al que dedicó "dieciocho días, dieciocho meses, dieciocho años, dieciocho siglos". Muy recomendable. ( )
  maripax | Jul 27, 2021 |
Published in 1951 after more than 26 years in conception Yourcenar's book is a tour de force. It takes the form of imagining that Roman Emperor Hadrien (Hadrian) 76AD - 138AD had written a letter to his chosen successor giving him the benefit of his experiences of over 20 years in power. It therefore takes the form of an autobiography as it included his rise to power and his thoughts on the state of the Empire. It could be compared to the memoirs of a contemporary politician, especially as Yourcenar tries to put into words the thoughts of the Emperor. It is a sympathetic portrait, but not a panegyric, but the reader does see events from Hadrians point of view.

Hadrian towards the end of his reign campaigned against a Jewish rebellion in what is known as the Bar Kokhba revolt. He was approaching 60 and the the tribulations of living in an army encampment during a long siege had an effect on his health and by the time he got back to Rome he was an ill man. He started writing his letter and nearly finished it on his death bed: his last words are 'Tâchons d'entrer dans la mort les yeux ouverts...........' His letter tells us the story of his life in chronological sequence, starting with his early upbringing in the Roman Province of Spain, the death of his parents and his schooling in Rome. His tutor had considerable political influence and the intelligent and able Hadrian found himself conscripted into the entourage of the Emperor Trajan. He campaigned with Trajan and numbered among his chosen acolytes, forming a lasting friendship with Plotine; Trajans influential wife. When Trajan died campaigning till the last, he had not got round to publicly naming Hadrian as his successor and there was a sort of palace coup back in Rome to ensure the enemies of Hadrian were summarily despatched. Trajan had looked forward to coming back to Rome as a conquering hero, but Hadrian typically refused all honoured titles on his triumphant entry into the city.

Hadrian was a different animal to Trajan who was a man who had lived to conquer the known world. Hadrian saw the advantages of consolidation, of drawing back to defensible borders and negotiating peace with the barbarians. He wanted to celebrate the glory and the artistic achievements of the Roman world and make some improvements. He had become disgusted by the atrocities committed by both sides in the wars and wanted to achieve a lasting peace. He was secure in his position as Emperor and sought to make changes: changes that we might think progressive, for example improving the financial position of women and putting an end to some of the atrocities committed against the slaves. Writing about these to his chosen successor with his thoughts on progress for the Empire was of course an attempt at laying down a blueprint for the future.

The letter is much more than a guide to his successor because Hadrian clearly wanted to give his side to the story of his life. He was passionate about the classical civilisation of Greece, the fount of all knowledge and artistic creation; he seems to have wanted to make Rome more like Greece particularly Athenian Greece. During his 20 years as Emperor he spent eight of those outside Rome, he loved to travel mixing business with pleasure fascinated by ancient Greece and ancient Egypt. In Greece he met and fell in love with Antinous a fourteen year old Greek boy who became his lover and constant companion for six years. This was perfectly acceptable in Roman times and Yourcenar has Hadrian writing candidly about the love of his life. Antinous committed suicide when he was 20 and the idyllic relationship was over, but Hadrian never got over it. He made statues, he had the body mummified in the Egyptian tradition and even built a city in his honour. Hadrian wonders what part he played in Antinous suicide, because the pair had sought the wisdom of a soothsayer and the prognostication had not been good; so did Antinous sacrifice himself for Hadrian? did he fear that Hadrian was losing interest in him? What is clear is that Hadrian saw himself as protector of the Roman Empire and his love affair with Antinous and ancient Greece was proving a distraction, even if he could not admit to that himself. Hadrian unflinchingly sets this all out in his letter as a mixture of golden memories and some regrets. He is proud of some of his achievements and is in conflict about others. In the final short chapter on his death bed he thinks about the past and the human condition, it is a touching portrait.

Yourcenar put off writing her book until she felt mature enough to do justice to her subject. There are a series of extracts from her notebooks included at the end of the book containing information pertinent to her methods of working and notes on her research. She took pains to make the book as historically accurate as possible. Of course she did not know Hadrians thought process, but this is the art of the novelist to convince her readers that he could have thought along these lines. In my opinion she does an excellent job of creating the milieu of Rome and the empire, at the beginning of the second century; in some parts it feels like a travelogue around an ancient civilisation, however it is the characterisation of Hadrian that is the crowning achievement. We have evidence that Hadrian was a lover of the arts and a poet himself and there are other commentaries about him. Yourcenar has taken the opening line from one of his poems written at the end of his life: Animula, vagula, blandula as the title of her first chapter; her translation of the poem is:

Little soul, gentle and drifting, guest and companion of my body, now you will dwell below in pallid places, stark and bare; there you will abandon your play of yore. But one moment still, let us gaze together on these familiar shores, on these objects which doubtless we shall not see again… Let us try, if we can, to enter into death with open eyes…

A moving portrait of a grand homme and an excellent book and one in which for the most part Yourcenar avoids the trap of putting 20th century contemporary thoughts into the head of a Roman Emperor. A five star read. ( )
6 vote baswood | Apr 11, 2021 |
This book is dense, and at times difficult to read. It is all told from the perspective of Roman Emperor Hadrian, as a sort of letter to his successor, Marcus Aurelius. As such, it is 300 pages of internal monologue.

But inside this monologue is a fascinating fictional glimpse into the mind of one of the Five Good Emperors and the times of the second century of the current era. There is also timeless advice about how to live, and reflections on the human condition.

"He had reached that moment in life, different for each one of us, when a man abandons himself to his demon or to his genius, following a mysterious law which bids him either to destroy or outdo himself." There is wit and wisdom like this found on just about every page, albeit often buried within pages-long paragraphs. ( )
  evenlake | Mar 23, 2021 |
Un relato admirable y ya clásico, en la estupenda traducción de Julio Cortázar. Un emperador romano se inclina sobre su pasado: el poder, las conquistas, los turbios episodios palaciegos, las horas de triunfo y de peligro... Adriano cuenta su propia historia y poco a poco el César va dejando asomar al hombre, su atormentada intimidad, su secreto, que habría de fijarse en estatuas, en poemas, en templos. Bajo la forma de una autobiografía imaginaria minuciosamcnte fundamentada en la realidad histórica, Marguerite Yourcenar reconstruye un tramo espectacular del gran pasado clásico.
La autora cuenta que una vez encontró, en una carta de Flaubert, esta frase inolvidable: 'Los dioses no estaban ya, y Cristo no estaba todavía, de Cicerón a Marco Aurelio hubo un momento único en que el hombre estuvo solo'. Es el momento que inmortaliza su Memorias de Adriano.
  ArchivoPietro | Nov 2, 2020 |
Un relato admirable y ya clásico, en la estupenda traducción de Julio Cortázar. Un emperador romano se inclina sobre su pasado: el poder, las conquistas, los turbios episodios palaciegos, las horas de triunfo y de peligro... Adriano cuenta su propia historia y poco a poco el César va dejando asomar al hombre, su atormentada intimidad, su secreto, que habría de fijarse en estatuas, en poemas, en templos. Bajo la forma de una autobiografía imaginaria minuciosamcnte fundamentada en la realidad histórica, Marguerite Yourcenar reconstruye un tramo espectacular del gran pasado clásico.
La autora cuenta que una vez encontró, en una carta de Flaubert, esta frase inolvidable: 'Los dioses no estaban ya, y Cristo no estaba todavía, de Cicerón a Marco Aurelio hubo un momento único en que el hombre estuvo solo'. Es el momento que inmortaliza su Memorias de Adriano.
  ArchivoPietro | Nov 2, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
'La mayoría de los hombres gusta resumir su vida en una fórmula, a veces jactanciosa o quejumbrosa, casi siempre recriminatoria; el recuerdo les fabrica, complaciente, una existencia explicable y clara. Mi vida tiene contornos menos definidos. Como suele suceder, lo que no fui es quizá lo que más ajustadamente la define: buen soldado pero en modo alguno hombre de guerra; aficionado al arte, pero no ese artista que Nerón creyó ser al morir; capaz de cometer crímenes, pero no abrumado por ellos. Pienso a veces que los grandes hombres se caracterizan precisamente por su posición extrema; su heroísmo está en mantenerse en ella toda la vida. Son nuestros polos o nuestros antípodas'.
added by Pakoniet | editLecturalia
 

» Add other authors (20 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Yourcenar, MargueriteAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bailey, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Calderaro, MarthaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Creus, JaumeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Duquesnoy, TheodorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frick, GraceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hakamies, ReinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hornelund, KarlTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jaffé, FritzÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sandfort, J.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Storoni Mazzolani, LidiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuin, JennyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallquist, GunnelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Animula vagula, blandula, hospes comesque corporis, quae nunc abibis in loca pallidula, rigida, nudula, nec, ut soles, dabis iocos ... P. Aelius Hadrianus, Imp.
Dedication
First words
My dear Mark,
Today I went to see my physician Hermogenes, who has just returned to the Villa from a rather long journey in Asia.
Quotations
I am trusting to this examination of facts to give me some definition of myself, and to judge myself, perhaps, or at the very least to know myself better before I die.
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.
Grammar, with its mixture of logical rule and arbitrary usage, proposes to a young mind a foretaste of what will be offered to him later on by law and ethics, those sciences of human conduct, and by all the systems whereby man has codified his instinctive experience.
natura deficit, fortuna mutatur, deus omnia cernit
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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