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Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar

Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)

by Marguerite Yourcenar

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 180 mentions

English (58)  French (9)  Spanish (6)  Italian (6)  Dutch (3)  Catalan (2)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (1)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (88)
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
The Roman Empire, and other civilizations of antiquity (I like that word, it's grand), were what first propelled me to read more into history at a pretty young age. I read about the Ptolemies and Caesars alongside Encyclopedia Brown outwitting Bugs Meany (not that hard by the way).

So when I came across a copy of this book and saw the glowing reviews for it here I thought I'd give it a try. It's pretty good.I was immediately drawn in through the first paragraphs where Hadrian describes his frustrations and resignation about getting old.

Yourcenar completely avoids the usually pitfalls of the long letter / memoir device - throughout Hadrian moves back and forth in time and recounting events linked the way memory is. The account is mostly linear, but he often alludes to future events and decisions as direct results of current experiences.

Also, there is little to no reports of conversations, only the results or attitudes of them. In many ways I was completely convinced with this memoir and I appreciated the wealth of research conducted by the author, referenced in an appendix in the back.

At times my attention drifted as the narrative, being what it was, often seemed distant, but overall I enjoyed reading it every night after work (hardcovers are too heavy to bring along on commute) and enjoyed reading up on the various historical people and places mentioned in the text. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Prior to this, I only knew there was a wall named after him. This was surprisingly dense reading, slowing me to non-fiction speed. It's abundant with historical detail and the wall is the least of it, but in an almost incidental way that feels very natural. There's no explanations to benefit a modern reader, because the only intended audience is his adopted grandson. Hadrian shares his views on life and death by way of introduction, so we know something of this narrator even before we're walked through his history: his childhood and military experience, his eventual rise to power, and the philosophy of his rule. Yourcenar may have been overly generous in attributing his reasoning to values approaching twentieth century views (e.g. on women, slavery, elder abuse, etc.). But this modern tone does not permeate all: a man found responsible for the murder of four senators was then made a senator by Hadrian, just months later.

Hadrian presents himself as level-headed and empathic, virtually a perfect ruler. He confesses too few weaknesses for me to feel he's being entirely honest. This may be Yourcenar opting for a sympathetic portrayal, but I revelled in the few nasty instances he admits to (blinding a servant, exiling a critic he didn't agree with, etc.) As he initially sees it, he is putting to rights the wrongs of tyrannical emperors past, and he has set Rome upon a course that ought to serve it well for centuries to come. Later he is humbled somewhat through grief and disappointment. He has opportunity to elevate the dead to godhood, in this era before Christianity gripped the western world, but it's a hollow power as he acknowledges. In a few instances I found him too prescient, a means for Hadrian to compare his time with ours so that the author can tell us what we lost with the Roman Empire.

This does not always feel like a true memoir, or else it would be a remarkably objective one. Hadrian is able to remember his youth from a youth's perspective and mindset, middle age from a middle age viewpoint, etc. rather than interpret all through the lens of his final years. These are minor points. It was convincing enough that I could forget this wasn't Hadrian's real voice from the distant past, still speaking to our present. ( )
  Cecrow | Jan 23, 2019 |
Memoirs of Hadrian is a beautiful, eloquent portrait of one of Rome's great emperors that can also be read as a tutorial on leadership. Hadrian was ambitious, ruthless and devious when necessary, hungry for experiences of all kinds, loyal when possible, self-deprecating but also prideful. He enjoyed life, both its pleasures, and his acts of self-discipline and courage. He appealed to Yourcenar, as she states, in part because he brought peace and prosperity (and security) to Rome; one must credit those people lusting after power who then have admirable goals for what to do with it once obtained.

“Each time that I have looked from afar, at the bend of some sunny road, toward a Greek acropolis with its perfect city fixed to a hill liked a flower to a stem, I could not but feel that the incomparable plant was limited by its very perfection, achieved on one point of space and in one segment of time. Its sole chance of expansion, as for that of a plant, was in its seed; with the pollen of its ideas Greece has fertilized the world. But Rome, less light and less shapely, sprawling to the plain at her river’s edge, was moving toward vaster growth: the city has become the State.” ( )
  bookishblond | Oct 24, 2018 |
The author's addendum Reflections on the Composition is possibly eveb better than the novel. ( )
  encephalical | Aug 25, 2018 |
I gave up on this highly acclaimed novel of the life of Emperor Hadrian. I’m sure it deserves its reputation but I wasn’t in the mood for a rambling philosophical essay. I gave up before the 50-page mark and feel bad that the writing style didn’t appeal to me. I’m likely the poorer for throwing in the towel, but there’s so many other books waiting to be read.
  Zumbanista | Jul 25, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 58 (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 (22 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.
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.
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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374529264, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:06 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Both an exploration of character and a meditation on history, Marguerite Yourcenar's novel Memoirs of Hadrian has received international acclaim since its publication in France in 1951. Written in the form of a testamentary letter from the emperor Hadrian to his successor, the youthful Marcus Aurelius, the work is as extraordinary for its psychological depth as for its accurate reconstruction of the second century of our era. In it, Yourcenar reimagines Hadrian's arduous boyhood, his triumphs and reversals, and finally, as emperor, his reordering of a war-torn world."--Jacket.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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