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Memoirs of Hadrian [Paperback]

Marguerite Yourcenar , Grace Frick
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 1 1963
Written in the form of a testamentary letter from the Emperor Hadrian to his successor, the youthful Marcus Aurelius, this work is as extraordinary for its psychological depth as for its accurate reconstruction of the second century of our era. The author describes the book as a meditation upon history, but this meditation is built upon intensive study of the personal and political life of a great and complex character as seen by himself and his contemporaries, both friends and enemies. Marguerite Yourcenar reconstructs Hadrian's arduous early years, his triumphs and reversals, and his gradual reordering of a war-torn world.

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"In her brilliant 'psychological novel and meditation on history,' Marguerite Yourcenar has written an imaginatively daring and artistically persuasive 'self-portrait' of Hadrian."--Orville Prescott

About the Author

Marguerite Yourcenar wrote stories, plays, poems, criticism, and novels. She was the first woman to be elected to the Academie Francaise, in 1980. She died in 1987.

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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. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary character Sept. 4 2003
In a long letter to his successor Marcus Aurelius, the old emperor Hadrian, sick and close to death, tells the story of his life, his intense presence on Earth, over which he left traces from Scotland to Iran. Born in Spain, Hadrian is taken at a a very young age to study in Rome and Athens, where he falls in love with all things Greek. Actually he would do much to re-hellenize Rome. Then comes military life in Orient (what we call now the Middle East) and Panonia (roughly Hungary-Czech Rep.), where he acquires and comes to appreciate military values. After Hadrian is made governor of Syria, Emperor Trajan dies and appoints him as his successor. His reign begins, against his will, with the murders of four enemies. Hadrian stops Trajan reckless expansionist wars and consolidates the Empire at its highest point in wealth, power and size. Then come the happy years, when he wanders the Empire, governing and enjoying the company of his young and beloved Antinoo, who would suffer a tragic death. At an old age, he retires to his villa in Tibur, where he supposedly writes the long letter that forms this most engaging book.
This masterpiece creates a living human being, one who transmits greatness, intelligence, cultivation, sensitivity and unique statesmanship abilities (not so common these days). Hadrian is, of course, a man with a big ego (how to be Emperor of Rome and not have one?), yet he is anything but vain or naïve about himself. He does not swallow the tale about emperors' divinity: he knows himself to be mortal, vulnerable and his religiosity is vague and sober. He learns to know Man. He abhors the Coloseum carnages, but shows up because he understands their role in alleviating the people's lives.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Marguerite Yourcenar's Psychological Masterpiece April 24 2004
By John Kwok TOP 100 REVIEWER
Marguerite Yourcenar's "Memoirs of Hadrian" is one of the finest examples of historical fiction I have read, and without question, the best that's been told through the eyes of its protagonist, the Roman emperor Hadrian. Yourcenar's superb accomplishment is a fictitious memoir of Rome during the early years of the 2nd Century A. D. that is as mesmerizing as any work by the likes of genuine Roman historians such as Tacitus or Suetonius. Her memoir offers us a man who was truly one of the most liberal, and far-sighted, of Rome's early emperors; a philosopher-king who bequeathes his wisdom and knowledge to his adopted nephew and successor, the young Marcus Aurelius, in the form of a lengthy letter that is the text of Yourcernar's novel. This is an admirable, compelling portrait of a man who chose to rule wisely and well, forsaking the wars of conquest waged by his immediate predecessor Trajan, for a reign noted for its peace and prosperity and a successful effort to "re-hellenize" Rome by a devout admirer of Greek history and culture. This terse book is told in fluid, often lyrical prose ably translated into English by Yourcenar and her long-time companion, the American Grace Frick. Following the novel's conclusion, Yourcernar provides some compelling vignettes recounting how she finally wrote this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars the horse's mouth April 3 2003
So many reviews have commented on how remarkable this book is that it's difficult to add anything to what has been said. It is a wonderful book, one to read again and again. I'm only making an attempt to add something because for me the most amazing aspect of this very great (and completely enjoyable) historical novel was how I forgot, while reading, that the author was not Hadrian himself. I can't think of any book where an author has so convincingly vanished behind the main character. Hadrian speaks! I also found the book easy to start reading and hard to put down
At the end of his life, looking back through his memoir as imagined by Marguerite Yourcenar, the emperor doesn't try to create a picture of a man who is flawless. This most thoughtful leader was far from that. But by accepting himself as he was, he had the courage to lead.
Any visitor to Rome feels the soul of the Emperor Hadrian, particularly, I think, in his most remarkable monument, the Pantheon. This is a book all travelers to Rome should read--before and after the visit.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Confronting death through life... March 21 2003
One of the most important skills a student must acquirer when learning history, amongst others, is the ability to evoke a state of empathy for the time period under study. Names, dates and events can only provide us with the obvious and superficial, however, in my opinion, to actually attempt to place oneself emotionally at a particular place on the time-line, can give us a greater insight and a much more profound understanding. Through this method, too, history is not merely words on a page, but something tangible and relevant.
~Memoirs of Hadrian~ conjures the world of ancient times through the eyes of the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, with such sensual accuracy that, wholly or in part, a conscious attempt at 'suspension of disbelief' is not necessary, because one can sit back and let the author do it for you...Yourcenar is a magician at literary prose. In her 'Reflection on the Composition', she writes a curious comment:
"Time itself has nothing to do with it. It is always surprising to me that my contemporaries, masters as they consider themselves to be over space, apparently remain unaware that one can contract the distance between centuries at will." (276)
This is a unique and somewhat mysterious skill to have, and a skill every historian should possess or at least learn, because history is so vital to the present day.
This is a magnificent novel because it combines historical erudition with a superlative prose style, placing the reader into the time of one of the most fascinating Roman Emperors of the second century. As is well known to students of ancient Rome, Hadrian came to power after Trajan, and stopped Rome's imperialist expansion, concentrating his efforts on domestic issues, enriching culturally, Rome and her colonies.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Obscure gem
This book is well-written, well-translated, well-informed, and a wellspring of insight into human nature. Read more
Published on June 7 2004 by Sam Bickens
5.0 out of 5 stars Work of profound scholarship
Seldom do we find a historical novel written with both so much scholarship and passion. Marguerite Yourcenar not only incarnates the soul and spirit of Emperor Hadrian but of his... Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2003 by Esther Nebenzahl
5.0 out of 5 stars The most perceptive, thought provoking book...
This book contains wonderous and perceptive insights. Yourcenar narrates as though she were Hadrian recalling his passing life. Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2002 by Mark Allen G. Garzon
5.0 out of 5 stars A top 100 book
A panel of 100 writers from 54 countries assembled by Norwegian Book Clubs picked the 100 best works of fiction in existence and this book was on the list so I thought I would read... Read more
Published on July 21 2002 by Schmerguls
4.0 out of 5 stars Memoirs of Hadrian
Written in the form of a letter, memoir-tutorial to his nephew, the young Marcus Aurelius. Succeeding the stern super-centurion, Trajan, the Emperor comments on a wide variety of... Read more
Published on May 13 2002 by Richard Cunningham
5.0 out of 5 stars At your service, my emperor and my friend...
That's how we feel after reading this masterpiece that took a lifetime to craft. We become Marcus Aurelius, the recipient of the last letter of the old and noble Imperator... Read more
Published on April 20 2002 by Anibal Madeira
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional novel about an exceptional man
Emperor Hadrian is truly one of the most fascinating, intelligent, and passionate individuals in history. Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2002 by "avk3"
5.0 out of 5 stars Ever wondered what a good ruler would be like?
How often have you found yourself complaining about your boss or your politician. Ever wondered what a good leader would be like? Read more
Published on Feb. 18 2002 by dinadan26
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights for human nature and leadership
I got interested in this book through an article from the Harvard Business Review. In the article Franco Bernabe, the CEO of an Italian conglomerate ENI, discusses the challenges... Read more
Published on Jan. 17 2002 by Benjamin Yeh
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