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Memoirs of Hadrian Paperback – Jan 1 1963

4.6 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Paperback, Jan 1 1963
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (Jan. 1 1963)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374503486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374503482
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 2.7 x 23.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 640 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,153,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"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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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The reader should be aware that this book is a recent edition of a translation of a French novel that was originally published in 1951 after at least a decade of research. As a result, this memoir in the form of a letter from the Emperor Hadrian to the future Emperor Marcus Aurelius transmits the thoughts of Hadrian through the filter of a brilliant female author who began the work while a refugee in America from WW II. The distillation of the life and thoughts of Hadrian that results is satisfying in terms of the brilliance and depth of its insights into the nature of power, government, religion, and philosophy, but somewhat sterile in its description of personal relationships, places,and people, partly due to the limited nature of how explicit an author of the 1950's could be. For example,since Hadrian's homosexual love for Antinous. the most profound influence on his middle years, could not be explored in any depth, that section of the narrative suffers to a degree.

If the reader expects action and description comparable to what one gets from Robert Graves and his Claudius, or from Allen Massie and the first Roman emperors, he is likely to be disappointed. Yourcenar is not at all interested in the details of battles, or in exposition of the characters of other figures in the narrative, or in many vivid descriptions of any kind, so her protagonist's movements from sketchily-described place to sketchily-described place and his dealings with people who are mostly presented as names lack the color and specificity of those other authors. The value of this book is its interpretation of the lucid introspections of the great mind of the great emperor, the timeless truth of his conclusions about empire, government, religion, politics and morals, and its sophisticated use of language.

It can be dry reading at times, but there is far more than enough insight and exposition to well repay the need to wade through the dry, tall grass between oases.
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