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Memoirs of Hadrian

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  6,211 ratings  ·  481 reviews
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 imagi...more
Paperback, 347 pages
Published May 18th 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1951)
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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 hüzün, 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...more
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...more
Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 11, 2013 Jeffrey Keeten rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jeffrey by: knig
”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...more
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 didn...more
mark monday
"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 and more beautiful than our...more
Sarah (Warning: Potentially Off-Topic)
This is a book that I don’t think I would have read if it weren’t for Goodreads. I probably would never have even heard of it. Technically, I suppose this obscure novel would be considered “historical fiction,” but that’s misleading. It is that, but it is also biography, philosophy, meditation, poetry.

Hadrian was Emperor of Rome from AD 117 to 138. Marguerite Yourcenar wrote this novel in the form of a memoir, written by Hadrian near the end of his life and addressed to then 17-year old future e...more
Dec 18, 2009 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: friends; romans; countrymen
Recommended to Jessica by: paul, ginnie, david g.
This book is not nearly as funny as the similarly titled Diaries of Adrian Mole, so don't get them confused! In fact, this book is not funny at all, which is probably my only serious criticism of it. Other than that, it is pretty fucking great.

Um yeah, so it kind of makes my brain hurt that someone wrote this book. I'll probably write a real review soon, it being so good and all.... In the meantime though -- and in case I die suddenly or see something shiny and get distracted, and don't get arou...more
Gorgeously written, wise and stately. Meditative, deep in a philosophical probing sort of way, moves smoothly and contains a sort of magnificence...the prose is given room to breathe. I have pretty much every reason to believe it's not taking too many liberties with historical accuracy. Yourcenar spent years researching it and getting the details right and it shows.

Her notes on the research and composition at the end are illuminating and tersely eloquent...worth the price of admission in their...more
What are masterpieces? Let us name a few...the Testament of Villon, the Essays of Montaigne, the Fables of La Fontaine, the Maxims of La Rochefoucald and La Bruyère, the Fleurs du Mal and Intimate Journals of Baudelaire...In feeling, these masterpieces contain the maximum of emotion compatible with a classical sense of form. Observe how they are written; many are short and compressed, fruits of reflective and contemplative natures, prose or poetry of great formal beauty and economy of phrase. Th...more
This is something extraordinary. If I was told this was the actual memoirs of the emperor, I would have believed it.

This is a remarkable book, both for the exquisite and well-crafted writing style, but for the depth and solidity of the research, and how multifaceted and fascinating the character of Hadrian is. It seems I have known him all my life, and I wanted to talk to him about his 'grave Aurelius', only to remember that both have long passed.

Recommended for those who love books, and talkin...more
An Ode

Hadrian. Born and bred from seventy-six to one-thirty-eight,
Man, Roman, Emperor from one-seventeen to one-thirty-eight,
Fictionalized in historical form from nineteen-twenty-four to nineteen-fifty-one,
By Woman, French, Writer, from nineteen-o’-three to nineteen-eighty-seven
Near two millennia separate life and chronicle, the event from the research
The Empire caked in so much study, so much praise, so much distortion,
So much misuse, so much inheritance of both thought and form.
You are one of...more
”Veni. Vidi er tempo de oggi, vidi a posta elettronica. Pubblicai le foto de a guera su feisbuc. E vici!”

Mi domando cosa penserebbe Adriano se vedesse lo spot Tim di questi giorni. Non credo ne rimarrebbe stupito. Piuttosto è probabile si siederebbe sotto un ulivo a meditare sulla mutevolezza dell'ironia e dell'esprit du temps. E sorriderebbe.
Diverso sarebbe se lo portassi a vedere cosa succede nelle aule di Montecitorio. Probabilmente avrebbe un déjà-vu. Ma questa è un'altra storia.

Di sicuro, n...more
This is one of those books you don't so much read as worship at the shrine of.
‘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’ Flaubert to La Sylphide.

This then is the Weltanschauung Yourcenar pays encomium to, panegyrically oded in Memoirs, yet tempered with subdued ‘pragnanz’: Hadrian’s bios is nothing if not temporal Dukkha extrapolated through the measured cadence of a praxeological study of human actions and their consequences, a teological affirmation...more
In 2009, Hugo Chavez, in an impromptu meeting with Barack Obama, handed the newly-elected American President a copy of The Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano. Chavez wanted Obama to learn from Literature of the exploitation of Latin America. He had hope the young President would be open-minded, and a reader. Obama’s advisers quickly and glibly disabused the hopeful by saying the book was in Spanish, a language the President didn’t know.

It’s do...more
Truly an astonishing book, as those here (many) who have read it already know. It has nothing in common with the genre of so-called "historical fiction" (which misconception kept me from having even the remotest interest in this book for years). All I can add is the observation that her scholarship is really outstanding -- even apart from her novelistic skills. It just feels so real that it's hard to fathom how she did it.

This refers not only to her knowledge of history (in the broad sense), an...more
Jul 03, 2007 David rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: top-20, 5q
This is an unlikely candidate to be on my all-time list of the 5 best books I've ever read. But it is. An "autobiographical" account of a long-dead Roman emperor (not even one of the glamorous, or truly filthy ones), written by a 20th century Frenchwoman - who'd have thunk it?

And yet, I beg, I implore you - if you haven't already - buy, steal, or scrounge a copy of this book. It will draw you in. Can't promise it will change your life. All I know is that I find myself re-reading it every two or...more
Near the beginning of this book, in one of its many lyrical and precise descriptive passages, Hadrian writes about his intimations of mortality.

Comme le voyageur qui navigue entre les îles de l'Archipel voit la buée lumineuse se lever vers le soir, et découvre peu à peu la ligne du rivage, je commence à apercevoir le profil de ma mort.

[As the traveller navigating between the islands of the Archipelago sees the luminous mist rise towards the evening, and discovers, little by little, the line of t
30 giorni.

Questo è il tempo che mi è occorso per scrivere una recensione sul libro Memorie di Adriano.
Sembra proprio la dimensione del tempo, quella che permea quest'opera: acquistai il libro molti anni fa, ma ne ebbi sempre timore. Impiegai più tempo del previsto per leggerlo e mi accingo solo ora a buttare giù qualche pensiero.
Perché, questo, non è un libro che si può leggere e poi riporre, bensì è un libro da vivere e contiene quantità di pensieri che cambiano il tuo concetto di vita. Queste...more
In 1951 Jules Romains, commenting on the most recent work by Marguerite Yourcenar, said that she had a writing style "of near constant perfection and felicity". He was referring to her novel, Memoirs of Hadrian, and more than fifty years later all I can do is concur and add a few more superlatives to describe my reaction to Yourcenar's novel. This is an unique historical novel in the form of a memoir. It is the story of the traditions of Rome and how a great man - an historical figure and superi...more
A truly remarkable piece of work! Written so well, it is almost as if 'his' words are addressed to me, the reader, being Hadrian's most trusted friend. A true work of art!
Memoirs of Hadrian is a fictional autobiography written in the form of a long letter to the young Marcus Aurelius, the adopted grandson of the emperor Hadrian and the intended audience for his personal reflections on his rise to power and subsequent management of the Roman Empire. Intermingled throughout are many acute observations on the nature of government and human psychology as well as a variety of extended ontological ruminations on the general esteem owed to the transcendent. The picture...more

Umberto Eco affirmait quelque part que la principale fonction de la littérature ne serait pas celle esthétique, mais – ontologique, vu qu’en dépit des jeux de la hypertextualité elle reste unchangeable, non modifiable, ainsi nous enseignant sur le destin et la mort.

Dans un premier temps, il m’a semblé que cette fonction s’applique également à l’histoire, dont le sort des héros est aussi immutable que celui de Madame Bovary, par exemple. Maintenant je ne suis plus si sûre. Hadrien est à la fois...more
Jon Boorstin
This might be the best book about a lost age that I've ever read. Ms. Yourcenar has a superb affinity for her subject, and she knows the world intimately. She captures not only the subtle textures of the past, but the dense compression of thought that we all live, but rarely see on the page. I lived inside this complex man, moving through a universe I'd never experienced, but believed absolutely.
Marc Kozak
I picked this book up knowing full well that it was fiction – a book from 1951 written in the first person of an emperor from the 2nd century. No one is trying to fool you; you know this isn’t a textbook or anything. And yet, after I finished, I was so convinced that what I just read was the actual memoir of the real Hadrian, if someone asked me a question about something from the era, I would say things from this book as fact without even thinking about it. That’s the fascinating thing about hi...more
Fiumi di… grafite
Mi sono abituata, da qualche anno, a leggere con l’aiuto della matita, strumento divenuto indispensabile. Le sottolineature mi permettono anche, a fine lettura, di rigustare velocemente alcuni passaggi significativi. Ma, questa volta, mi hanno portato lentamente a rileggere, e… rigustare, l’intero romanzo: perché non c’è pagina senza una sottolineatura; anzi, non c’è pagina con una sola sottolineatura; e poi segni verticali: semplici, doppi, tripli…; frecce, asterischi, cornici…...more
I was all set to write a review of this book, and then I read Kelly's brilliant essay (the word "review" seems too insufficient to describe what she does) and realized that I wouldn't be able to express my thoughts with anything approaching that kind of eloquence and thoughtfulness. So instead, this is going to be a simple two-part review: first, go read Kelly's thoughts on Memoirs of Hadrian. Then read this excerpt and try to explain why you aren't hauling ass to the bookstore to buy a copy and...more
"Pour être hanté, nul besoin de chambre, nul besoin de maison, le cerveau regorge de corridors plus tortueux les uns que les autres." Emily Dickinson

J'avais déjà lu les Mémoires d'Hadrien il y a quelques années de cela, et je me souviens même que j'en avais lu la plus grande partie lors d'un voyage à Barcelone, dans le cadre de mes études, ce qui bien entendu a rendu ma seconde lecture, bien au calme dans mon univers habituel, radicalement différente. Il faut dire aussi que mes trois années d'hi...more
This is a magisterial historical novel covering the life of the Roman second-century emperor Hadrian (76 - 138). Written in French in 1951 and first published in English translation in 1954, Memoirs of Haridan set a standard for historical novels with which all are compared; if not now by a large appreciative public, then certainly by the authors themselves while writing.

The work succeeds spectacularly for several reasons, the first being the style. Yourcenar writes in the first person as Hadria...more
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Cocaine Pages: November 2012 - Historical Fiction - Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar 8 28 Nov 12, 2012 03:31AM  
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Yourcenar was born Marguerite Antoinette Jeanne Marie Ghislaine Cleenewerck de Crayencour in Brussels, Belgium to Michel Cleenewerck de Crayencour, of French aristocratic descent, and a Belgian mother who died ten days after her birth. She grew up in the home of her paternal grandmother.

Yourcenar's first novel, Alexis, was published in 1929. Her intimate companion at the time, a translator named G...more
More about Marguerite Yourcenar...
L'Œuvre au noir Oriental Tales Coup de Grace Alexis ou le Traité du vain combat / Le Coup de grâce Fires

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“The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself; my first homelands have been books, and to a lesser degree schools.” 54 likes
“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.” 51 likes
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