Jim's Reviews > Memoirs of Hadrian

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
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's review
May 06, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: ancient-rome, 20th-century-lit, france
Read from May 06 to 13, 2011

This book is a re-read for me, I remember enjoying it when I first read it decades ago; but I also remember a sort of wan-ness, that static self-consciousness of oneself as a god that characterized such novels as Frank Herbert's interminable God Emperor of Dune. There is too much of a feeling of a triumphal progress through a life. There are enemies, but Hadrian usually dispatches them quickly. There is almost no dialogue: Instead, there are reminiscences, recollections, seen from an Olympian height. When there is a long quotation from a missive from Arrian about a voyage around the Black Sea, it is almost astonishing to see another viewpoint expressed at any length. Despite the emperor's constant travels around his empire with his army, there is a curious lack of sustained conflict.

And yet, Hadrian does not see his efforts as yielding any lasting success. Perhaps my favorite quote from the novel comes close to the end:
Catastrophe and ruin will come; disorder will triumph, but order will too, from time to time. Peace will again establish itself between two periods of war; the words humanity, liberty, and justice will here and there regain the meaning which we have tried to give them. Not all our books will perish, nor our statues, if broken, lie unrepaired; other domes and other pediments will arise from our domes and pediments; some few men will think and work and feel as we have done, and I venture to count upon such continuators, placed irregularly throughout the centuries, and upon this kind of intermittent immortality.
I find a curious comfort in this thought as I contemplate the seemingly irreconcilable political differences that divide this and so many other countries.

Above all, whatever doubts I had about Marguerite Yourcenar's book, I kept wanting to continue reading. There is something so impressive, so seemingly omniscient about Hadrian, that I kept wanting to know what came next. In the end, I had to admit that she had done a more than creditable job with her fictionalized biography of the Emperor Hadrian.

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05/06/2011 page 57
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Justeenetta (new)

Justeenetta atthe studio I'm reading "sandworms of dune". I bought it fro one of those mailorder book sellers before the studio was finished, so as to have stuff to read during the long icy winter. the book is not by herbert, but it's equally unreadable, and yet......like "dune" the ideas are so good, though this one has the worms being genetically modified so they can live on waterworld, which about does for the series, the mystique was the desert world, & the arab-like culture (which remains). This is supposedly the final installment of the series.

message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim I still think the original volume of Dune was the best.

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