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Memoirs of Hadrian

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  21,005 ratings  ·  1,766 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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Phil Daniels Probably because, the dubber thereof, in his/her/their infinite wisdom would dub any book with a gay central character as gay.
It's a long way from be…more
Probably because, the dubber thereof, in his/her/their infinite wisdom would dub any book with a gay central character as gay.
It's a long way from being the most important fact about the book.(less)

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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
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
Jeffrey Keeten
Sep 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jeffrey by: knig
Shelves: roman
”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
“Like a traveler sailing the Archipelago who sees the luminous mists lift toward evening, and little by little makes out the shore, I begin to discern the profile of my death.”

By now, many of my friends here know that I like to indulge with a glass of bourbon or bourbon cream on occasion. I don’t like to guzzle it down, however. I prefer it in a rocks glass, with three ice cubes, and I like to sit and savor it. Swirl it around in my mouth a bit before swallowing. You can’t rush through anything
Henry Avila
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Through the mists of time the clouds lift (but only partly, always remain overcast they never give up their deep secrets), and the myths will continue such is history such was the Roman Emperor Hadrian of the second century, no Julius Caesar but who was? Sill a very capable man born in Italica, what is now Spain to a Roman family of landowners and Senators, they had left Italy centuries before and prospered. His cousin Emperor Trajan many years his senior later adopts the young man, sent to Rome ...more
In the notes at the back of this book, Marguerite Yourcenar tells us that in 1941 she stumbled upon some Piranesi engravings in a shop in New York. One of them was a view of the interior of Hadrian’s Villa as it might have looked in the 1740s. I say ‘might have’ because the famous Piranesi had a talent for adding interesting layers to his engravings of the monuments of Rome. What his contemporaries viewed as simply ruins, took on new life in his rendering, imbued with the phantasms of his peculi ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
This is a gorgeous book by Marguerite Yourcenar with the emperor writing to future emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius about his life and the burdens of leadership. Its tone is a perfect balance of nostalgia, regret and pride all mixed together. A true masterpiece that took her ten years to write, it is also very short and a magnificent read. I found that it was very inspirational and was amazed in how this period of Roman history comes alive under Yourcenar's able pen. An incredible read!
It is
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This ought not to work on a number of levels and ought not to be as good as it is. A historical novel about the Romans (there is so much temptation to go into Life of Brian mode at this point), indeed about one of their emperors. Hadrian dominated Marguerite Yourcenar’s life for many years with rewrites, abandonments, acres of notes and thoughts, and an immense amount of research (including travel to places Hadrian had been). The novel is in the form of a letter from Hadrian to his adopted grand ...more
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of art and history

Margerite Yourcenar’s Hadrian is not only the Roman Emperor, citizen of the world and deified ruler, whose heart throbbed at the cadence of Greek poetry, whose resilient physique conquered the barbarian borders of northern Britannia, whose strategic mind enforced groundbreaking laws to regulate the use of slaves and to promote culture in the Pantheon, whose modesty silenced insurgent voices and whose excesses intimidated allied ones.

“I have come to think that great men are characterized by the
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
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
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
Sarah (Presto agitato)
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
Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: french-lit, novels
This is one of those books you don't so much read as worship at the shrine of. ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Mémoires d'Hadrien = Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar

‏‫‬‭Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar‏, Translated by Grace Frick in collaboration with the author. ‏‫‬‭Harmondsworth‏‫‬‭: Penguin books‏‫‬‭, 1978‏‫‬‭ = 1357, 252 Pages. ISBN ‏‫‬‭014001358x

Memoirs of Hadrian is a novel by the Belgian-born French writer Marguerite Yourcenar about the life and death of Roman Emperor Hadrian (from 117 to 138).

The novel is told in the first person by Hadrian and is framed as a letter to Marcus Aurel
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
No, this is not an uplifting book. Except that it is, rather as poor Atlas uplifts the Heavens.

At first I admired this book much more than I liked it, until I reached the central chapters which crystallised it for me.

Yourcenar has written a book about a lonely, depressed, ageing, Roman Emperor Hadrian suffering from a congenital heart condition, and if that does not sound enticing enough to the prospective reader, he has been brooding over a certain event which he perceives, or he shows us uncon
Sidharth Vardhan

“But books lie, even those that are most sincere.”

It is supposed to be the historically most accurate novel - I can’t judge about that but I’m willing to take the word of knowledgeable people on that. What is so far more incredible is the way the author managed to make herself invisible in her work – you know how novels have their authors’ personality in them. You can’t normally come out of a novel without having some idea of the author’s personality. Narrators of Proust and Celine look like
The statue of Hadrian, the 14th Emperor of the Roman Empire, was brought alive by the French author Marguerite Yourcenar in this novel. She climbed into his thoughts, philosophies and personality and wrote his memoir for him. Hadrian was never a conqueror, but rather a strong leader who brought controversial changes to the Roman laws which made life more bearable and humane for the vast empire.

By allowing Hadrian to be the protagonist of his own letter to Marcus Aurelius, the long forgotten man
Nov 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Written as a deathbed letter to Marcus Aurelius, “Memoirs of Hadrian” is a poetic and elegiac novel about the life of one of Rome’s “Five Good Emperors”. More interested in the cultural flourishing of his Empire than in adding to it, Hadrian’s life is mostly spent in travels, in exploration and while some armed conflict did mark his reign, it is not what he is remembered for. History knows him more as a philosopher, a moderate ruler who tried his best to preserve peace and who wanted nothing mor ...more
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
"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.” (Gustave Flaubert).

Gustave Flaubert’s quote is to some extent the catalyst for Marguerite Yourcenar’s relationship with Hadrian, the Roman emperor who lived from 76 AD to 138 AD – a man she comes to know better than her own father: ‘The facts of my father’s life are less known to me than those of the life of Hadrian.’ (quotes in i
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I was beginning to find it natural, if not just, that we should perish."

This memoir is an old man's efforts to bear with humanity a bit longer and make his looming death easier. Contemplating on his brief life and all of its random yet heavy choices, he finds it impossible to bring all the contradictions in his life into accord, and yet he tries to find peace in death without too much obsessive concern with people and things yet unborn. What eases death for him the most is the rememberance of t
An ambitious inner portrait of Emperor Hadrian by thoughtful Marguerite Yourcenar.


An exciting journey throughout the Roman Empire, following a coin from current-day Scotland to Irak.

Histoire de la Rome antique
A small-sized, infinitely gorgeous miscellany about who the Romans were.

L'univers, les dieux, les hommes
Greek myths told by historian and anthropologist Jean-Pierre Vernant, member of CNRS and professor in The Collège de France.


C'est le portrait i
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french, top-10-2013
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
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
Raul Bimenyimana
Written in epistolary form, Hadrian writes to his adopted grandson Marcus Aurelius. This book begins as an update after Hadrian sees his physician Hermogenes and later develops into the reflection and recollection of his life. This book is beautiful, from beginning to the end, beautiful.

From his childhood in Spain, to his army life, to the beginnings of his political life, his ascent to power and career successes, his policies as well as love for art and Greek culture, his finding his love Antin
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Zanna by: Garima
Well I am outraged. How is it that I was enticed, indeed tricked into reading this book?

I read to decolonise my mind. Who is Hadrian? Hadrian is the arch colonist, one whose belief in the glory of empire is totally unclouded and unshakeable, Emperor of Rome itself. I read to amend the faults of my education in its neglect of racialised 'others', gender outlaws, the materially deprived, all women and whoever else has been mis or under or not represented, in other words the black brown queer trans
Diane Barnes
May 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bedtime-books
I have no idea how to review this one, except to say that Yourcenar obviously channeled Hadrian while she was writing this. It feels like a memoir by the man himself. My edition contained an afterward by the author explaining the 25 year on and off again process of writing which was nearly as good as the novel itself. This might have been 5 stars if my knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman history were greater.
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Marguerite Yourcenar (8 June 1903 – 17 December 1987) was a French novelist and essayist born in Brussels, Belgium, who became a US citizen in 1947. Winner of the Prix Femina and the Erasmus Prize, she was the first woman elected to the Académie française, in 1980, and the seventeenth person to occupy seat 3.

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