Mary Soderstrom's Reviews > Memoirs of Hadrian

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
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's review
Jul 04, 2012

really liked it

This is one of the books we discussed at the Atwater Library book club. One of the members who is married to an Italian academic said he thought it was the best book he'd ever read, so we put it on the list.

Personally, I found it rather hard to get into, as the Emperor Hadrian writes his memoirs for his prodigy Marcus Aurelius. There's an irony heard because practically nothing written by Hadrian survives in fact, while Marcus Aurelius's Meditations have been read and savoured for centuries. But Yourcenar creates Hadrian's world so vividly that I soon became enthralled by his accounts of the influence and battles that he led (he's the man behind Hadrian's Wall in the British Isles).

This is a book that one could read as a young person, looking for challenges, ready to take on the world. But it also has resonances for older folk, since Hadrian feels the end of his life approaching and struggles to set up his succession, to leave a legacy worthy of the name.

Reading the book in tandem with a biography of Yourcenar (a fascinating woman) and the catalogue of the recent British Museum exhibit on Hadrian makes the experience that much richer.
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