HADRIAN'S MEMOIRS by Marguerite Yourcenar


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Inevitably analogies will be sought to that other evocation of the classic past, Thornton Wilder's The Ides of March. But Mlle. Yourcenar has attempted an even more difficult thing, she has actually used Hadrian's own writings and the writing of his contemporaries to recreate in the form of a philosophical autobiography- the life of the Emperor of the Romans. In what purports to be a ""letter"" to the adopted grandson who was to become the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian reviews his rather rugged boyhood in Spain, his schooling, his initiation into the military, the political life of Rome's world citizens, his administrative training in the provinces, his last moment election has heir to the title of Emperor. Throughout, there are moments of philosophical musings, analyses of his own imbalance, preparation for the supreme emotional experience of his life, his all-obsessive love for the youth Antinous -- and then Antinous' suicide, at a moment when Hadrian had been indoctrinating him with some of the mysticism which fascinated Hadrian. The final part of Hadrian's career was virtually directed by his determination to leave the memory of Antinous alive in creation of monuments, buildings, cities. Hadrian is accused by today's critics of never initiating, always copying. But the fact remains that he wove into the very fabric of Rome and her farflung frontiers the best he found in what then constituted the known civilized world. He visited every part, from crude Britain to cultured Spain, from rude Gaul to ancient Egypt and Asia Minor with decadent civilizations, and again and again to Greece, which epitomized for him what he wanted to preserve. So all of Rome's Empire is mirrored in this book, designed as a watchword for a boy who was to become Emperor. It reads -- as is intended- like documentary evidence, and has an odd sort of fascination. A tour de force, perhaps, demanding more of a cultural background than the average reader possesses, but for that very reason it may have a kind of intellectual snob appeal. Winner of 1952 Prix Femina.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1954
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Young