Hello, dear readers!  I'm back with another book review and recommendation. Memories of Hadrian by Belgian French author Marguerite Yourcenar is an extraordinary novel about  Roman emperor Hadrian.  Published in 1951, it won its author critical acclaim and was an immediate success. Originally written and published in French, under the title Mémoires d'Hadrien, it was translated to English in 1954 by Grace Frick, who was not only  Marguirete's lifelong translator but also her lifelong partner.

Belgian born Marguerite Yourcenar became an USA citizen in 1954, the same year an English version of her novel was published. Marguerite was quite an established writer, the winner of the Prix Femina and the Erasmus Prize, and the first woman elected to the French Academy in 1980. In 1965, she was even nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature. Surely, this novel had something to do with her success. It is said that Marguerite envisioned this novel when she was about twenty years old, but she cast away her original writings and manuscripts. Over the span of about ten years, Marguerite kept returning to her work, until she finally finished and published this masterpiece. 

Calling it a masterpiece seems justified. Memories of Hadrian  might just be one the finest historical novel I have read. Not only it is meticulously researched and well plotted, it's amazing philosophical and lyrical. The beautifully lyrical writing feels absolutely authentic, and it flows so easily, it's almost hypnotic. Not only do you feel like you're reading actual autobiography written by Hadrian itself, you feel like you have insight into the depths of his soul. The writing style is so intimate and the psychological analysis of Hadrian so well done, you feel as if you're his confessor. 

My book review is going to be longer than usual and therefore, I plan to divide it into two parts! I'm reading the book in Italian. I bought this Italian edition in a secondhand bookshop in Split where I get all of my vintage editions. The book is so pretty. It's also in wonderful state. Not that I mind shabby books, I actually enjoy that too. I can't wait for this book to become shabby as well, but for the moment I'm enjoying its being in pristine condition. 

I'm really enjoying reading this novel. There's also an audiobook in Italian that I'm listening simultaneously. Here is the Youtube link. I also checked out the English translation. Moreover, the quotations I'm going to use are going to be in English, because that's the language of this review.  I do recommend reading this book in original or one of the Latin languages. The reason for it that the author went to great lengths using words of Latin or Greek origin so that the novel would feel more Latin.

I will use quotations from Internet Archive.*



It's surprisingly philosophical, poetical and lyrical. Filled with philosophical digressions, it's still easy to follow as it focuses on life story of emperor Hadrian, narrated by himself. The novel is framed as a letter to a young man.


The novel as the title implies, resembles a memoir. It's told in first person narration. The writing style is sometimes that of a stream of consciousness. Still, Hadrian as a narrator never strays completely from the topic that is after all- his life. He retells his childhood, youth and mature years, describing many historical events and figures in the process. 


The narrator of the novel addresses young Mark, that is Marcus Aurelius, who is only seventeen year old. The book is supposedly one long letter to Marcus. Mark or Marcus is the son of Hadrian's friend and successor. Hadrian writes to him well aware that Marcus won't be able to understand all of it, but this is supposed to be both instructional and autobiographical writing.

Hadrian's honesty reminded me of Machiavelli's The Prince. I don't know if you know it, but Machiavelli also devoted his work to a young person he expected to be a ruler. However, the narrative here is more intimate and personal than those in The Prince that is principally a description of dynamics of rule. 


The chapter are titled in Latin, adding to the historical feel of the novel. The novel opens with a historical quote. The quotation is a poem written by Hadrian. The poem was translated by D. Johnston:

Oh, loving Soul, my own so tenderly,
My life’s companion and my body’s guest,
To what new realms, poor flutterer, wilt thou fly?
Cheerless, disrobed, and cold in thy lone quest,
Hushed thy sweet fancies, mute thy wonted jest.




What follows is description of our narrator. He's a mature man of failing physical health, but in possession of a sharp and active philosophical mind. That's rather fortunate, for Hadrian has a fascinating mind and a rich personal history with many notable experiences and events to retell. As the retells his present state, one feels he's a man who doesn't feel much remorse. Hadrian seems to strive for an objective view of things. There's something of a stoicism in him that I quite liked. He mentions casually how it's hard to keep one's royal dignity in presence of a medic, but it doesn't seem to bother him. Hadrian doesn't seem to dwell much on the point of royalty. Perhaps at that point, he's tired of rule and everything it brings. In this first chapter and others to follow, At one point, Hadrian reflects on his poetry and declares himself a mediocre poet. However, this doesn't worry Hadrian. He's lived a long life, tried and experienced many things. His view on life seems to be an usual mixture of curiosity and indifference. Maybe indifference isn't the right word. He isn't exactly indifferent, rather he's distanced from life. 


My dear Mark, 

Today I went to see my physician Hermogenes, who has just returned to the Villa from a rather long journey in Asia. 
No food could be taken before the examination, so we had made the appointment for the early morning hours. I took off 
my cloak and tunic and lay down on a couch. I spare you details which would be as disagreeable to you as to me, the 
description of the body of a man who is growing old, and is about to die of a dropsical heart. Let us say only that I coughed, 
inhaled, and held my breath according to Hermogenes’ directions. He was alarmed, in spite of himself, by the rapid progress 
of the disease, and was inclined to throw the blame on young Iollas, who has attended me during his absence. It is difficult 
to remain an emperor in the presence of a physician, and difficult even to keep one’s essential quality as man. The 
professional eye saw in me only a mass of humours, a sorry mixture of blood and lymph. This morning it occurred to me 
for the first time that my body, my faithful companion and friend, truer and better known to me than my own soul, may 
be after all only a sly beast who will end by devouring his master. But enough I like my body; it has served me well, 
and in every way, and I do not begrudge it the care it now needs. 

Hadrian knows that he is dying and it's from this perspective that his writes down 'his memories'. He has no illusions about his death but doesn't judge his chief physician for offering him 'false hopes'. He even calls his physicians wise, understanding his motives are benevolent. Physician's job is after all to offer hope. Hadrian doesn't need hope. He's grown accustomed to the thought of death, it seems. He talks about how death is certain for everyone. What's different for him now is the fact that he knows that the end is only months and not years away.

I have no faith, however, as Hermogenes still claims to have in the miraculous virtues of herbs, or the specific mixture of 
mineral salts which he went to the Orient to get. Subtle though he is, he has nevertheless offered me vague formulas of re- 
assurance too trite to deceive anyone; he knows how I hate this kind of pretence, but a man does not practise medicine for more 
than thirty years without some falsehood. I forgive this good servitor his endeavour to hide my death from me. Hermogenes 
is learned; he is even wise, and his integrity is well above that of the ordinary court physician. It will fall to my lot as a sick 
man to have the best of care. But no one can go beyond prescribed limits : my swollen limbs no longer sustain me through 
the long Roman ceremonies; I fight for breath; and I am now sixty. 
Hadian assures Marcus that he is not weak and shall now yield to fearful imaginings, that are in his words, as absurd as illusions of hope. What is he hoping for then? Perhaps simply to tell his story. 

Do not mistake me; I am not yet weak enough to yield to 
fearful imaginings, which are almost as absurd as illusions of 
hope, and are certainly harder to bear. If I must deceive 
myself, I should prefer to stay on the side of confidence, for 
I shall lose no more there and shall suffer less.
This approaching end is not necessarily immediate; 
I still retire each night 
with hope to see the morning. Within those absolute limits of 
which I was just now speaking I can defend my position step 
by step, and even regain a few inches of lost ground. I have 
nevertheless, reached the age where life, for every man, is 
accepted defeat. To say that my days are numbered signifies 
nothing; they always were, and are so for us all. 
But uncertainty as to the place, the time, and the manner, which keeps 
us from distinguishing the goal toward which we continually 
advance, diminishes for me with the progress of my fatal malady. 
A man may die at any hour, but a sick man knows that he will 
no longer be alive in ten years’ time. My margin of doubt is 
a matter of months, not years. 

Hadrian seems to have a philosophical and calm view of death, even if he doesn't speak of any beliefs or religion that would ease the thought of passing away. Hadrian doesn't mention Gods or life after death, at least not in this point. The way this Roman emperor writes about his demise is quite poetical- begging to discern the profile of one's death. Who is this man that is getting ready to tell his story? He opened the narrative showing a vulnerable side to himself. He didn't appear as the grand emperor that the history remembers him for. Hadrian starts his memoir talking about his death, being supposedly gentle with his servants and slaves, craving solitude and peace. 

Shall I be carried off by the tenth of these crises, or the hundredth ? That is the only question. 
Like a traveller 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 

Did the author started Hadian's memoirs in this way to hint at the fact that everything is doomed to end, that every life has its end? That emperors age as quickly or perhaps even more quickly than regular people?  That fate plays a more significant role than we care to admit? That all humans are complex and flawed in a number of ways? That emperors aren't much different from regular people?

Hadian himself doesn't find himself that different from others, it seems.  Some say that Marguerite was fascinated by this period of Roman history because it was the time when people stopped believing in the old Gods but haven't found the new religion of Chistianity appealing yet. Supposedly, there was a loss of hope in this period, something Marguerite compared with Europe plagued by WW2. There's talk of war in this novel as well, but more about that latter. Let's get back to the first chapter, that introduces us with a man who is secure in his vulnerability, who talks of his illness and insomnia, of lessons taught by life and suffering. 

Already certain portions of my life are like dismantled rooms 
of a palace too vast for an impoverished owner to occupy in 
its entirety. I can hunt no longer: if there were no one but 
me to disturb them in their ruminations and their play the 
deer in the Etrurian mountains would be at peace. 
In his youth, Hadrian had enjoyed hunting, but at this point he isn't capable of it. Hadrian explains why he enjoyed the hunt, both as a sport and as a way of studying one's nature. There's cruelty in hunt, for sure, but it's perhaps less cruel that butchering of farm animals. At least, the wild animals have a chance of escaping. So, it seemed kind of fair to Hadrian, the wild beast had their cunning to rely on, and the men their intelligence. However, like many activities that Hadrian used to enjoy, hunt is neither enjoyable nor possible for him.

With the Diana of the forests I have always maintained the swift-chang- 
ing and passionate relations which are those of a man with the 
object of his love: the boar hunt gave me my first chance, as 
a boy, for command and for encounter with danger; I fairly 
threw myself into the sport, a r.d my excesses in it brought 
reprimands from Trajan. The kill in a Spanish forest was my 
earliest acquaintance with death and with courage, with pity 
for living creatures and the tragic pleasure of seeing them 
suffer. Grown to manhood, I found in hunting release from 
many a secret struggle with adversaries too subtle or too stupid 
in turn, too weak or too strong for me; this evenly-matched 
battle between human intelligence and the wisdom of wild 
beasts seemed strangely clean compared to the snares set by 
men for men. My hunts in Tuscany have helped me as emperor 
to judge the courage or the resources of high officials; I have 
chosen or eliminated more than one statesman in this way. In 
later years, in Bithynia and Cappadocia, I made the great 
drives for game a pretext for festival, a kind of autumnal 
triumph in the woods of Asia. But the companion of my last 
hunts died young, and my taste for these violent pleasures has 
greatly abated since his departure. Even here in Tibur, however, 
the sudden bark of a stag in the brush is enough to set tremble 
within me an impulse deeper than all the rest, by virtue, jf 
which I feel myself leopard as well as emperor. Who knows ? 
Possibly I have been so sparing of human blood only because 
I have shed so much of the blood of wild beasts, even if some- 
times, privately, I have preferred beasts to mankind. However 
that may be, they are more in my thoughts, and it is hard not 
to let myself go into interminable tales of the chase which 
would try the patience of my supper guests. Surely the recol- 
lection of the day of my adoption has its charm, but the memory 
of lions killed in Mauretania is not bad either. 
What Hadrian does seem to miss is riding, because the horse was his friend. He describes with tenderness the relationship he had with his horse. Hadrian seems happy that there is still someone to exercise the horse. 

To give up riding is a greater sacrifice still: a wild beast is
first of all an adversary, but my horse was a friend. If the choice
of my condition had been left to me I would have decided for
that of centaur. Between Borysthenes and me relations were
of almost mathematical precision; he obeyed me as if I were
his own brain, not his master. Have I ever obtained as much
from a man ? Such total authority comprises, as does any other
power, its risk of error for the possessor, but the pleasure of
attempting the impossible in jumping an obstacle was too
strong for me to regret a dislocated shoulder or a broken rib.
My horse knew me not by the thousand approximate notions
of title, function, and name which complicate human friend-
ship, but solely by my just weight as a man. He shared my
every impetus; he knew perfectly, and better perhaps than I,
the point where my strength faltered under my will.

 When Celer leaps down from his horse I too regain contact with the 
ground. It is the same with swimming: I have given it up, but 
I still share the swimmer’s delight in water’s caress. Running, 
even for the shortest distance, would today be as impossible 
for me as for a heavy statue, a Caesar of stone; but I recall my 
childhood races on the dry hills of Spain, and the game played 
with myself of pressing on to the last gasp, never doubting that 
the perfect heart and healthy lungs would re-establish their 
equilibrium; and with any athlete training for the stadium I 
have a common understanding which the intelligence alone 
would not have given me. Thus from each art practised in its 
time I derive a knowledge which compensates me in part for 
pleasures lost. I have supposed, and in my better moments 
think so still, that it would be possible in this manner to 
participate in the existence of everyone; such sympathy would 
be one of the least revocable kinds of immortality. There have 
been moments when that comprehension tried to go beyond 
human experience, passing from the swimmer to the wave. 
But in such a realm, since there is nothing exact to guide me, 
I verge upon the world of dream and metamorphosis. 

How poetically Marguerite writes through the pen of emperor Hadrian! Moreover, the subject of his writing is poetical in itself, stopping to analyze emotions and memories. This great Roman emperor isn't reciting tales of grandness and victories, he talks of sympathy that allows a person to take pleasure in the pleasure of others. Hadrian talks about the value of empathy that makes us appreciate little things, a loyalty of a horse, the happiness that someone else gets to ride one's horse even when one can't anymore, happiness that someone is swimming even when we ourselves can't swim. He seems to praise empathy that allows us to participate in the existence of everyone. The Hadrian we're meeting is wonderfully mature human being. 

There's something moderate about Hadrian. He doesn't enjoy overeating or drinking. Hadrian seems to enjoy the simple life, and only organizes banquets because it's a social convention of his time. He reveals himself to us as a man who has understanding for the vices of others, but who is willing to call a vice and vice and not excuse it only because it's a part of customs of his times.

Overeating is a Roman vice, but moderation has always been 
my delight. Hermogenes has had to change nothing in my diet, 
except perhaps the impatience which made me devour the 
first thing served, no matter where or when, in order to satisfy 
the needs of hunger simply and at once. It is clear that a man 
of wealth, who has never known anything but voluntary priva- 
tion, or has experienced it only provisionally as one of the 
more or less exciting incidents of war or travel, would have but 
ill grace to boast of undereating. Stuffing themselves on certain 
feast days has always been the ambition, joy, and natural pride 
of the poor. At army festivities I liked the aroma of roasted 
meats and the noisy scraping of kettles, and it pleased me to 
see that the army banquets (or what passes for a banquet in 
camp) were just what they always should be, a gay and hearty 
contrast to the deprivations of working days.

Hadrian states that he much prefers the pure water to wine, especially to Roman wine that warries him. There's something in him that enjoys the simple life and return to nature, possibly it has something to do with the fact that he has grown up on his grandfather's farm.  Rome tires Hadian, it is not his natural environment. 
Wine initiates us into the volcanic mysteries of the soil and 
its hidden mineral riches; a cup of Samos drunk at noon in the 
heat of the sun or, on the contrary, absorbed of a winter 
evening when fatigue makes the warm current felt at once 
in the hollow of the diaphragm and the sure and burning 
dispersion spreads along our arteries, such a drink provides a 
sensation which is almost sacred, and is sometimes too strong 
for the human head. No feeling so pure comes from the vintage- 
numbered cellars of Rome; the pedantry of great connoisseurs 
of wine wearies me. Water drunk more reverently still, from 
the hands or from the spring itself, diffuses within us the most 
secret salt of earth and the rain of heaven. But even water is a 
delight which, sick man that I am, I may now consume only 
with strict restraint. No matter: in death’s agony itself, and 
mingled with the bitterness of the last potions, I shall try still 
to taste on my lips its fresh simplicity. 

Hadrian goes to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of fasting and similar practices, all the while retaining his philosophical stance. Hadian is aware of the fact that he choose to fit in but not indulging in what could be labelled as 'asceticism'.  In other words, he pretended to care more about feasts then he did, in order to be a part of society of his time. 
In the schools of philosophy, where it is well to try once 
for all each mode of life, I have experimented briefly with 
abstention from meat; later, in Asia, I have seen the Indian 
Gymnosophists avert their eyes from smoking lamb quarters 
and gazelle meat served in the tent of Osroes. But this practice, 
in which your youthful love of austerity finds charm, calls for 
attentions more complicated than those of culinary refinement 
itself; and it separates us too much from the common run of 
men in a function which is nearly always public, and in which 
either friendship or formality presides. I should prefer to live 
all my life upon woodcock and fattened goose rather than be 
accused by my guests, at each meal, of a display of asceticism. 
Already I have had some trouble to conceal from my friends, 
by the help of dried fruits or the contents of a glass sipped 
slowly, that the display pieces of my chefs were made more 
for them than for me, and that my interest in these courses 
ended before theirs. A prince lacks the latitude afforded to 
the philosopher in this respect: he cannot allow himself to be 
different on too many points at a time; and the gods know that 
my points of difference were already too numerous, though I 
flattered myself that many were invisible. As to the religious 
scruples of the Gymnosophist and his disgust at the sight of 
bleeding flesh, I should be more affected thereby if I had not 
sometimes asked myself in what essentials the suffering of 
grass, when it is cut, differs from the suffering of slaughtered 
sheep, and if our horror in presence of murdered beasts does 
not arise from the fact that our sensations belong to the same 
physical order as theirs. But at certain times of life, for example 
in periods of ritual fasting or in the course of religious initia- 
tions, I have learned the advantage for the mind (and also the 
dangers) of different forms of abstinence, or even of voluntary 
starvation, those states approaching giddiness where the body, 
partly lightened of ballast, enters into a world for which it is 
not made, and which affords it a foretaste of the cold and 
emptiness of death.

Hadrian moves from the topic of drinking and eating to that of love. Hadrian seems to give love more credit than some thinkers of his times. He seems to realize there's more to love than it seems, understanding something of its wonderful mystery. 

The cynics and the moralists agree in placing the pleasures 
of love among the enjoyments termed gross, that is, between 
the desire for drinking and the need for eating, though at the 
same time they call love less indispensable, since it is some- 
thing which, they assert, one can go without. I expect almost 
anything from the moralist, but am astonished that the cynic 
should go thus astray. Probably both fear their own daemons, 
whether resisting or surrendering to them, and they oblige 
themselves to scorn their pleasure in order to reduce its almost 
terrifying power, which overwhelms them, and its strange 
mystery, wherein they feel lost. I shall never believe in the 
classification of love among the purely physical joys (supposing 
that any such things exist) until I see a gourmet sobbing with 
delight over his favourite dish like a lover gasping on a young 
shoulder. Of all our games, love’s play is the only one which 
threatens to unsettle the soul, and is also the only one in 
which the player has to abandon himself to the body’s ecstasy. 
To put reason aside is not indispensable for a drinker, but the 
lover who leaves reason in control does not follow his god to 
the end. In every act save that of love, abstinence and excess 
alike involve but one person; any step in the direction of 
sensuality, however, places us in the presence of the Other, 
and involves us in the demands and servitudes to which our 
choice binds us (except in the case of Diogenes, where both 
the limitations and the merits of reasonable expediency are self- 
evident). I know no decision which a man makes for simpler 
or more inevitable reasons, where the object chosen is weighed 
more exactly for its balance of sheer pleasure, or where the 
seeker after truth has a better chance to judge the naked 
human being. Each time, from a stripping down as absolute as 
that of death, and from a humility which surpasses that of 
defeat and of prayer, I marvel to see again reforming the 
complex web of experiences shared and refused, of mutual 
responsibilities, awkward avowals, transparent lies, and pas- 
sionate compromises between my pleasures and those of the 
Other, so many bonds impossible to break but nevertheless so 
quickly loosened. That mysterious play which extends from 
love of a body to love of an entire person has seemed to me 
noble enough to consecrate to it one part of my life. Words 
for it are deceiving, since the word for pleasure covers con- 
tradictory realities comprising notions of warmth, sweetness, 
and intimacy of bodies, but also feelings of violence and agony, 
and the sound of a cry. The short and obscene sentence of 
Posidonius about the rubbing together of two small pieces of 
flesh, which I have seen you copy in your exercise books with 
the application of a good schoolboy, does no more to define 
the phenomenon of love than the strings touched by the finger 
account for the infinite miracle of sounds. Such a dictum is 
less an insult to pleasure than to the flesh itself, that amazing 
instrument of muscles, blood, and skin, that red-tinged cloud 
whose lightning is the soul. 
Hadrian continues to be wonderfully philosophical on a number of topics including that of identity and dreams. However, eventually ( i.e. once the second chapter start) he starts retelling his life, starting with his childhood spent in Spain. He speaks of his grandfather, who thought in Spanish and spoke Latin with a thick Spanish accent. So, has Hadrian and he mentions how he was mocked in Rome because of it. Hadrian's grandfather was an interesting figure and I enjoyed reading about him. Hadrian's grandfather believed in stars, and predicted that Hadrian will become an emperor when Hadrian was still a child. However, it seemed everyone forgot the prophecy for a while. 


Marullinus, my grandfather, believed in the stars. This tall 
old man, emaciated and sallow with age, conceded to me 
much the same degree of affection, without tenderness or 
visible sign, and almost without words, that he felt for the 
animals on his farm and for his lands, or for his collection of 
stones fallen from the sky. He was descended from a line of 
ancestors long established in Spain, from the period of the 
Scipios, and was third of our name to bear senatorial rank; 
before that time our family had belonged to the equestrian 
order. Under Titus he had taken some modest part in public 
affairs. Provincial that he was, he had never learned Greek, 
and he spoke Latin with a harsh Spanish accent which he 
passed on to me, and for which I was later ridiculed in Rome. 
His mind, however, was not wholly uncultivated; after his 
death they found in his house a trunk full of mathematical 
instruments and books untouched by him for twenty years. 
He was learned in his way, with a knowledge half scientific, 
half peasant, that same mixture of narrow prejudice and 
ancient wisdom which characterized the elder Cato. But Cato 
was a man of the Roman Senate all his life, and of the war 
with- Carthage, a true representative of the stern Rome of the 
Republic. The almost impenetrable hardness of Marullinus 
came from farther back, and from more ancient times. 
He was a man of the tribe, the incarnation of a sacred and 
awe-inspiring world of which I have sometimes found vestiges 
among our Etruscan soothsayers. He always went bareheaded, as 
I was criticized for doing later on; his horny feet spurned all 
use of sandals, and his everyday clothing was hardly distin- 
guishable from that of the aged beggars, or of the grave tenant 
farmers whom I used to see squatting in the sun. They said 
that he was a wizard, and the village folk tried to avoid his 
glance. But over animals he had singular powers. I have 
watched his grizzled head approaching cautiously, though in 
friendly wise, a nest of adders, and before a lizard have seen his 
gnarled fingers execute a kind of dance. 

On summer nights he took me with him to study the sky 
from the top of a barren hill. I used to fall asleep in a furrow, 
tired out from counting meteors. He would stay sitting, gazing 
upward and turning imperceptibly with the stars. He must 
have known the systems of Philolaus and of Hipparchus, and 
that of Aristarchus of Samos which was my choice in later 
years, but these speculations had ceased to interest him. For 
him the stars were fiery points in the heavens, objects akin to 
the stones and slow-moving insects from which he also drew 
portents, constituent parts of a magic universe in which were 
combined the will of the gods, the influence of daemons, and 
the lot apportioned to men. He had cast my horoscope. One 
night (I was eleven years old at the time) he came and shook 
me from my sleep and announced, with the same grumbling 
laconism that he would have employed to predict a good 
harvest to his tenants, that I should rule the world. Then, 
seized with mistrust, he went to fetch a brand from a small fire 
of root ends kept going to warm us through the colder hours, 
held it over my hand, and read in my solid, childish palm I 
know not what confirmation of lines written in the sky. The 
world for him was all of a piece; a hand served to confirm the 
stars. His news affected me less than one might think; a child 
is ready for anything. Later, I imagine, he forgot his own 
prophecy in that indifference to both present and future which 
is characteristic of advanced age. They found him one morning 
in the chestnut woods on the far edge of his domain, dead and 
already cold, and torn by birds of prey. Before his death he had 
tried to teach me his art, but with no success; my natural 
curiosity tended to jump at once to conclusions without 
burdening itself under the complicated and somewhat repellent 
details of his science. But the taste for certain dangerous 
experiments has remained with me, indeed only too much 
It seemed that Hadrian has inherited more from his grandfather than his father and mother. His father died young and his mother left the job of raising him to his guardians.  Hadrian describes his father as a man weighted down by his virtues. He concludes that had Aelius lived to see his son Hadrian an emperor, he would have been much impressed.  What would his mother would have thought? Hadrian describes her as beautiful and virtuous, but he hadn't seen her again after he set to Rome, so he didn't really have a close relationship with her.
My father, Aelius Hadrianus Afer, was a man weighed down 
by his very virtues. His life was passed in the thankless duties 
of civil administration; his voice hardly counted in the Senate. 
Contrary to usual practice, his governorship of the province of 
Africa had not made him richer. At home, in our Spanish 
township of Italica, he exhausted himself in the settlement of 
local disputes. Without ambitions and without joy, like many 
a man who from year to year thus effaces himself more and 
more, he had come to put a fanatic application into minor 
matters to which he limited himself. 
My mother settled down, for 
the rest of her life, to an austere widowhood ; I never saw her 
again from the day that I set out for Rome, summoned hither 
by my guardian. My memory of her face, elongated like those 
of most of our Spanish women and touched with melancholy 
sweetness, is confirmed by her image in wax on the Wall of 
Ancestors. She had the dainty feet of the women of Gades, 
in their close-fitting sandals; the gentle swaying of the hips 
which marks the dancers of that region was also visible in this 
virtuous young matron. 
Hadrian continues his tale, a tale of a Roman emperor that was born in Italica, whose first homelands were books, who will be grateful until his dying day to the man who put him to the study of Greek. Hadrian praises Greek, telling that it was the language he has thought in, even when he rules in Latin. Hadrian describes his education in Rome and Athens, considering himself fortunate because he had the opportunity to study medicine, which is according to him, a science similar to rule, a medic being similar to an emperor. Interesting observation! Does it mean that Hadrian thought that an emperor must observe his state as a body, that can be kept more healthy by certain procedures and strategies? 
At sixteen I returned to Rome after a stretch of preliminary 
training in the Seventh Legion, stationed then well into the, 
Pyrenees, in a wild region of Spain very different from the 
southern part of the peninsula where I had passed my child- 
hood. Acilius Attianus, my guardian, thought it good that some 
serious study should counterbalance these months of rough 
living and violent hunting. He allowed himself, wisely, to be 
persuaded by Scaurus to send me to Athens to the sophist 
Isaeus, a brilliant man with a special gift for the art of im- 
provisation. Athens won me straightway; the somewhat 
awkward student, a brooding but ardent youth, had his first 
taste of that subtle air, those swift conversations, the strolls in 
the long golden evenings, and that incomparable ease in which 
both discussions and pleasure are there pursued. Mathematics 
and the arts, as parallel studies, engaged me in turn; Athens 
afforded me also the good fortune to follow a course in medicine 
under Leotichydes. The medical profession would have been 
congenial to me; its principles and methods are essentially 
the same as those by which I have tried to fulfil my function 
as emperor. I developed a passion for this science, which is 
too close to man ever to be absolute, but which, though subject 
to fad and to error, is constantly corrected by its contact with 
the immediate and the nude. Leotichydes approached things 
from the most positive and practical point of view; he had 
developed an admirable system for reduction of fractures.

Hadrian describes his return to Rome and difficulties he encountered in his young years. 
I was not much liked. There was, in fact, no reason why I 
should have been. Certain traits, for example my taste for the 
arts, which went unnoticed in the student at Athens, and which 
was to be more or less generally accepted in the emperor, were 
disturbing in the officer and magistrate at his first stage of 
authority. My Hellenism was cause for amusement, the more so 
in that ineptly I alternated between dissimulating and display- 
ing it. The senators referred to me as “the Greekling”. I was 
beginning to have my legend, that strange flashing reflection 
made up partly of what we do, and partly of what the public 
thinks about 11s. Plaintiffs, on learning of my intrigue with a 
senator’s wife, brazenly sent me their wives in their stead, or 
their sons when I had flaunted my passion for some young 
mime. There was a certain pleasure in confounding such folk 
by my indifference. The sorriest lot of all were those who tried 
to win me with talk about literature. 

The technique which I was obliged to develop in those 
unimportant early posts has served me in later years for my 
imperial audiences: to give oneself totally to each person 
throughout the brief duration of a hearing; to reduce the world 
for a moment to this banker, that veteran, or that widow; to 
accord to these individuals, each so different though each 
confined naturally within the narrow limits of a type, all the 
polite attention which at the best moments one gives to oneself, 
and to see them, almost every time, make use of this opportunity 
to swell themselves out like the frog in the fable; and finally 
to devote seriously a few moments to thinking about their 
business or their problem. It was again the method of the 
physician; I uncovered old and festering hatreds, and the 
leprous sores of lies. Husbands against wives, fathers against 
children, collateral heirs against everyone: the small respect in 
which I personally hold the institution of the family has hardly 
held up under it all. 

It is not that I despise men. If I did I should have no right, 
and no reason, to try to govern. I know them to be vain, 
ignorant, greedy, and timorous, capable of almost anything for 
the sake of success, or for raising themselves in esteem (even 
in their own eyes), or simply for avoidance of suffering. I 
know, for I am like them, at least from time to time, or could 
have been. Between another and myself the differences which 
I can recognize are too slight to count for much in the final 
total; I try therefore to maintain a position as far removed 
from the cold superiority of the philosopher as from the arro- 
gance of a ruling Caesar. The most benighted of men are not 
without some glimmerings of the divine: that murderer plays 
passing well upon the flute; this overseer flaying the backs of 
his slaves is perhaps a dutiful son; this simpleton would share 
with me his last piece of bread. And there are few who cannot 
be made to learn at least something reasonably well. 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. I might apply here to the search for these partial 
virtues what I was saying earlier, in sensuous terms, about 
the search for beauty. I have known men infinitely nobler and 
more perfect than myself, like your father Antoninus, and 
have come across many a hero, and even a few sages. In most 
men I have found little consistency in adhering to the good, 
but no steadier adherence to evil; their mistrust and indiffer- 
ence, usually more or less hostile, gave way almost too soon, 
almost in shame, changing too readily into gratitude and 
respect, which in turn were equally short-lived; even their 
selfishness could be bent to useful ends. I am always surprised 
that so few have hated me; I have had only one or two bitter 
enemies, for whom I was, as is always the case, in part 
responsible. Some few have loved me: they have given me far 
more that I had the right to demand, or to hope for: their 
deaths, and sometimes their lives. And the god whom they bear 
within them is often revealed when they die. 
Hadrian is eventually sent to army and believes this saved him from being corrupt by Rome.
Had it been too greatly prolonged, this life in Rome would 
undoubtedly have embittered or corrupted me, or else would 
have worn me out. My return to the army saved me. Army 
life has its compromises too, but they are simpler. Departure 
this time meant travel, and I set out with exultation. I had 
been advanced to the rank of tribune in the Second Legion 
Adjutrix, and passed some months of a rainy autumn on the 
banks of the Upper Danube with no other companion than 
a newly published volume of Plutarch. In November I was 
transferred to the Fifth Legion Macedonica, stationed at that 
time (as it still is) at the mouth of the same river, on the frontiers 
of Lower Moesia. Snow blocked the roads and kept me from 
travelling by land. I embarked at Pola, but had barely time on 
the way to revisit Athens, where later I was so long to reside. 
News of the assassination of Domitian, announced a few days 
after my arrival in camp, surprised no one, and was cause for 
general rejoicing. 
Trajan was promptly adopted by Nerva; 
the advanced age of the new ruler made actual succession a 
matter of months at the most. The policy of conquest on 
which it was known that my cousin proposed to launch Rome, 
the regrouping of troops which began, and the progressive 
tightening of discipline, all served to keep the army in a state 
of excited expectancy. Those Danubian legions functioned 
with the precision of newly greased military machines; they 
bore no resemblance to the sleepy garrisons which I had known 
in Spain. Still more important, the army’s attention had ceased 
to centre upon palace quarrels and was turned instead to the 
empire’s external affairs; our troops no longer behaved like a 
band of lictors ready to acclaim or to murder no matter 
Hadrian speaks of the life in the army, and embarks on some very poetical digressions and interesting philosophical points. However, this chapter is not without events. Hadrian has to fight for his life as an enemy tries to kill him. Hadrian manages to save his life and establish a good rapport with Trajan- an emperor to be.

Trajan was in command of the troops in Lower Germany; 
the army of the Danube sent me there to convey its felicitations 
to him as the new heir to the empire. I was three days’ march 
from Cologne, in mid-Gaul, when at the evening halt the death 
of Nerva was announced. I was tempted to push on ahead of 
the imperial post, and to be the first to bring to my cousin the 
news of his accession. I set off at a gallop and continued with- 
out stop, except at Treves where my brother-in-law Servianus 
resided in his capacity as governor. We supped together. The 
feeble head of Servianus was full of imperial vapours. This 
tortuous man, who sought to harm me or at least to prevent 
me from pleasing, thought to forestall me by sending his own 
courier to Trajan. Two hours later I was attacked at the ford 
of a river; the assailants wounded my orderly and killed our 
horses. We managed, however, to lay hold of one of the attack- 
ing party, a former slave of my brother-in-law, who told the 
whole story. Servianus ought to have realized that a resolute 
man is not so easily turned from his course, at least not by any 
means short of murder, but before such an act his cowardice 
recoiled. I had to cover some three miles on foot before coming 
upon a peasant who sold me his horse. I reached Cologne 
that night, beating my brother-in-law’s courier by only a few 
lengths. This kind of adventure met with success; I was the 
better received for it by the army. The emperor retained me 
there with him as tribune in the Second Legion Fidelis. 
Moving a little forward in the plot. Upon return to Rome, emperor Trojan has his doubts about Hadrian, but with time Hadrian wins his favour. On council of his wife the empress Plotina, emperor Trajan gives his great-niece Sabrina to Hadrian as a wife. Thus Hadrian procures a lovely wife he will not love. 

That fact was apparent when the 
empress thought to advance my career in arranging for me a 
marriage with his grand-niece. Trajan opposed himself obstinately
 to the project, adducing my lack of domestic virtues, 
the extreme youth of the girl, and even the old story of my 
debts. The empress persisted with like stubbornness ; I warmed 
to the game myself; Sabina, at that age, was not wholly without 
charm. This marriage, though tempered by almost continuous 
absence, became for me subsequently a source of such irritation 
and annoyance that it is hard now to recall it as a triumph at 
the time for an ambitious young man of twenty-eight. 
Hadrian speaks of love, of affairs he had, of women he loved or believed falsely he loved for a time....He explained he was reproached for these affairs, but he doesn't consider himself in the wrong. However, Hadrian seems to understand that these 'loves' were just illusions of love. 

I was reproached at this period for adulterous relations with 
women of high rank. Two or three of these much criticized 
liaisons endured more or less up to the beginning of my princi- 
pate. Although Rome is rather indulgent toward debauchery, 
it has never favoured the loves of its rulers. Mark Antony and 
Titus had a taste of this. My adventures were more modest 
than theirs, but I fail to see how, according to our customs, a 
man who could never stomach courtesans and who was already 
bored to death with marriage might otherwise have come to 
know the varied world of women. My elderly brother-in-law, 
the impossible Servianus, whose thirty years’ seniority allowed 
him to stand over me both as schoolmaster and spy, led my 
enemies in giving out that ambition and curiosity played a 
greater part in these affairs than love itself; that intimacy with 
the wives introduced me gradually into the political secrets of 
the husbands, and that the confidences of my mistresses were 
as valuable to me as the police reports with which I regaled 
myself in later years. It is true that each attachment of any 
duration did procure for me, almost inevitably, the friendship 
of the fat or feeble husband, a pompous or timid fellow, and 
usually blind, but I seldom gained pleasure from such a con- 
nection, and profited even less. I must admit that certain 
indiscreet stories whispered in my ear by my mistresses served 
to awaken in me some sympathy for these much mocked arid 
little understood spouses. Such liaisons, agreeable when the 
women were expert in love, became truly moving when these 
women were beautiful. 

His time in Rome comes to an end again, and it's time for Hadrian to go to war again. Again we see a more strategic and observant side to him. He observes events and reports them with sincerity. 

The war lasted eleven months, and was atrocious. I still 
believe the annihilation of the Dacians to have been almost 
justified; no chief of state can willingly assent to the present 
of an organized enemy established at his very gates. But the
collapse of the kingdom of Decebalus had created a void in 
those regions upon which the Sarmatians swooped down; 
bands starting up from no one knew where infested a country 
already devastated by years of war and burned time and again 
by us, thus affording no base for our troops, whose numbers 
were in any case inadequate; new enemies teemed like worms 
in the corpse of our Dacian victories. Our recent successes 
had sapped our discipline: at the advance posts I found some- 
thing of the gross heedlessness evinced in the feasting at Rome. 
Certain tribunes gave proof of foolish over-confidence in the 
face of danger: perilously isolated in a region where the only 
part we knew well was our former frontier, they were depending 
for continued victories upon our armament, which I knew to 
be daily diminishing from loss and from wear, and upon 
reinforcements which I had no hope to see, knowing that all our 
resources would thereafter be concentrated upon Asia. 

Another danger began to threaten: four years of official 
requisitioning had ruined the villages to our rear; from the 
time of the first Dacian campaigns, for each herd of oxen or 
flock of sheep so ostentatiously captured from the enemy I had 
seen innumerable droves of cattle seized from the inhabitants. 

Review is to be continued......



Thank you for reading!


  1. Gracias por la reseña. Lo tendré en cuenta. Estas muy linda. Te mando un beso.

  2. What a beautiful place to be reading! It does sound like an interesting reading. A slice of life of the turmoil's of an artist. thanks so much! Love this outfit, perfect to be sunning in.

  3. Adoring your outfit and this location where you are bringing your hearty review from. Thanks for giving us so much information about this memoir. I'm sure now days he might be on at least 2 antidepressants and wouldn't be able to write a word. Thanks for the lovely post. All the best to a delightful July!

  4. Boa tarde, excelente domingo e um bom início de semana. Parabéns pela dica e maravilhosa , explicações.

  5. I haven't read anything by Marguerite Yourcenar since my school days. Visiting the Marguerite Yourcenar museum and park bearing her name just over the border in France has long been on my list, as it's not far from our September holiday address. Perhaps this year ... xxx

    1. Oh, visiting her museum sounds delightful! I hope you'll get the chance to do it.

  6. A long letter written to Marcus Aurelius certainly is a fresh and original format for a book. Looks like you'r enjoying summer in Buna.

    1. I'm enjoying my summer, thank you. Alternating between working and resting.

  7. Sounds really good. Thanks for the book review! Here, in Turkey, her "Coup de Grace" book is very popular but ı havent read it yet. Have a wonderful July and summer, Greetings.

    1. I appreciate the recommendation. I will look it up!

  8. You're wearing your beautiful cherry dress on that terrace that looks so relaxing for a read! As I said, I'm going to have to read that book! Thank you for letting me know about this masterpiece!

    1. This is a terrace of hotel Buna. It's wonderful!


Post a Comment

All your comments mean a lot to me, even the criticism. Naravno da mi puno znači što ste uzeli vrijeme da nešto napišete, pa makar to bila i kritika. Per me le vostre parole sono sempre preziose anche quando si tratta di critiche.

Popular posts from this blog






Shopping ban (today's outfit)/Zabrana kupovine( današnja odjevna kombinacija )

The End of the Affair (outfit post and reading recommendation)