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Memoirs of Hadrian (FSG Classics) Paperback – 10 May 2008


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Product details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (10 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374529264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374529260
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.6 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,881,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. Torma on 19 April 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you wish to have a quick, easy and even amusing dip into the era of the late Roman empire - this is not the book for you. If you want to know the facts of battles, constructions, bloodlines and courtly intrigues (which there were plenty, accession of Hadrian wasn't quite so straightforward as we see it through Hadrian's/Yourcenar's eyes) - this is not the book for you. There are other books to read if this is what you are after (say Lindsey Davies' Falco series).

As someone said in the comments below - this is rather a philosophy book set in historical era, an era that Yourcenar knew very well (I believe she spoke Latin and ancient Greek fluently). It's historically impeccable (even if it doesn't go on about battles) but you can sense the tensions and ideals of mid 20th century in the book set in the 2nd century. Writing a "ghost biography" limits how much you can say about a person so it limits how many different story lines you can keep going and limits analysis of different aspects of Hadrian (he was no saint) but this is not a flaw in the book as the biggest beauty of the book lies in Marguerite Yourcenar's prose. She worked on the book for 10 years and in the sentences became tense with meaning while appearing deceivingly simple. You want to slow down and absorb this book. It is like the most excellent wine you unexpectedly find (not to diminish the book or aggrandise the wine) - you just want to savour it until the end.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By P. Illing on 8 May 2004
Format: Paperback
This is one of the best historical novels around. I've read it both in the French and in the English translation by Grace Frick. The English translation really does convey the flavour of Yourcenar's measured prose. It helps that Grace was a very close friend of Yourcenar. I've also studied this period and Yourcenar was obviously steeped in the sources - just how far is clear in the notes included at the back. She conveys not only the philosophical tensions in Roman life but mundane things such as the quality of light, the treatment of slaves, attitudes towards Jews, Barbarians and Greeks. There is not a false note in the book, and it raises universal questions whilst acknowledging the different context of Hadrian's life. A beautiful piece of work.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By ltdsevans@interplanet.es on 28 Jan. 2001
Format: Paperback
This book takes you back in time to the 2nd century and the memoirs of Emperor Hadrian. But it makes you feel as though this man could be talking to you, telling you his inner most thoughts on life and death. The book is totally compelling and you feel for Hadrian as a man. He talks about his love of life , nature, friendships and ultimately, his greatest love, the young Antoninous. The portrayal of this relationship and its unfortunate ending was very moving.
You also begin to see just how humanitarian and ahead of his time this man was. The birth of liberty, humanitarian values, democracy and provincialism all figure in his reign. The evidence and influence of Hadrian are still to be felt. This is a wonderful window into the 2nd century and the life of a compassionate and hugely dynamic man. I feel richer and wiser for having been introduced to his thoughts on life and living. It is a great introduction to Roman history, and history in general.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Kayee on 11 Jan. 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is one the best books that I have read. It is actually a "ghost autobiography", of the second century Roman emperor Hadrian. The language is fluent and the descriptions of events and the life around him are both graphic and moving. If you are a philosopher and an emperor and you possess all that you wish to have, what would be your thoughts be? By answering this question this book suggests an answer to another: "What is the Meaning of Life?"
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Feb. 2006
Format: Paperback
I usually don't write book reviews but in this particular case I think that i need to talk about one of the aspects of the book that is missing in the other reviews.
All the reviews talk about it as a historical book. Readers praised its language fluency and historical accuracy. They're not wrong, but I don't think that it is the essence of the book, the reason why the author wrote it. This memeoirs don't allow us to enter the emperor's mind and the roman philosophy and beleifs. No one can know what these were and the author doesn't pretend to do so. This book is rather a personal work that allow us to enter the author's mind and philosophy (because it is first a philosophical treaty) and to analyse our relationship with our roman past. Marguerite yourcenar isn't a historian, she is a philosoph.
She was the first woman to enter L'académie Française, and she's undoubtedly one the major french writers of the century.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. Vernon on 15 Feb. 2010
Format: Paperback
Is this possibly one of the greatest books ever written? It might be hard to convince others of this view, but somehow I have a nagging huge respect for this book and its author. I remember the powerful effect of first reading `Memoirs of Hadrian' over 15 years ago, with a copy lent me by a good friend, Tony Head.

By chance I came across it in a charity shop, and snatched it up with eager anticipation, even though the years had erased nearly all detail of the book in my memory, except that feeling of awed respect. On this re-reading, I was even more impressed. A book which improves and magnifies its impact on subsequent reading is a rare achievement.

The writing of this book was virtually a life's work for the author. It was first written in French, but she participated in the translation with Grace Frick to produce an equally precious artwork in English. The measured and lapidary nature of the French language comes through in elegant and significant English sentences.

One needs to read the book slowly, for virtually every sentence carries weight. It is deeply philosophical, using the life of the Emperor Hadrian to meditate on matters of love, loyalty, politics, religion, death, decay, memory, futility, betrayal, Godhood, ecstasy, poetry, architecture, self-discipline, courage, nature and on and on with admirable judiciousness and balance. The fictional Hadrian achieved great wisdom from his long, varied and sad life, but it all comes out of the head and heart of its remarkable author.

So this is a profound and deeply moving book. It is infused with melancholy, yet intensely interested to convey thought and explore life.
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