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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pellucid masterpiece
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...
Published on 8 May 2004 by P. Illing

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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow, meditative and sad
I really wanted to like this book but while I found it well-written with a lingering, contemplative beauty, it was ultimately a little too self-interested and, dare I say, self-indulgent for me. Yourcenar's Hadrian is definitely her own creation and one which reflects herself, I would guess, rather than the second-century Roman emperor.

The blurb describes this...
Published on 9 Jun. 2010 by Roman Clodia


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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pellucid masterpiece, 8 May 2004
This review is from: Memoirs of Hadrian: And Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian (Penguin Modern Classics) (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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that can re-read a few times and its as good every time, 19 April 2012
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M. Torma (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Memoirs of Hadrian: And Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic book of a wise and simple man who was a Roman Emperor, 28 Jan. 2001
This review is from: Memoirs of Hadrian: And Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian (Penguin Modern Classics) (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!, 12 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Memoirs of Hadrian: And Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
This is perhaps the most complex book I have read in a while.
Originally written in French, the hebrew translation I read uses a language, while not archaic per se, but somewhat poetic, long sentences complicating further what are already deep and, dare I say, philosophical concepts.

The book is written as a series of letters from the Emperor Hadrianus to his adopted grandson Marcus Aurelius (yes, that one).
From the very beginning Hadrianus lays down his creed about human nature, explains his love for all things Greek and his own character as an eternal optimist - not for its own sake but for the feeling of freedom it provides.

He writes a bit about his childhood and youth spent in the army, and as soon as anything, he is already 40 years old, awaiting, without much patience or hope, to be adopted and declared heir to the throne, while fighting yet another war against Parthia. Caesar, Crassus, my favourite Ancient Romans, had an obsession with this country. It was nice to see it persist through the years.

Hadrianus was the lucky one - his rivals had the same chances at power as him, the same hopes and dreams. Had their ''autobiographies'' been written, they would have been filled with them, all unfulfilled.

He is lucky - the ultimate power was his at last, and while he himself claims to be a bit of a philosopher, a bit of a dreamer, his approach to politics is very realistic.
He wants, and works for, a universal peace and he wants a universal Rome (in the existing borders) and he believes that he needs to work with humanity and that, by application of comon courtecy, potential enemies will be such no longer.

I liked how Hadrianus is cynical and amusing.
It was after, but feels like before.
Because he's writing a personal letter to his grandson, he is a stranger to false modesty and prevarication. He is honest about his shortcomings as he is about his virtues.

The whole saeculum aureum of Hadrianus, the golden age - meeting the love of his life, 5 years filled with overwhelming joy, of love and fun and travel, coming to an abrupt, but should have been predictable, end, was the saddest, most heartbreaking chapter I have ever read.

They may keep their bodice-rippers.
"My hand passed over his neck, under his heavy hair; thus even in the dullest or most futile moments I kept some feeling of contact with the great objects of nature, the thick growth of the forests, the muscular back of the panther, the regular pulsation of springs; but no caress goes so deep as the soul."
This is the most romantic thing I've read in a while.

Hadrianus, as he is the first to testify, comes across as a man of contradictions - a modest man who wants nothing more than to be an Emperor; a man with many lovers who loved only once; a Greek philosopher who was always a Roman pragmatist.

It's a very complex, very subtle book.
There's no conventional plot, nor action or romance or intrigue.
And yet, they are all there, but as a larger part of who Hadrianus is, rather than what surrounds him (if that makes any sense).
A human life in 300 pages. An exceptional accomplishment, no doubt an inspiration to many others.

There were pages difficult to read at times, when I was tempted, again, to pull a Joey.
Especially after.
It is impossible to read, nay, to relive with the character, such love and remain unmoved.
I found myself pausing for long seconds, just staring into space...
But just as Hadrianus had somehow found the strenght to go on, surely we, the reader, must as well.

And so the Jew uprising could not have come at a better time.
On a personal note, while I never agreed with their religious fanaticism, I felt strangely proud of my ancestors from Judea, who gave this peace-loving Emperor, against whom no nation dared stand, such a headache.
The Bar Kokhba rebellion had terrible consequences to the lives of Jews for a thousand years, still felt today, but I think that, even knowing the outcome for sure, they would have done the same thing again, for a chance to be free.

In the end, I think Hadrianus was surprised, just as the reader was, to discover that at some point, during or after, his life of wars and of peace, of travels, of parties, of intrigues, of laws, of rule, of health and of sickness, has narrowed down to only one "he".
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to be Treasured - a Masterpiece!, 11 Jan. 2003
This review is from: Memoirs of Hadrian: And Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian (Penguin Modern Classics) (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
5.0 out of 5 stars a master piece, 15 Feb. 2006
By A Customer
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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5.0 out of 5 stars A memorable read., 15 April 2015
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This review is from: Memoirs of Hadrian: And Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
This book is justifiably renowned. It tells in the first person the life of Emperor Hadrian, the one who organised the building of the famous wall between England and Scotland, among other things. Miss Yourcenar's historical knowledge illuminates the story but not in a dry way. We are privy to Hadrian's thoughts and opinions and he comes over as very much a man of his times but also as a sympathetic charismatic man. One of the other things he was famous for is his great gay love affair with the beautiful young man, Antinous. Hadrian made him immortal by commissioning a multitude of busts and statues of this youth so that hundreds of years later his face is more familiar than that of more famous people of his time. It is made clear that Antinous was not the only gay relationship Hadrian enjoyed but it was the one which made the most impact. In dying young Antinous became immortal as an example of beauty and gay love. This love is described delicately and poignantly. The reader feels as bereft as Hadrian. In the book Hadrian acknowledges that if Antinous had not died when and as he did time might have allowed their love to subside into affectionate friendship...or it might not. The power of the narrative is in this honesty of thought. Lost love cannot be tarnished or grow less...it remains at full power. Hadrian goes on with his life but Antinous never truly leaves him for he can see him in memory and dreams, perfect as he was in life. This is a book you can read again and again. The insight into the Roman world of that time is endlessly fascinating. I recommend this book unreservedly.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest books ever written?, 15 Feb. 2010
By 
J. Vernon (Surrey, UK) - See all my reviews
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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. It has real weight, transcending the fictitious historical memoir of a great Roman Emperor, to address universal issues of human life in a perplexing universe.

In such a wide-ranging book, it is difficult to select a passage to convey an impression of this magnificent work. After much thumbing back through the pages, I have selected this elegant paragraph. Enjoy.

"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 salts of the 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."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Suggestion for future edition, 31 Oct. 2010
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This review is from: Memoirs of Hadrian: And Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
A superb book, the outcome of a lifetime's work and reflection, and I don't intend to add anything to the other 5-star reviews here. But just in case publishers read Amazon reviews, I would make a plea for a map of the ancient world, with ancient names, to accompany the text please!
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, it is a masterpiece!, 14 Dec. 2001
This review is from: Memoirs of Hadrian: And Reflections on the Composition of Memoirs of Hadrian (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Of course we have seen the phrase "masterpiece" used over and over. And, the phrase has become over-used. This book; however, does remind us what the phrase actually means. Through a very subtle narrative a portion of the history of an empire is described, covering everything from petty, personal intrigue, to matters of running a state, to military campaigns in far-off land.
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