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Memoirs of Hadrian Paperback – January 1, 1963

ISBN-13: 978-0374503482 ISBN-10: 0374503486 Edition: First Edition

Price: $4.00
18 New from $3.88 126 Used from $0.01 4 Collectible from $9.90
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Paperback, January 1, 1963
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (January 1, 1963)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374503486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374503482
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,266,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"In her brilliant 'psychological novel and meditation on history,' Marguerite Yourcenar has written an imaginatively daring and artistically persuasive 'self-portrait' of Hadrian."--Orville Prescott

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Impeccably researched and written by what can only be called a superb craftsmen, the book is as close to perfection as a work of historical fiction can be.
Matthew J. Storm
This is a unique and somewhat mysterious skill to have, and a skill every historian should possess or at least learn, because history is so vital to the present day.
C. Middleton
Published some 50 years ago, a raving review in a leading paper made me buy it, and it turned out one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

115 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Johann Sebastian Fu on January 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
I tried to read this book in my 20's; the book fell from my hands. I tried again at 40. The book didn't exactly fall from my hands, but my eyelids kept closing. Now I am 70. The book is so close to my heart that I can barely put it down. I am healthy and not (I hope) near death, but in this reflection on life from a man nearing death, life and its joys and sadnesses stand out more vividly than in any other book I have ever read.

From page 13: "...the flesh itself, that amazing instrument of muscles, blood, and skin, that red-tinged cloud whose lightning is the soul." Has there ever been a better description of the loved one's body?
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86 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Esther Nebenzahl on February 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
Seldom do we find a historical novel written with both so much scholarship and passion. Marguerite Yourcenar not only incarnates the soul and spirit of Emperor Hadrian but of his time as well (second century A.D.). Narrated in the first person, it is the written meditations of a sick man who holds audience with his memories. Suffering from gout, knowing that his remaining days are few, Hadrian leaves a testimony of his life, his accomplishments, his philosophical outlook on life, and some pieces of good advise for his successor Marcus Aurelius. Hadrian was an architect of peace as well as buildings, he felt responsible for sustaining and increasing the beauty of his world, and his duties forced him "to serve as the incarnation of Providence," to the point that he felt he was indeed divine. A lover of the arts, of Greek culture, of the occult, he was above all a pragmatic man whose motto was "Strength, Justice and the Muses." For him life was "like a horse to whose motions one yields, but only after having trained the animal to the utmost." His positive attitude in every life experience allows him to look back as a man fully satisfied... except in matters of love! His passion and tragic death of young Antinous reminds him that "love's play is the only one which threatens to unsettle the soul."
It is history and story written with superb craftsmanship, the end result of painful and laborious 15 years of work and research. It is a psychlogically penetrating portrait of an outstanding figure in history; a man who was able to capture the spirit of his time, which in turn has been recaptured by the genious of Marguerite Yourcenar.
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62 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on December 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
For several years now, I had seen repeated references to this novel as being superbly written, with a masterful translation from the French, reaching such a level of excellence as to merit the much overworked designation of "masterpiece." Needless to say, I was a bit skeptical of all this hoopla. When I finally got around to reading the book, on long flights to and from Denver, I needed only to read the first two pages to discover how remarkable this book is. The writing is so absolutely gorgeous and rich, that the reader is immediately captivated. Even those with little background or interest in Roman imperial history (and here we are dealing with the first and second centuries A.D.) will become engrossed in some of the finest prose I have ever read in a novel. After a while, you almost begin to believe that Hadrian actually wrote these "memoirs," so skillfully does the author hypothesize the inner thoughts and feelings of the emperor. I immediately became curious about the author (1903-1987) and how she came to write such a remarkable story. Fortunately, this paperback edition contains a section designated as "Reflections on the Composition" in which the author recounts her travails in writing the novel, her research, and the actual drafting. Also included is an extensive historical bibliography and some wonderful photographic illustrations drawn from Roman coins, sculpture, tombs, and other sources which add immeasurably to the text. A joyful and thrilling read, emoting a wonderous experience in which all readers can join.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By on November 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read this book about twenty years ago, when I was at my first university year, and had very little money to spare - in order to buy the book, I gave up lunch for some two or three weeks. I read it first in very a good portuguese translation, and spent my lunch hours, starved but happy, reading, in a state of wonder, and so completly lost in what I was reading that by the time I had to stop and attend classes, I was dreamy, not realy knowing what time of day it was, or what day, or even where I was.
Years latter, I read it again, in french this time, and the wonder was all there. Both editions are now very old, dog eared, from beeing read, and read, and read... As I get older, I find more and more meaning in these extraordinary thoughts of an old man, who, in spite of being one of the most powerful men in the world, knows he is about to die, and runs his life before our eyes... it took almost a whole life to write it, and may take a whole life to completly enjoy it, so you can read it for ever and never get tired. Magnificent book!
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Lyman on March 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
Some editions of Memoirs of Hadrian say it is "by" both author Marguerite Yourcenar and Grace Frick, the translator. Normally, I would consider that a bit much -- like giving the frame maker partial credit for the painting -- but in this case it seems more than warranted, as Ms. Frick was the mind behind one of the best translation jobs I've ever come across.

If she hadn't managed it, Memoirs of Hadrian would have faded into obscurity for English-language readers. After all, the story line is not eventful: it is a series of letters from Roman Emperor Hadrian to future emperor Marcus Aurelius, who Hadrian had come to think of as a grandson.

What makes Memoirs of Hadrian great is the way the story is told. The book captures the candid language and thoughtful sentiments of a wise old man nearing death and offering his wisdom to his young heir. It is a kind of frank confession that is at once autobiography, philosophy, and psychology.

An example, from near the beginning, when Hadrian explains where his life stands: "Like a traveler 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 death."

Another example, when Hadrian describes a military victory: "Rome had prepared me a triumph. I no longer protested against these vain but venerable customs; anything which honors man's effort, even if only for a day, seemed to me a salitary in presence of a world so prone to forget."

And I could go on and on.

Obviously, the concepts and narrative come from Ms. Yourcenar. But the beauty of the language in English depends so much on Ms. Frick.
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