Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Memoirs of Hadrian - Marguerite Yourcenar

This French literary wizard managed to write the imagined autobiography of one of the most important ancient Roman leaders, the third of the so called “five good emperors”.
Throughout the book Hadrian is going over the most important phases of his life, “the literary excuse” being a letter addressed to his adopted grandson Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic philosopher who would then become emperor himself.
Hadrian is a strong, clever, wise and erudite man, a great military and political chief, in love with Greece and Greek culture, and Yourcenar manages to revive the workings of this man’s mind by means of a refined and beautifully rendered prose.
This is a man who, unlike most of his predecessors, strove to pacify the provinces of the empire, abandoning the farthest and most troublesome ones, and personally planning and overseeing the development of the ones he decided to retain and fortify. He also introduced reforms that improved the life of all the Roman citizens, including peasants, slaves and women.
He also goes through the hardest periods of his tenure as a supreme leader: the death of his young Greek-Bithynian companion Antinous during a boat trip along the Nile river, the repression of a violent revolt in Palestine, and the premature death of Lucius, his first choice as a successor to the throne.
The novel ends with the torments that mark his final years: the incurable illness, the suicidal temptations and the dismissal of this self destructive idea following the example of some of his closest collaborators.
The story of a great man’s life, told by one of the greatest writers of the previous century: a modern classic, definitely a must read.
PS the edition I bought includes a section containing the author’s “Reflections on the composition”, where we can really understand what kind of obstacles (mental and practical) Marguerite Yourcenar had to deal with while gathering, processing and assembling the material she then used to write the book. The whole process took decades to complete. Simply amazing.

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