Memoirs of Hadrian
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Memoirs of Hadrian is a novel by the French writer Marguerite Yourcenar describing the life and death of Roman Emperor Hadrian. The book was published in France in French in 1951 with the title Mémoires d'Hadrien, and was an immediate success, meeting with enormous critical acclaim. The historical Hadrian did pen an autobiography, but it has been lost to history.
The book takes the form of a letter to Hadrian's cousin and eventual successor "Mark" (Marcus Aurelius). The emperor meditates on military triumphs, love of poetry and music, philosophy, and his passion for his lover Antinous, all in a manner not inconsisent with Gustave Flaubert's "melancholy of the antique world."
Yourcenar noted in her own postscript "Carnet de note" to the original edition that she had partially chosen Hadrian as the subject of the novel because he had lived in a period of time when the Roman gods were no longer believed in, but Christianity was not yet established. This intrigued her for the obvious parallels to her own post-war European world.
- "Of all our games, love’s play is the only one which threatens to unsettle our soul, and is also the only one in which the player has to abandon himself to the body’s ecstasy. …Nailed to the beloved body like a slave to a cross, I have learned some secrets of life which are now dimmed in my memory by the operation of that same law which ordained that the convalescent, once cured, ceases to understand the mysterious truths laid bare by illness, and that the prisoner, set free, forgets his torture, or the conqueror, his triumph passed, forgets his glory."
- "Like everyone else I have at my disposal only three means of evaluating human existence: the study of self, which is the most difficult and most dangerous method, but also the most fruitful; the observation of our fellowmen, who usually arrange to hide secrets where none exist; and books, with the particular errors of perspective to which they inevitably give rise."
A feature film based on Yourcenar's novel was scheduled for production in 2007. The movie, with a script by Ron Base, Valerio Manfredi and Rospo Pallenberg, will be directed by John Boorman. Hadrian is expected to be played by Antonio Banderas.