Belgian-born French writer Marguerite Yourcenar about the life and death of Roman Emperor Hadrian. The emperor meditates on military triumphs, love of poetry and music, philosophy, and his passion for his lover Antinous, all in a manner similar to Mémoires PDF Flaubert’s « melancholy of the antique world. Yourcenar noted in her postscript « Carnet de note » to the original edition, quoting Flaubert, that she had chosen Hadrian as the subject of the novel in part because he had lived at a time when the Roman gods were no longer believed in, but Christianity was not yet established.
This intrigued her for what she saw as parallels to her own post-war European world. Yourcenar first thought of the idea for the book between 1924 and 1929. She then worked on various drafts intermittently between 1934 and 1937. The notion of writing the book from the point of view of a dying Hadrian occurred to her after reading a sentence in a draft from 1937 stating: « I begin to discern the profile of my death. She did not resume work on the book in earnest until December 1948. She states that while she based her account of Hadrian on the two most principal sources, Historia Augusta and Cassius Dio’s Historia Romana, her goal was to reinterpret the past but also strive for historical authenticity. The novel is told in the first person by Hadrian and is framed as a letter to Marcus Aurelius in the first chapter, Animula Vagula Blandula.
The other chapters form a loose chronological narrative which he often breaks with various insights and recollections. The story begins with Hadrian, who is around sixty years of age, describing his incurable illness. He therefore wishes to recount important events in his life before his death. His earliest memories are his boyhood years in Italica. During his military service, the outcome of the Sarmatian wars strongly affects him due to the appalling bloodshed and atrocities committed.
He also begins to question the value of Trajan’s policy of military expansion. Trajan, in old age, begins an unsuccessful military campaign in Parthia after his successes over Dacia and Sarmatia. Hadrian’s administration is a time of peace and happiness which he regards as his « Age of Gold. He attributes this happiness to his love for Antinous, a beautiful Bithynian youth he meets in Nicomedia. Hadrian begins reflecting upon his advancing age and his change in temperament, recalling one incident where he accidentally blinds his secretary out of rage. Further troubling him is the outbreak of rebellion in Judea, which forces him to travel and take command of the troops.