Marguerite Yourcenar’s Mémoires d’Hadrien
The Mémoires are a fictional autobiography, deeply researched, of the historical Emperor Hadrian (76-138 A.D.), written in the form of a letter to his heir, the young Marcus Aurelius. Hadrian, near the end of his life, wants to make an accounting of himself: of his own character, with its strengths and vulnerabilities; of his career as emperor, with its accomplishments and his failures. And not least, of his passion for the young Greek Antinoüs, whose early death impelled Hadrian to plant his beloved’s image throughout the empire.
Yourcenar wrote the Mémoires in the aftermath of World War II, and in the midst of the period of decolonization. This novel could be considered as a long meditation on the uses of power, from the imagined point of view of the most powerful man in the world; Yourcenar attributes to her emperor an acute awareness of the complexities and limits inherent in empire.