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Memoirs of Hadrian

Saturday, 8 September, 2018

“There are books which one should not attempt before having passed the age of forty.” So advises the Roman emperor Hadrian, one of the greatest rulers of the ancient world, in Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar.

As it happened, Yourcenar was 48 when Memoirs of Hadrian was published in 1951. It was an immediate success proving, perhaps, that there are books one should not attempt to write until having passed the age of forty. Memoirs of Hadrian The novel is a recreation of the life and death of Hadrian in the form of a long letter to his adoptive son and successor, Marcus Aurelius. Having passed the age of forty, this blogger decided that the time had come to read Memoirs of Hadrian and it is superb, from start to finish. Given the current problems facing Pope Francis, this snippet from the final chapter, Patientia, gives cause for thought:

“If ever the barbarians gain possession of the world they will be forced to adopt some of our methods; they will end by resembling us. Chabrias fears that the pastophor of Mithra or the bishop of Christ may implant himself one day in Rome, replacing the high pontiff. If by ill faith that day should come, my successor officiating in the vatical fields along the Tiber will already have ceased to be merely the chief of a gang, or of a band of sectarians, and will have become in his turn one of the universal figures of authority. He will inherit our palaces and our archives, and will differ from rulers like us less than one might suppose. I accept with calm these vicissitudes of Rome eternal.”

Given what happened to ancient Rome, Hadrian’s “vatical” (resembling a prophecy) statement is delightful: “He will inherit our palaces and our archives, and will differ from rulers like us less than one might suppose.”

Language note: A “pastophor” was one of the bearers, who carried the image of a god in a shrine in processions.

History note: In September 476 AD, the last Roman emperor of the west, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by a Germanic prince named Odovacar. Dark Age Europe was born out of the violent destruction of the Roman Empire as barbarism replaced civilization. Hadrian was prophetic.


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