Page 226. " I asked that Antoninus should also adopt Lucius's son, who will in this way become your brother "

This refers to Lucius Verus, the son of Hadrian's adopted son, Lucius Aelius. Although Marcus Aurelius seems not to have been close to Hadrian (he pointedly does not include him among those listed, at the beginning of his Meditations, as having influenced the development of his own character),  he did, on his accession, insist on the full implementation of the terms of Hadrian's will, refusing to accept power unless Lucius Verus could rule alongside him, which he did until his death in 169 AD. It was the first, but not the last time that the Empire was ruled by two emperors. The two men held equal status in law, although Marcus Aurelius was always seen as the senior partner, and alone held the religious office of Pontifex Maximus. Lucius Verus put down a rebellion in Syria in 162-3 AD, and was awarded a Triumph on his return. He fell ill in 168 AD, possibly from smallpox, or possibly from the "Antonine Plague," an epidemic which ravaged Rome several times in the 2nd Century AD. He was deified following his death.

Page 229. " PATIENTIA "

The Latin word means "patience," but, like Tellus Stabilita and Saeculum Aureum, it is a concept that can be personified. In this case, it is a personification that has endured: patience became one of the "Seven Cardinal Virtues" of Medieval Christendom, and was often personified as such.

Stained glass window from the Church of Notre Dame at Taverney (Val d'Oise, France), with Patience personified on the left/
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeStained glass window from the Church of Notre Dame at Taverney (Val d'Oise, France), with Patience personified on the left/ - Credit: GFrehalter

Page 231. " Arrian wrote me thus "

This is the Periplus Ponti Euxini (Circumnavigation of the Black Sea), completed by Arrian (Lucius Flavius Arrianus Xenophon) between 130-131 AD. It is a description of a voyage made by Arrian, and was intended both as an exercise in military intelligence (it would have been placed in the hands of the commander of any expeditionary force sent to the region), but copies of it could also have served as a guide for navigators. The description of the southern coast is far more detailed than that of the northern. The original Greek text can be seen at and an English translation at


Page 232. " Achilles sometimes seems to me the greatest of men "

William Falconer's (1805) translation of this passage of the Periplus is:

"I am myself persuaded, that Achilles was a hero, if ever man was, being illustrious by his noble birth, by the beauty of his person, by the strength of his mind and understanding, by his untimely death in the flower of youth, by his being the subject of Homer's poetry, and, lastly, by the force of his love, and constancy of his friendship, insomuch that he would even die for his friends."

Henry Chotard's (1860) French translation, on the other hand is:

"Je crois en effet qu’Achille fut un héros s’il en fut jamais et mes raisons sont qu’il était d’illustre naissance, qu’il était beau, qu’il avait une âme courageuse, qu’il disparut vite du milieu des hommes, qu’il a été chanté par Homère, et qu’il a été si aimant, si dévoué a ceux qu’il aimait, qu’il a voulu mourir après les avoir perdus."

The difference, crucial to Yourcenar's text, and to Grace Frick's English translation of it, is in the passage underlined above which, in English, reads: " devoted to those he loved that he wanted to die after they were lost to him."

Page 235. " I sought a better ally "

In her essay, "Tone and Language in the Historical Novel" (reproduced in an edited volume of Yourcenar's essays, That Mighty Sculptor, Time - Noonday Press 1992, trans. Walter Kaiser), the author gives us an insight into the composition of this paragraph:

"I believe the tone of this passage to be more or less correct. But suppose I had tried to present these actions and conversations directly? I know that I would have fallen into error, into melodrama or pastiche, or both. In this regard, popular literature alternates between the servile copying of a few ancient expressions known to everyone (..."Bear these winged words to Metella") and the home-spun ingenuity of Technicolour scenarios ("Spartacus, I think I am going to have a baby")." 

Page 236. " I have chosen for it this legend, which will be my last watchword "

Hadrian did indeed issue a denarius with the legend "Patientia Augusti," and an image of Patience personified. The precise date of this coin issue is unclear - some sources put it at 134-138 AD, which would match the interpretation Yourcenar places on it, but the British Museum consider it to be earlier (128-132 AD). No image of this coin is available. The legend is sufficiently unusual to have prompted debate, in the past, as to whether these coins were either forgeries or the result of a mistake (the intended legend, according to this theory, being "Clementia Augusti." It may have been this debate which piqued Yourcenar's interest.

Page 242. " And he will recognise the way "

The reference is to the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, and to the instructions given to the soul both by priests and on inscriptions on the walls, sarcophogi and coffins in Egyptian tombs, giving an outline of the underworld, together with invocations that allow the soul of a dead person to "go forth," unnoticed, into the world of the living. Whilst ghosts, in most western traditions, go abroad at night, in the Egyptian tradition they were believed to "go forth" by day, taking the form of birds, reptiles, insects and even plants.