Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeHadrian - Credit: Arnaud Gaillard
This Latin poem is presented in the Historia Augusta as the words of Hadrian himself, written on his deathbed. It has been translated many times in different ways:


My soul, my pleasant soul and witty,

The guest and consort of my body,

Into what place now all alone,

Naked and sad wilt thou be gone?

No mirth, no wit, as heretofore,

Nor jests wilt thou afford me more.

Henry Vaughan, 1652.


Ah! Gentle, fleeing, wav'ring sprite,

Friend and associate of this clay!

To what unknown regions borne

Wilt thou now wing thy distant flight.

No more with wonted humour gay,

But pallid, cheerless and forlorn.

George Gordon, Lord Byron, 1806.


Grace Frick, Yourcenar's partner and English translator, includes her own prose version on p.247.

Hadrian died in the certain knowledge that the Roman Senate would deify him, as it had already deified his wife. It is clear enough from the poem, however, that he entertained little hope of consorting with Jupiter and Mars in the heavens. This seems to have been one of the factors that attracted Yourcenar to Hadrian as a literary subject, citing Flaubert's comment (see p7) about "the melancholy of the antique world," the moment "when the gods had ceased to be and the Christ had not yet come," when "man stood alone." 

Page 15. " My dear Mark "
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
GNU Free Documentation LicenseEquestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius - Credit: Ricardo Andre Frantz

"Mark" is Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121-180 AD), who reigned as Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. Hadrian, who had no natural children, adopted Antoninus Pius as his son and heir, on condition that he in turn adopted Marcus Aurelius. The Florentine political thinker, Nicolo Macchiavelli ("Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy," Book 1, Chapter 10) considered him to be one of the "five good emperors" (the others being his immediate predecessors, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, all of whom owed their position to adoption). He was succeeded by his natural son, Commodus, widely considered to have been among the worst emperors. The historian Edward Gibbon went further in describing the period covered by the reigns of these emperors as "...the period in the history of the world during which the conditions of the human race was most happy and prosperous." He was a noted philosopher, as well as a statesman and general, his "Meditations" being one of the key texts of Roman Stoicism.

For a modern biography see A.R. Birley, Marcus Aurelius: A Biography.

Page 15. " The professional eye saw in me only a mass of humors "

For an explanation of the "Humoral Theory" of the body, which guided the understanding of Greek and Roman physicians, see:


Page 17. " Even here in Tibur "

Hadrian's villa at Tivoli
Public DomainHadrian's villa at Tivoli


Tibur is the modern Tivoli, 30 kilometres north-east of Rome.

Hadrian, who is said to have disliked the atmosphere of the palace on Rome's Palatine Hill, had a villa at Tibur, and it is from here that he writes his letter to Marcus Aurelius.

Page 18. " I recall my childhood races on the dry hills of Spain "

Hadrian was born at Italica (close to the modern city of Seville) in Spain, the son of a Roman Senator.


Amphitheatre at Italica
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAmphitheatre at Italica - Credit: Kordas

Page 19. " An Apicius glories in the succession of courses "

"An Apicius" here refers to a gourmand. Roman sources refer to a man named Marcus Gavius Apicius, who lived in the first part of the 1st Century AD, and was famed for his extravagant gastronomic tastes. The name "Apicius" became attached to a series of cookery books, "De Re Coquinaria," although there is no convincing evidence that any part of these books was written by Marcus Gavius Apicius, or by anyone else of that name. It is, however, the main extant source for Roman recipes, giving an insight into the banquets that Yourcenar's Hadrian finds so tedious. An English translation is available at: