I am reading Marguerite Yourcenar’s book Memoirs of Hadrian. Here are three quotes from this book, which I think are fantastic.
‘Hadrian’ on his rise through the ranks:
…the ups and downs of my fortunes worried me chiefly because of my friends’ solicitude; fears or impatience which I should have borne lightly, if alone, grew oppressive if they had to be concealed from others, or on the contrary revealed, to their distress. I resented the fact that in their affections they felt more concern for me than I did for myself, and that they failed to see beneath the surface agitation that more tranquil being to whom no one thing is wholly important, and who can therefore endure anything.
On mediating between the Jews and Greeks in Alexandria:
It mattered little to me that the accord obtained was external, imposed from without and perhaps temporary; I knew that good like bad becomes a routine, that the temporary tends to endure, that what is external permeates to the inside, and that the mask, given time, comes to be the face itself. Since hatred, stupidity, and delirium have lasting effects, I saw no reason why good will, clarity of mind and just practice would not have their effects, too.
…any lucid explanation has always convinced me, all courtesy has won me over, every moment of felicity has almost always left me wise. I lent only half an ear to those well-meaning folk who say that happiness is enervating, liberty too relaxing, and that kindness is corrupting for those upon whom it is practiced. That may be; but, in the world as it is, such reasoning amounts to refusal to nourish a starving man decently for fear that in a few years he may suffer from overfeeding. When useless servitude has been alleviated as far as possible, and unnecessary misfortune avoided, there will still remain as a test of man’s fortitude that long series of veritable ills, death, old age and incurable sickness, love unrequited and friendship rejected or betrayed, the mediocrity of a life less vast than our projects and duller than our dreams;