Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Memoirs of Hadrian

Margaret Yourcenar, The Memoirs of Hadrian, p. 3.

My dear Marc,

Today I went to see my physician Hermogenes, who has just returned to the Villa from a rather long journey in Asia. No food could be taken before the examination, so we had made the appointment for the early morning hours. I took off my cloak and tunic and lay down on a couch.

I spare you details which would be as disagreeable to you as to me, the description of the body of a man who is growing old, and is about to die of a dropsical heart. Let us say that I coughed, inhaled, and held my breath according to Hermogenes' directions.

He was alarmed, in spite of himself, by the rapid progress of the disease, and was inclined to throw the blame on young Iollas, who has attended me during his absence.

It is difficult to remain an emperor in presence of a physician, and difficult even to keep one's essential quality as man. The professional eye saw in me only a mass of humors, a sory mixture of blood and lymph.

This morning it occurred to me for the first time that my body, my faithful companion and friend, truer and better known to me than my own soul, may be after all only a sly beast who will end by devouring his master. But enough. I like my body; it has served me well, and in every way, and I do not begrudge it the care it now needs.

I have no faith, however, as Hermogenes still claims to have, in the miraculous virtues of herbs, or the specific mixture of mineral salts which he went to the Orient to get. Subtle though he is, he has nevertheless offered me vague formulas of reassurance too trie to deceive anyone; he knows how I hate this kind of pretense, but a man does not practice medicine for more than thirty years without some falsehood. I forgive this good servitor his endeavor to hide my death from me.

Hermogenes is learned; he is even wise, and his integrity is well above that of the ordinary court physician. It will fall to my lot as a sick man to have the best of care. But no one can go beyond prescribed limits: my swollen limbs no longer sustain me through the long Roman ceremonies; I fight for breath; and I am now sixty.

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