Uit: Memoirs of Hadrian (Vertaald door Grace Frick, in samenwerking met de schrijfster)
“But books lie, even those that are most sincere. The less adroit, for lack of words and phrases wherein they can en-close life, retain of it but a flat and feeble likeness. Some, like Lucan, make it heavy, and encumber it with a solemnity which it does not possess; others, on the contrary, like Petronius, make life lighter than it is, like a hollow, bouncing ball, easy to toss to and fro in a universe without weight. The poets transport us into a world which is vaster and more beautiful than our own, with more ardor and sweetness, different therefore, and in practice almost uninhabitable. The philosophers, in order to study reality pure, subject it to about the same transformations as fire or pestle make substance undergo: nothing that we have known of a person or of a fact seems to subsist in those ashes or those crystals to which they are reduced. Historians propose to us systems too perfect for explaining the past, with sequence of cause and effect much too exact and clear to have been ever entirely true; they rearrange that dead, unresisting material, but I know that even Plutarch will never recapture Alexander. The story-tellers and spinners of erotic tales are hardly more than butchers who hang up for sale morsels of meat attractive to flies. I should take little comfort in a world without books, but reality is not to be found in them because it is not there whole.
Direct observation of man is a method still less satisfactory, limited as it frequently is to the cheap reflections which human malice enjoys. Rank, position, all such hazards tend to re-strict the field of vision for the student of mankind: my slave has totally different facilities for observing me from what I possess for observing him, but his means to do so are as limited as my own. Every morning for twenty years, old Euphorion has handed me my flask of oil and my sponge, but my knowledge of him ends with his acts of service, and his knowledge of me ends with my bath; any effort on the part of either emperor or slave to learn more straightway produces the effect of an indiscretion.”
Marguerite Yourcenar (8 juni 1903 – 17 december 1987)
Hadrianus en zijn jonge minnaaar Antinous (Brits Museum)