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On this day in AD 122 work began on building Hadrian’s Wall across Northern Britain.
Hadrian was one of Rome’s greatest emperors. During his 21 year reign he visited nearly every province and consolidated the empire in a realistic way, the Wall being one example. His hard work ensured that the Pax Romana continued for at least another 50 years.
Hadrian was essentially a soldier and normally wore military uniform but he was also a cultured and sensitive man. A longtime lover of Greece and its culture, he is also known for his close relationship with the young Greek Antinous whose death from drowning in the Nile, during a visit to Egypt, is said to have devastated him. He died aged 62 of natural causes, fairly unusual for a Roman emperor.
Here is the well-known poem that he wrote shortly before his death:
Animula, vagula, blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos
This translation is by Marguerite Yourcenar whose scholarly work Hadrian’s Memoirs, opened the eyes of many to the greatness of the man:
Little soul, gentle and drifting,
guest and companion of my body,
now you will dwell below in pallid places, stark and bare;
there you will abandon your play of yore.
Today I give thanks for all world leaders who have the humanity and the spirituality to consider their own souls.