This novella is set in Rome in 1933, the eleventh year of the Fascist dictatorship in Italy. There, during the space of a day, a ten-lire coin passes through the hands of nine people – including an old artist, a prostitute, and a would-be assassin of Mussolini – and becomes the symbol of contact between human beings, each lost in his own passions and in his intrinsic solitude.
In 1981, Marguerite Yourcenar became the first woman to be elected to the prestigious French Academy, a measure of the extraordinary place she holds in the history of French letters. This historical novel, unique in its approach to a figure from Roman history, creates a vivid and historically accurate portrait of the 2nd-century Roman Empire under Hadrian’s rule. The work is a fictional first-person narrative in the form of Hadrian’s letters–mostly to his nephew Marcus Aurelius–written shortly before his death. Contemplative and analytical recollections of his accomplishments, his hopes for Rome, and his personal relationships, the letters reveal Hadrian to be a highly intelligent, often wise man, conscious of the great power he wields.