I just finished reading Henryk Sienkiewicz’s “Quo Vadis: a narrative of the time of Nero” and I am stunned by it’s brilliance. Quo Vadis is a novel that takes place during the time of Nero and follows the story of a patrician and military leader who falls in love with one of Nero’s state hostages who turns out to be a Christian. This is a novel of love and conversion and the struggles the young patrician encounters between his Roman upbringing and ego of deserving all he has as it meets the teachings of Christ. The novel casts it eyes on Nero, the Christian community including St. Peter and St. Paul, and then the burning of Rome and the persecution of the Christians as scape-goats. The title Quo Vadis s a Latin phrase meaning “Where are you going?” or “Whither goest thou?” taken from the legend that as St. Peter leaves Rome to escape he encounters Jesus and on the way and asks him Quo Vadis and Jesus replies “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”
The novel feels totally authentic in that the plot and dialogue seems totally historically consistent and you feel more like it was a novel written at the time of the events. There is plenty of tensions and suspense as the plot unfolds and the characters are ones you come to really know. So many events arise between the young Christian woman Ligia and the patricia Marcus Vinicius that explore the depths of faith. You get a feeling of the struggles Vinicius has and overcomes that rings true as a conversion story. This novel just has so much depth and brilliant storytelling that it has left me totally in awe of what Henryk Sienkiewicz achieved with this work. I can totally understand why he received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his lifetime of work.
I find it rather interesting how this story tells of this deep love that grows between Ligia and Vinicius and their love of Christ since the novel is written shorty after Henryk Sienkiewicz wife left him not long after he was married. His marriage was later annulled by the Pope. Despite this tragedy in his life he wrote a novel filled with a Gospel that leaves you tearing in many parts.
There have been several movie versions of this novel and while I have seen the 1951 version which was fine, like is almost always the case the book eclipses it totally.
As this novel was written in 1895 you can find it on Project Gutenberg for download. I listened to the audiobook version which is available for free at Librivox. This recording of the novel I found to be quite well-done and really the equal to the narration of professional audiobooks.
It’s one of my most memorable reads – I love it! The discourses on love, the portrayal of Sts. Peter and Paul and the early Christians, and especially the ending, are just beautiful.
Henryk Sienkiewicz was a brilliant author. If you enjoyed “Quo Vadis” you will probably enjoy his other novels, most of which are set in Poland. His novel “Knights of the Cross” is fabulous, as is his Trilogy.
I saw the 1950s movie version of it when I was in high school, then read the book (seems I do that whenever I watch a movie based on a book). Then when Ignatius Press re-issued it in the 1980s or 1990s I ordered it. Love it! Spent part of this past Lent reading it aloud to myself.
When I read ‘Quo Vadis’, whether aloud or silently, I almost always visualize Robert Taylor as Marcus Vinitius, and Deborah Kerr as Lygia. Great movie-loved the music by Miklos Rosza (yep, the same guy who did the music for ‘Ben-Hur’!) !
Mr. Wells said precisely what I was going to. “With Fire and Sword,” if you can find the W.S. Kuniczak translation, is completely made of awesome.
Another fine historical novel about Nero and the persecution of Christians is Paul L. Maier’s The Flames of Rome: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/202603.The_Flames_of_Rome#other_reviews Maier is an expert on Neronian Rome, and his book provides well-documented history told in a compelling manner – one which puts the history in historical fiction. BTW, nice fakeout on the Greek characters.
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Based on your recommendation, I got this book a couple of years ago, and am just finishing it now. Thank you for telling us about this treasure!