|Original title||Quo vadis. Powie z czasów Nerona|
W. S. Kuniczak
|Publisher||Polish dailies (in serial) and Little, Brown (Eng. trans. book form)|
|Media type||Print (Newspaper, Hardback and Paperback)|
The novel Quo Vadis tells of a love that develops between a young Christian woman, Lygia (Ligia in Polish) and Marcus Vinicius, a Roman patrician. It takes place in the city of Rome under the rule of emperor Nero, c. AD 64.
Sienkiewicz studied the Roman Empire extensively before writing the novel, with the aim of getting historical details correct. Consequently, several historical figures appear in the book. As a whole, the novel carries a pro-Christian message.
It was first published in installments in the Gazeta Polska between 26 March 1895 and 29 February 1896, as well as in two other journals, Czas and Dziennik Pozna?ski, starting two and three days later. It was published in book form in 1896 and has been translated into more than 50 languages. The novel contributed to Sienkiewicz's Nobel Prize for literature in 1905.
Several movies have been based on Quo Vadis, including two Italian silent films in 1913 and in 1924, a Hollywood production in 1951, a 1985 miniseries directed by Franco Rossi, and a 2001 adaptation by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
The handsome but brutal tribune M. Vinicius, returning to Rome from service in the east, falls in love with "Lygia", a hostage daughter of the Lygian king, who is being raised in the house of Aulus Plautius (a general of British fame), and his wife Pomponia Graecina, who is secretly a Christian. Petronius uses his influence with Nero to have Lygia seized from the Plautius' and given to Vinicius; but the plan misfires when Caesar, during her brief custody on the Palatine (in which she meets Acte), invites her to a riotous feast, where Lygia, inculcated with Christianity by Pomponia Graecina, is horrified by Vinicius' drunken advances, and the degeneracy of the Roman court. She commands Ursus (her Lygian bodyguard, and also a convert) to organize a band of Christians to waylay her chariot while she is being conveyed the following day from the Palatine to Vinicius' house; the plan succeeds, and Lygia disappears.
Vinicius is now driven to distraction with the thwarting of his obsessive desire; Petronius, taking pity on him, secures him the services of the cadging Greek philosopher Chilo Chilonis; from the sign of a fish which Lygia had drawn Vinicius in the house of Plautius Chilo discovers that Lygia is Christian; and since a vigilant watch on the gates has revealed that she is still in the city, Chilo undertakes to disguise as a Christian to worm out the secret of her hiding-place. Hope revives when Chilo recognizes Ursus in Urban, a common Christian laborer. When he learns that the entire Christian community in the city is to meet at night in Ostrienum outside the city walls, to hear Peter the Apostle (lately arrived from Galilee), Vinicius insists on accompanying Chilo to the event in disguise, hoping to see Lygia; although momentarily impressed by Peter's recollections of Christ, Vinicius forgets all when he spots Lygia in the crowd; together with Chilo and the powerful athlete Croton, originally brought along in case of danger, he follows Lygia and Ursus from the meeting to a plebeian insula in the trans-Tiber region of the city; he and Croton enter the building to retrieve Lygia, but Ursus strangles Croton to death and nearly kills Vinicius, sparing him only at Lygia's intercession; the cowardly Chilo flees.
Here Vinicius is magnanimously nursed to health by Lygia and her fellow Christians, who to his immense surprise, have forgiven him all; he is further shocked when, on his summoning Chilo (by agreement with the Christians) to communicate to his household that the cause of his disappearance is a sudden trip to Beneventum, it emerges that Glaucus, the Christian doctor who is attending Vinicius, had been betrayed by Chilo to bandits during a previous period of his unscrupulous adventures; whereupon with Peter's approval Glaucus forgives him all. Meanwhile, when Lygia realizes, while acting as his nurse, that she is herself deeply in love with Vinicius, she confesses to Peter, who while affirming that her love is not sinful, says she cannot marry Vinicius as long as he is not a Christian. Lygia changes her residence, vanishing a second time.
A Vinicius restored to health returns to his role in society as a patrician and Augustian (or courtier of Caesar). Yet although he cannot bring himself to embrace Christianity, he is now disgusted with the profligacy of Nero's court, and begins to treat his slaves with more mercy; and even earns the enmity of the empress Poppaea Sabina by rejecting her advances. At this juncture Chilo reappears, with information of Lygia's new hideout, urging him to surround the house with troops and reclaim her; but Vinicius, changed by his contact with the Christians, rejects the temptation, and has Chilo scourged for his ingratitude before forcing him to promise never to spy on the Christians again; Chilo privately swears revenge. Vinicius repairs unattended to the house indicated by Chilo, and lays before the apostles Paul and Peter his unchanging love for Lygia and his altered ways, promising to convert if Paul will undertake to instruct him in the faith; overjoyed, the apostles summon in Lygia, who confesses her love for him; with the apostles' blessings the two are engaged.
Soon after, Nero retires for recreation to Antium, where Vinicius, as his courtier, is forced to attend him, accompanied however with Paul; in Antium Nero, who is composing a song on the fall of Troy, repeatedly complains that he has never seen a real city burning; but even his degraded courtiers are shocked when messengers break into the banqueting hall one night with information that Rome is aflame. Vinicius dashes madly on horseback to the city, in tortured anxiety for Lygia; the trans-Tiber region of the city where Lygia resides has not yet been reached by the fire; with the help of Chilo who now reappears (having broken his promise not to spy on the Christians), he finds Lygia and Peter sheltering in a quarry-man's hut outside the city; here, with outraged multitudes rioting outside, and gladiators and escaped slaves killing and pillaging, Vinicius (who has meanwhile been converted by Paul) vows never to desert them, and Peter baptizes him on the spot.
Nero meantime returns to Rome, where he sings his poem before the outraged multitude, which believes him to be the author of the calamity; Petronius however restores the situation by riding into the crowd (who idolize him for his reputed humanity), and promising them extraordinary gifts of "bread and circuses" in the name of Caesar. But as Nero remains unpopular, Tigellinus, Caesar's praetorian Prefect, advocates finding a scapegoat for the disaster; in the middle of the convocation, in which various candidates are suggested (including Tigellinus himself, who rebuffs the suggestion with a vailed threat) Tigellinus is called away, and returns to with the suggestion that the Christians fulfill that office; it emerges that Chilo, still furious from his flogging by Vinicius, has come forward to accuse them of the crime; Petronius, Tigellinus' longstanding rival for influence over Nero, protests, but is overridden by Poppaea, who hates Lygia for her beauty, and Vinicius for spurning her. Petronius leaves with the certainty that he has irrecoverably lost his influence over Nero, and is therefore almost certainly doomed to death.
Immediately on returning home, Petronius warns Vinicius of Lygia's danger; but before he reaches her, she is seized by soldiers, informed of her hiding place by Chilo; with the latter's contrivance, multitudes of other Christians are imprisoned, and Nero plans a series of games in the arena featuring their deaths to divert unpopularity from himself. During a whole series of ghastly exhibitions, including devouring by wild beasts, butchery by gladiators, and finally burning them on crosses by nighttime to illuminate a luxurious banquet in Caesar's gardens open to all Rome, Vinicius attempts unsuccessfully to rescue Lygia from prison. Meanwhile, Chilo who since informing has been raised to the rank of an Augustinian suffers the pains of a tormented conscience while watching the undeserved sufferings of the Christians in the arena, though they had repeatedly pardoned him for the severest crimes; at the last show, when he encounters Glaucus yet alive on one of the crosses, who again forgives him, Chilo breaks down, and accuses Caesar before the crowd of being the incendiary; the court scatters, and Paul emerges from the confusion to promise him salvation if he perseveres in his repentance; this gives him the fortitude to later die unperjured in the arena when he refuses to retract his accusation of the emperor. Meanwhile, the final games come around, in which Lygia and Ursus are exposed in the arena to an aurochs; however, Ursus with his preternatural strength breaks the beast's neck; the crowd, glutted with the slaughter of innocents, demands of Caesar to spare the pair, and Nero acquiesces out of cowardice; Vinicius and Lygia marry and settle on his estates in Sicily, where they live unprosecuted as Christians.
The rest of the novel relates the historical events of Peter's martyrdom ("Quo vadis, Domine?"), Petronius' resigned death in the aftermath of Piso's conspiracy, and concludes with a vision of retribution in the death of Nero based on Suetonius.
"Quo vadis, Domine?" is Latin for "Where are you going, Lord?" and appears in Chapter 69 of the novel in a retelling of a story from the apocryphal Acts of Peter, in which Peter flees Rome but on his way meets Jesus and asks him why he is going to Rome. Jesus says, "If thou desertest my people, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time", which shames Peter into going back to Rome to accept martyrdom.
Sienkiewicz alludes to several historical events and merges them in his novel, but some of them are of doubtful authenticity.
Playwright-actor-manager Wilson Barrett produced his successful play The Sign of the Cross in the same year as publication of Quo vadis? started. The play was first performed 28 March 1895. Several elements in the play strongly resemble those in Quo Vadis. In both, a Roman soldier named Marcus falls in love with a Christian woman and wishes to "possess" her. (In the novel, her name is Lycia, in the play she is Mercia.) Nero, Tigellinus and Poppea are major characters in both the play and novel, and in both, Poppea lusts after Marcus. Petronius, however, does not appear in The Sign of the Cross, and the ending of the play diverges from that of Quo Vadis.
A successful stage version of the novel by Stanislaus Stange was produced in 1900. Film versions of the novel were produced in 1901, 1913 and 1924. A 1951 version directed by Mervyn LeRoy was nominated for eight Academy Awards. The novel was also the basis for a 1985 mini-series starring Klaus Maria Brandauer as Nero and a 2001 Polish mini-series directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz. It was satirized as the quintessential school play gone horribly awry in Shivering Shakespeare, a 1930 Little Rascals short by Hal Roach.
Jean Nouguès composed an opera based on the novel to a libretto by Henri Caïn; it was premiered in 1909.Feliks Nowowiejski composed an oratorio based on the novel, performed for the first time in 1907, and then his most popular work.
Following Buddy Baer's portrayal of Ursus in the classic 1951 film Quo Vadis, Ursus was used as a superhuman Roman-era character who became the protagonist in a series of Italian adventure films made in the early 1960s.
When the Hercules film craze hit in 1959, Italian filmmakers were looking for other muscleman characters similar to Hercules whom they could exploit, resulting in the nine-film Ursus series listed below. Ursus was referred to as a "Son of Hercules" in two of the films when they were dubbed in English (in an attempt to cash in on the then-popular Hercules craze), although in the original Italian films, Ursus had no connection to Hercules whatsoever. In the English-dubbed version of one Ursus film (retitled Hercules, Prisoner of Evil), Ursus was referred to throughout the entire film as Hercules.
There were a total of nine Italian films that featured Ursus as the main character, listed below as follows: Italian title/ English translation of the Italian title (American release title);
Quo vadis, Domine?