At the beginning of Quo Vadis, after being injured and cared for at the house of the general Plautius, warrior hero and tribune Marcus Vinicius tells his uncle Petronius about his unquenchable desire for a beautiful woman he saw at the general’s home and seeks his help in obtaining her. After the pair visit the general, Petronius tells Vinicius he has a plan to obtain the woman.
Petronius tells Nero that Lygia, a hostage of Rome who therefore belongs to Caesar, dwells in the home of Plautius. When Nero sends a centurion to retrieve Lygia from the general’s home, Pomponia fears they are coming to kill her husband but is little relieved when she discovers their real mission. Encouraging her adopted daughter to be strong in her Christian faith, she and the general release her to Nero’s care, sending with her Christian servants, including the giant Ursus. The angry general rightly suspects Petronius is behind the taking of Lygia and perhaps intends to make her a concubine for himself or Vinicius.
Placed among the concubines, Lygia is directed to the care of Acte, a freedwoman and Nero’s former lover, by a letter from Pomponia, who knows Acte has sympathy for the Christians. Acte promises to keep her from the lustful gaze of the emperor. At first believing Petronius betrayed him, Vinicius is delighted to learn that his uncle intends to see that Lygia be given to him. At one of Nero’s debauched parties, a drunken Vinicius tries to seduce Lygia, who is saved by Ursus.
Vinicius eagerly anticipates the arrival of Lygia from Nero’s palace and is enraged when he learns that someone has spirited her away. In a fit of anger, he smashes the skull of one of the slaves who had failed to prevent her being taken, even though the slave had nursed him from boyhood.
(The entire section is 747 words.)