Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
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...
(The entire section is 747 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Quo Vadis is a novel set in ancient Rome at the time of the Emperor Nero and the early Christians. The title, a quotation from the New Testament, is Latin for “where are you going?” and on the most literal level refers to the scene in which the Christian apostle Peter has to decide whether to stay in Rome or leave it. In the scene, Peter is on his way out of Rome when he is confronted by a passerby who asks him the question; Peter’s response is that he is returning to Rome to make that city the Christian capital in accordance with visions he has seen.
On one level, this is a statement that the Christian church will find its center in Rome rather than in the Middle East, where Christianity originated. On another level, if the novel is in some way referring to the relationship between Poland and Russia in the nineteenth century, then the title question can be seen as a question for Poland and its future. The scene with the “Quo vadis” question comes near the end of the novel and looks forward to the ultimate triumph of Christianity that the narrator discusses in the closing chapters.
The opening chapters of the novel place the reader in the very non-Christian milieu of Nero’s imperial court, with its orgies and spectacles. Christianity comes into the story because the young Roman officer Marcus Vinitius falls in love with a Christian girl named Ligia, the daughter of a foreign king defeated by Rome. Ligia is drawn to...
(The entire section is 696 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
When Vinicius returns to Rome after serving duty in the colonies, he calls on his uncle, Petronius, who is one of the most influential men in Rome. A friend of Emperor Nero, Petronius owns a beautiful home, choice slaves, and numerous objects of art. Petronius has no delusions about the emperor; he knows quite well that Nero is coarse, conceited, brutal, and thoroughly evil. Petronius is happy to see his handsome young nephew. Vinicius has fallen in love with Lygia, the daughter of a foreign king, now living with Aulus, Plautius, and Pomponia, and he asks his uncle to help him get Lygia as his concubine. Petronius speaks to Nero, and Lygia is ordered to be brought to the palace. Lygia’s foster parents send with the young woman the giant Ursus, who is Lygia’s devoted servant.
At a wild orgy in the palace, Vinicius attempts to make love to Lygia, but he does not succeed, owing to the watchfulness of Acte, who is a Christian and a former concubine of Nero. Lygia herself is a Christian, and she fears both the lust of Vinicius and that of the emperor himself. Then Acte receives information that Lygia is to be handed over to Vinicius. At the same time, the daughter of Empress Augusta dies, and the empress and her circle believe that Lygia bewitched the child. Alarmed at the dangers threatening Lygia, Acte and Ursus plan Lygia’s escape.
That night, the servants of Vinicius arrive at the palace and lead Lygia away. Meanwhile, Vinicius waits at...
(The entire section is 1268 words.)