(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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.

At the...

(The entire section is 747 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 Vinitius but is put off by his crude advances and flees with the help of her strongman servant Ursus.

Both angry and lovesick, Vinitius enlists the help of his uncle Petronius, the arbiter of elegance at Nero’s court, and a Greek...

(The entire section is 696 words.)