Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Rome. Capital of the vast Roman Empire, which ruled over perhaps fifty million people in Nero’s time, most of Europe and the Middle East. All the subjects of the empire are represented in Quo Vadis, from Germans to Egyptians, giving Rome a cosmopolitan quality unmatched until the twentieth century. This great ancient city of more than one million people (half of whom are slaves) provides Henryk Sienkiewicz with a stage on which to present a vast morality play. Two Romes are shown in competition. One, that of Caesar, is dying. The other, that of Christ, is being born.

The novel reaches its climax when Nero starts a fire that consumes much of the city. Fire is a symbol of both destruction and perfection. Christians preach that the world will perish in fire, and Christ promised to cast fire upon the earth. Christianity itself is said to have begun with flames of fire at Pentecost. In this symbol Sienkiewicz illustrates both the death and coming rebirth of Rome.

Nero’s palace

Nero’s palace. The novel repeatedly contrasts houses. Nero’s Roman palace is the home of a beast who “devours.” Evenings, the palace is the site of excessively lavish and wasteful meals, lascivious sexuality, mediocre artistic performances, superstition, malicious court intrigue, militant atheism, and savage brutality. (Christians are occasionally used as human torches to illuminate evening garden parties). The...

(The entire section is 529 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Gessner, Peter. “Henry Sienkiewicz and Quo Vadis.” Bulletin of the Arts Club of Buffalo, 1997. An overview that focuses on the portrayal of the early Christians and Petronius.

Giergielewicz, Mieczlav. Henryk Sienkiewicz: A Biography. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1991. An authoritative biography of the author who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905.

Hannan, Kevin. Review of Quo Vadis. The Sarmatian Review 15, no. 1 (January, 1995). Briefly discusses the author’s background research in ancient Rome and Poland in preparation for writing the book.

Kridl, Manfred. A Survey of Polish Literature and Culture. Translated by Olga Sherer-Virski. New York: Columbia University Press, 1956. Discusses the novelist’s techniques, which he repeats in many of his works, including Quo Vadis. Describes Sienkiewicz’s use of history in this novel of ancient Rome.

Kryanowski, Julian. A History of Polish Literature. Translated by Doris Ronowicz. Warsaw: PWN-Polish Scientific Publishers, 1978. Stresses the importance Sienkiewicz places on the accuracy of historical detail in his novels. Notes how he uses this approach successfully in Quo Vadis.

Lednicki, Waclaw. Henryk Sienkiewicz: A Retrospective Synthesis. The Hague: Mouton, 1960. Assessment of the novelist’s career; gives readers a sense of the relative value of Quo Vadis to other works by the writer.

Mansour, Lawrence. Review of Quo Vadis. Slavic and E. European Journal 44, no. 4 (Winter, 2000): 679. Explores the rationale for and analyzes newest English translation of Sienkiewicz’s work and finds it wanting in several areas.

Miosz, Czesaw. The History of Polish Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1969. Comments on the uneven quality of Sienkiewicz’s fiction. Believes the novelist presents a simplistic portrait of the classical period in Quo Vadis.

Monte, Richard. “Rome in Poland.” History Today 51, no. 10 (October, 2001): 4-6. Gives insight into the Polish film release of Quo Vadis and its significance to the country.