*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. 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...
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