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Quo Vadis

Henryk Sienkiewicz

The cover for the Standard Ebooks edition of Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkiewicz. Translated by Jeremiah Curtin


Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero was first published in Polish as Quo vadis. Powieść z czasów Nerona. Henryk Sienkiewicz was inspired by, among other things, the painting Nero’s Torches (Pochodnie Nerona) by fellow Pole Henryk Siemiradzki; this painting also serves as the cover art for this ebook edition. Sienkiewicz incorporates large amounts of historical detail into the plot, and consequently notable historical figures serve as prominent characters, like the apostles Simon Peter and Paul of Tarsus, Gaius Petronius Arbiter, Ofonius Tigellinus, and the infamous Nero himself. The historical basis of the novel gives Sienkiewicz many opportunities to describe in detail the lives of the citizenry under Nero’s cruel and erratic rule.

Sienkiewicz was awarded the 1905 Nobel Prize in Literature, with his authorship of Quo Vadis being cited as one of the many reasons for the award. The book was exceedingly popular both domestically and internationally; it was translated into more than 50 languages, sold 800,000 copies in the US within a period of eighteenth months, and was the best selling book of 1900 in France.

The plot of Quo Vadis follows the love story between Marcus Vinicius and Lygia. The former is a young, charming, up-and-coming Roman patrician, while the latter is a prisoner-of-war (albeit only under house arrest), a former princess of her home country before its defeat by Rome. Vinicius’s immediate infatuation with Lygia is further complicated by Lygia’s devout Christian faith, which was at the time barely tolerated in Rome. As the painting that inspired the novel foreshadows, the novel takes place around the time of the great fire of Rome, for which the Christians received the blame. The subsequent persecution of the Christians in Rome serves as the main obstacle between the two lovers.

Sienkiewicz generally portrays a pro-Christian narrative throughout the book, with the apostles Peter and Paul serving as spiritual mentors to both Vinicius and Lygia. The novel’s title translates to “Where are you going, Lord?”, a quote from the Christian apocryphal text the Acts of Peter, which depicts Peter’s death. The text describes how while fleeing Rome, Peter asks a vision of Jesus the titular question, to which Jesus replies that he is returning to Rome to lead the Christians since Peter, their leader, is deserting them. Peter then realizes he must turn back and remain with his people. This, along with Paul’s fate, is depicted in Quo Vadis, along with the deaths of Nero and Petronius, Vinicius’s wise and worldly uncle and mentor. Sienkiewicz uses Petronius’s and Nero’s hedonism to contrast with Vinicius’s and Lygia’s journey to a deeper faith in their God, and with Peter and Paul’s faithful martyrdom, to great effect. As such, the novel is more than just a love story, but a thoughtful reflection on how one’s way of living affects how they see death.

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A brief history of this ebook

  1. Remove title from dedication and adjust semantics

  2. Fix ToC landmarks

  3. Fix typo in long description

  4. Fix typos in description.

  5. Finish metadata and initial publication

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