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Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz

The Back Cover

Written nearly a century ago and translated into over 40 languages, Quo Vadis has been the greatest best-selling novel in the history of literature. "Sienkiewicz wrote Quo Vadis for the entire world and the world took it to its heart," commented James Michener.

Now, in a sparkling new translation which restores the original glory and splendor of this materpiece, W.S. Kuniczak, the most acclaimed translator of Sienkiewicz in this century, combines his special knowledge of Sienkiewicz's fiction with his own considerable talents as an American novelist.

An epic saga of love, courage and devotion in Nero's time, Quo Vadis portrays the degenerate days leading to the fall of the Roman empire and the glory and the agony of early Christianity. Set at a turning point in history (A.D. 54-68), as Christianity replaces the era of corruption and gluttony that marked Nero's Rome, Quo Vadis brims with life.


Quo Vadis takes place primarily in Rome. The book has a pretty good map of Rome in the back to help orient you, but a few other maps you may find useful are included below, (click on thumbnail images to see a larger image in a separate window).

img Other sites mentioned in the book include Ostia and Antium which are shown on the western coast of Italy, near Rome, in the map at left.

Image from the Interactive Ancient Mediterranean Web site (http://iam.classics.unc.edu); used here under terms of IAM's fair use policy. Copyright 1998, Interactive Ancient Mediterranean.
img Image courtesy of Caroline Bigelow at muserealm.net


I knew nothing of Roman history before reading this book, and because the span of time is so short relative to Rome's history, the book itself does not do much to place the story in the context of Roman history, so I've done a little research, and come up with a very brief history that might be helpful in placing the book in the proper historical context. Many specifics are still pretty vague to me, so if you can offer suggestions or corrections, I'd be glad to incorporate them.

753 BC Rome Founded
  -According to Roman legend Rome was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus who had been nursed by a she-wolf at the site where they later founded Rome. Although only legend, there is basis for Rome being founded at roughly this time.
753 - 510 BC Rule of the Kings
  -Early Rome was ruled by kings. There was a senate, but the senate only adviced the king.
510 - 23 BC Roman Republic
  -Unhappy being under a king, the senate took control of Roman rule and began appointing a 'counsul' who ruled like a king, but who was answerable to the senate and whose appointment was only for one year. This system of government, known as the Republic, was successful for several hundred years.
49 BC Julius Caesar Conquers Rome
  -Julius Caesar was a Roman general and politician whose province lay in France. In 49 BC he 'conquered' Rome and became dictator; hence eliminating rule by the Roman Republic which had been successful for hundreds of years, but which had pretty much lost control in recent years.
48-44 BC Dictatorship of Julius Caesar
15 March 44 BC Julius Caesar Assisinated
  -Julius Caesar is assasinated, but this was not well received by the Roman citizens, and in the end, he was given a public funneral. His will, however, contained a surprise. In his will Caesar adopted and named as his heir his great-nephew, C. Octavius.
27 BC - 60 AD Julio-Claudian Era
  -See the family tree below.
30 BC - 14 AD Ceasar Augustus
  -C. Octavius became "Ceasar Augustus" the first and probably the greatest Roman Emperor.
14-37 AD Tiberius
37-41 AD Caligula
41-54 AD Claudius
54-68 AD Nero
  -Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors, and it is at the end of his reign that Quo Vadis takes place.

Family Tree

Although the following family tree is based on the television series "I Claudius", I found it helpful in understanding the historical background of Nero.



Here are a few other sites you might find interesting to check out while reading Quo Vadi.


My Comments

Quo Vadis is another outstanding book by Henryk Sienkiewicz. It was a little slow to get started, but it built steadily over time, until I couldn't put it down. Looking back on it, the slow steady build actually gave more depth to the story, as it gave me a deeper sense of knowing the characters as if I knew them personally. This seems to be a real talent of Sienkiewicz. The two books I have read by him (Quo Vadi and The Teutonic Knights) have had some of the most endearing characters of any books I have read.

I was a bit concerned the parts of the story about the early Christians would have a prosylitizing feel, but they didn't. Sienkiewicz stayed focused on his characters, and conveyed the history of the early Christains no differently than he conveyed other aspects of ancient Roman history. I did come away though, with a new understanding of the early Christians as real people, not just part of a religion.

Overall, this was an excellent book. Slow to start, and not quite as good as The Teutonic Knights, but deeply satisfying as I turned the last page.

Comments from Others


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