124 of 135 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The Christian v. lion's story has been around so long that it has pretty much become a kind of myth. It is a phrase one brings up in order to illustrate some point or other, but is hardly ever thought about in historical terms. In fact, Christianity itself sometimes seems as if it is becoming a kind of myth. The left doesn't take it seriously, and bashes Christians for being intolerant and condescending. But Christians, in their haste to retaliate, often act intolerant and can be arrogantly condescending. The sense of what it means to be Christian seems to get lost in all of this.
Quo Vadis takes us back to the days when Christianity was fresh and new and shows us just what kind of world it was then that caused such a movement to flourish. This alone would make it an excellent novel, but it works wonderfully on all levels. The characters are superbly drawn, the setting is realistic, the plot crackles along, and, perhaps most importantly in a novel with this subject matter, it never becomes preachy or didactic, instead maintaining an objective perspective throughout.
Rome was the greatest of the ancient empires, yet despite all of its glorious achievements, it was truly a barbaric place. The concept of human rights was non-existent. Slaves--of all races--were property, and could be used in any way one saw fit, including the most vicious or depraved. The rule of law, while discussed in philosophical terms, was only sporadically and occasionally applied. The law instead came and went at the whim of the powerful, and if the powerful happened to be someone like Nero--the ruler of Rome during the course of this novel--then the law was sadistic, cruel, wicked and unpredictable.
We see the effect that living this kind of society has on the two main characters of the novel, both of whom are members of the upper crust: Petronius, a courtier; and Vinicius, a military officer. Petronius, as Nero's confidant, can never let his guard down. He must flatter, cajole, deceive and manipulate Nero every minute of the day, for his very life depends on it. It is a life, "drained and listless and detached," as we are told in the first sentence of the novel. Vinicius falls in love with a captive Christian female, and through his love we see how Christianity changes his life. But it is an unbelievably difficult and dangerous undertaking--with the demented presence of Nero and his sycophants looming over everything--to form an attachment with a person and then a cause such as this.
It gradually dawns on us how the Christian movement began in the first place, and why attempts were made so mercilessly to stamp it out. Instead of dishonesty and cruelty, it called for honesty and kindness. Instead of privilege for the elite, its promises were made to all. Instead of arrogance, it preached submissiveness. Perhaps most importantly, it simplified one's life, and allowed one to live without fear.
Rome is burned, possibly at Nero's orders, incredibly, so that he can experience suffering as he believes a true artist must. To divert the anger of the Romans, he blames Christians. Thousands of men, women, and children are rounded up, put in dungeons for months, then on successive festival days were crucified, burned alive, mauled by gladiators, and, as we know, attacked by wild animals. Their fate is so hideous that in time even the jaded Romans became sickened by it.
These historical events, and the actions of the characters during them, are what make up the bulk of the novel. To say the least, it makes for very compelling reading; indeed, some parts are difficult to bear. And as mentioned, it is presented in a very objective way. Not all of the Christians are presented sympathetically--one, in fact, is a fiery, all-will-be-damned type--and not all the Romans are presented harshly. The noblest character in the novel may very well be Petronius, who uses his influence as much as he can to alleviate the suffering he sees around him. And although he recognizes to some degree the power and decency of the movement, he himself does not wish to become a Christian. He can not abide the idea of being required to love his fellow man, most of whom--the unwashed, ignorant mob--he detests. He is a magnificent creation.
The book is a real eye-opener, a good reminder of what the world was like before the birth of Christ, and a sobering reflection on what being a Christian truly means. At the same time it is also a superbly researched and entertaining piece of historical fiction, and the kind of thing for which historical fiction buffs are constantly on the alert. Great stuff.
(I should mention that this review is of the Kunizak translation.)
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
"Quo Vadis" is the kind of novel one simply must include on his shelf. For those who don't believe me, it won the Nobel Prize--and actually deserved it. In my experience, lots of books, although unworthy of receiving even a single positive review, have gotten awards. But the main reason you should read this splendid novel is because of its wonderful storytelling, compelling plot, beautiful imagery, and great characters. To boot, it wasn't very difficult to comprehend, even though it was written more than a century ago. Despite the fact that I cannot understand a shred of Polish, I know that Kuniczak's translation is an absolutely superb one, and that both he and Sienkiewicz are first-rate novelists.
What I particularly loved about "Quo Vadis" was Sienkiewicz's wonderful attention to detail and imagery. His writing style was so lyrical, poetic, and sense-evocative, I could clearly visualize what he was describing, and for the first time ever, I felt like I was actually *seeing* everything: the wild, drunken orgies of Nero's debauched reign, the city of Rome burning, the coliseum packed with rowdy citizens and sweaty gladiators. People enjoy reading books that provide a vivid visual picture of the setting; I know I do. It is also very evident that Sienkiewicz did his homework and researched extensively for this historical novel.
The characters are what drive the plot--and they certainly do that in "Quo Vadis." I found myself liking a few characters and hating several others. And it is interesting, because when I realized that this novel was about Christians in Rome during Nero's time, I had expected Sienkiewicz to have portrayed each Christian as a kindly saint and all the Romans as decadent louts. I was surprised that not every single Roman was depicted as wicked--the honorable Aulus and his gentle wife Pomponia, for example. And not every Christian was a saint in this book, with Crispus, a fervent follower of Christ, seeming to me somewhat intolerant and very narrow-minded at times. Of course, there are some characters who are pure evil; Poppaea, the golden-haired, manipulative wife of Nero, is "evil incarnate," as Sienkiewicz describes in his novel, and (in my opinion) it is difficult for anyone to like Nero.
The core of the plot is a love story between Vinicius, a young Roman tribune, and Ligia, the beautiful Christian girl with whom he falls deeply in love. Vinicius loves Ligia so much--not merely for her beauty, but her virtue and purity--that he actually converts to Christianity, and we see a prodigious transformation in him, from a decadent, pleasure-soaked Roman courtier to a caring and benevolent Christian. Petronius, Vinicius's uncle and another main character, is painted magnificently as well. Although Petronius does not become a Christian like Vinicius, he seems the sublimest character in the novel; he does whatever he can to lessen others' suffering (especially his nephew's) yet still, he cannot bring himself to love everyone--which is exactly what the Christian faith preaches. Petronius is a worldly Roman noble with an eye for beauty and good taste, and he is also the emperor's confidant, called the "arbiter of elegance" at Nero's court. Despite the impact Christianity has upon his life, he cannot love the dirty, recalcitrant mob for which he has such contempt.
"Quo Vadis" has everything you would want in a great novel: a stellar plot, sublime characters, lively dialogue, and graceful prose. It is a truly laudable novel of epic proportions--something to stay on my shelf beside the classics.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
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Format: Kindle Edition
During his illustrious career, Noble Prize-winning novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz created an impressive array of epic historical novels chronicling the history of his native Poland, yet to international audiences he is best known for another epic work, Quo Vadis, a novel of ancient Rome. Originally published in 1895, Quo Vadis--the title is Latin for "Whither goest thou?"--is set around the year AD 64 during the reign of the emperor Nero. Marcus Vinicius, a Roman patrician and military tribune, falls in love at first sight with Lygia, the beautiful daughter of a foreign king. He immediately determines to possess her at any cost. Through the influence of his uncle Petronius, Nero decrees that the maiden be taken from her family and granted to Vinicius. Though Lygia loves Vinicius, she does not wish to be taken by force as his concubine. With the aid of friends she escapes, and a maddened Vinicius pursues her. His search leads to the discovery that the girl is a member of a new and mysterious religious sect, the Christians. Through his investigations, Vinicius discovers that, contrary to reports that the Christians worship donkeys and eat babies, there are some truly worthwhile aspects to their teachings, and he begins to sympathize with their faith. When Nero sets in motion a merciless persecution of the Christians, rounding them up for torture and slaughter, Vinicius's search for Lygia becomes a race to save her life.
More than any other novelist, with the possible exception of Victor Hugo, Sienkiewicz knows how to deliver Romanticism with a capital R. Everything about the book is grandiose, bombastic, and larger than life, each character a colossus in and of themselves. Yet Sienkiewicz also captures all the minute details of Roman life with a vivid, naturalistic clarity. Whether he's depicting an orgy, a gladiatorial battle, a crucifixion, or Nero's burning of Rome, the reader feels himself totally immersed in the scene. Sienkiewicz also expertly interprets the mind-set of ancient Rome--from its glory and honor to its depravity and debauchery--and the environment of fear under Nero's despotic regime. The bloody, sexy, grittily realistic vision of Rome that we come to expect today in our movies, television shows, and novels most likely originated with Quo Vadis. This book was inspired by Alexandre Dumas's 1838 novel Acté, which also tells the story of Nero, but Sienkiewicz's Rome is a far cry from the picturesque, sanitized vision of Rome that prevailed in the literature of Dumas's time.
Sienkiewicz, a fervid Catholic, implanted Quo Vadis with a strong religious message. Devout Christians could certainly read this novel as a work of inspirational literature. Yet Sienkiewicz is not overly preachy or dogmatic. Though Saints Peter and Paul have supporting roles, most of the story is told through the eyes of the Romans. Non-believers can read this story simply as a historical novel about the clash between the Roman Empire and a burgeoning religious movement. It must be admitted that, while the Roman characters run the gamut from honorable to depraved, the Christians are all depicted as perfectly virtuous, without a coward or a Judas among them. On the other hand, perhaps the most sympathetic character in the book is not a Christian at all, but Petronius, an Epicurean. Theist or Atheist alike can enjoy Quo Vadis simply as a masterful work of historical literature. Its only literary fault is that the plotting drags a bit in its final third, a defect that's mostly wiped from memory by the book's monumental and unforgettable closing scenes. Regardless of your religious inclination, if you have any interest in ancient Rome or a taste for historical fiction, Quo Vadis is a must-read.