Wednesday, December 12, 2012

513. Quo Vadis – Henryk Sienkiewicz

History: Published in installments in three Polish dailies in 1895, it came out in book form in 1896 and has since been translated into more than 50 languages. This novel contributed to Sienkiewicz's Nobel Prize for literature in 1905.
Plot: Quo Vadis is a novel that takes place during the time of Nero and follows the story of a patrician and military leader who falls in love with one of Nero’s state hostages who turns out to be a Christian. This is a novel of love and conversion and the struggles the young patrician encounters between his Roman upbringing and ego of deserving all he has as it meets the teachings of Christ. The novel casts it eyes on Nero, the Christian community including St. Peter and St. Paul, and then the burning of Rome and the persecution of the Christians as scape-goats. The title Quo Vadis s a Latin phrase meaning “Where are you going?” or “Whither goest thou?” taken from the legend that as St. Peter leaves Rome to escape he encounters Jesus and on the way and asks him Quo Vadis and Jesus replies “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”
Review: Quo Vadis? has actually remained more popular over the years, in fact it is one of the best selling novels of all time, so there have been decent translations available all along, but you really should seek out the W. S. Kuniczak version if you can find it. Kuniczak, himself a novelist, devoted at least six years to updating Sienkiewicz's Trilogy and his dedication to the author's work paid off brilliantly. Though still recognizably written in the style and language of a hundred years ago, the books now read with a much more natural flow. His background as a novelist seems to have served him well, because rather than reading like someone converted Polish to English verbatim, they read like an English retelling of the Polish tale. That obviously could be cause for concern to folks who have a thorough grounding in the original, particularly if he took great license with the author's work, but as a reader, all I really care about is that his versions are terrific books.
The novel is set in Nero's Rome and is built around the stark contrast between the voluptuary decadent Romans and the ascetic Christians. Vinitius is a patrician in good standing at Nero's court until he falls in love with the Christian girl Ligia. At first somewhat reluctantly, but then with gathering fervor, Vinitius is drawn out of the moral depths of his prior life and himself becomes a Christian. By the time that Nero burns down Rome and blames the Christians, Vinitius has become a believer and is prepared to sacrifice his position and even his life to save Ligia from the Coliseum and the Games where Nero sacrifices Christians to distract the restless populace of Rome.
In addition to Bread and Circuses and the romantic tale, there are scenes of surpassing beauty centered on Christian faith. desert my flock, those whom He has given me?"
Another such scene explains the title of the book. "Quo Vadis?", means "where are you going?" and derives from a New Testament verse (John 13:36). At the core of the story lies the miracle of how an obscure religion embraced by the people at the very fringes of this society, literally hiding in catacombs to escape persecution, could rise up, conquer the Empire and reshape the world. On either plane, the physical or the metaphysical, this is an exciting story and is sure to send you scurrying to find the rest of Sienkiewicz's work.
Opening Line: "Petronius woke only about midday, and as usual greatly wearied.”
Closing Line: “Near the anciety Porta Capena stands to this day a little chapel with the inscription, somewhat worn: Quo Vadis, Domine?”
Quotes: “But I think happiness springs from another source, a far deeper one that doesn't depend on will because it comes from love.”
Rating: Difficult

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