Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Quo Vadis

Go To
A Historical Fiction novel set in Ancient Rome, Quo Vadis (1896) is internationally the most well-known work of Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, also known for the Sienkiewicz Trilogy. Quo Vadis tells the story of a romance between Marcus Vinicius, a young pagan Roman officer, and Lygia, a Christian barbarian princess raised in a Roman household. The novel is set during the events surrounding the Great Fire of Rome of AD 64, including the Roman persecution of Christians.

The name comes from the Christian legend that recounts that when St. Peter was fleeing Rome as a result of persecution, he saw a vision of Christ and asked Him, Domine, quo vadis? ("Lord, where are you going?") — to which the reply was "I go to be crucified again." Thus realizing that he was abandoning the faithful of Rome to their fates, Peter turned around and was martyred.

Quo Vadis has been adapted to film several times, including in 1951 by Mervin LeRoy (starring Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, and Peter Ustinov as Nero, with a young Sophia Loren as an uncredited extra) and in 2001 by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.

Note that although it is quoting a question, the title does not itself contain a question mark.


This book contains examples of:

  • Author Appeal: Lygia hails from the Lugii, an ancient tribe that (supposedly) lived in present day Poland during the time of the Roman Empire, possibly an example of Genius Bonus by the author, who was Polish.
  • Beast and Beauty: Vinicius and Lygia.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Petronius is more than aware his fate has already been sealed, so instead he commits suicide while reading aloud a huge Take That! to Nero. For a book all about Christian values, this choice is still portrayed as a noble one, rather than one of the ultimate sins.
  • The Caligula: Emperor Nero's rule came soon after the Trope Namer, and was remembered as being little better.
  • Casting Gag: In the 2001, Nero, who is Hollywood Tone-Deaf, is played by Michał Bajor - a sung poetry performer, very famous in Poland for his high vocal skills.
  • Advertisement:
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Chilon. After switching sides so many times it makes you dizzy and causing so much harm to all the good guys, he ends up completely broken.
  • Concert Climax: At a gladiatorial arena.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Petronius. Which is why we love him.
  • Date Rape Averted: Ursus defends Lygia from Vincius' unwanted advances.
  • Driven to Suicide: Several courtiers of Nero have been, in the past. Petronius on page. Eunice, for whom he's the entire world, joins him.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • The Christians who are killed in the persecution die in such a noble way that they make the executioners look like criminals (as Petronius points out).
    • Petronius himself prefers suicide over what might happen to him.
  • Fanservice: For a novel with such a pro-Christian message, the author goes into quite some detail describing the Romans' debauched activities.
  • Fed to the Beast: Christians are fed to massive dogs and lions in a truly gruesome scene.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Vinicius was obsessed with Lygia for a long time, but after he's wounded and she nurses him (partway) back to health, he starts to see her as a person and truly care for her, rather than just lusting after Lygia's pretty looks.
  • The Fundamentalist: Crispus, until called out by St. Peter.
  • Gentle Giant: Ursus.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Ursus is calm, gentle and devoted Christian, but he won't hesitate for a second to kill you with his bare hands if you try to harm Lygia. It's sort of automatic for him, which makes him a little Afraid of Their Own Strength.
  • Happily Adopted: Lygia, by Pomponia and Aulus.
  • Happily Married: Pomponia and Aulus. They're a perfect family, possibly the only one in Rome.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Eunice. One must admit that Petronius treats his home slaves pretty well. Also, Eunice is utterly in love with him (so much she can't stand the thought of leaving his house).
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Vinicius, then Chilon.
  • Historical Domain Character: Petronius, Nero, Poppaea, Saint Peter and Saint Paul all play prominent roles.
  • Love at First Sight: Averted; more like lust at first sight, but eventually leading to True Love which redeems Vinicius.
  • Love Martyr: Acte, the only person in the world who still loves Nero, having fallen in love with the good person he used to be.
  • Love Redeems: It moves Vinicius to grow from an impetuous hotheaded warmonger into a loving, compassionate person.
  • Manly Tears: The tribune of the Praetorians giving the thumbs up to Ursus, Lygia, and Vinicius.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Chilon after seeing people he sold out being burned alive. The fact that they forgive him leads to his Heel–Faith Turn.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Nero's court. Anyone who won't kiss the aforementioned butt is liable to be Driven to Suicide. Or worse.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Chilon. After he takes a Heel–Faith Turn, he's tortured to death along with the other Christians.
  • Running Gag: Petronius' dislike of craftsmen and him comparing others' rude or barbaric behaviour to different occupations. ("Calm thyself," said Petronius. "Thou hast the longing of a carpenter from the Subura.")
  • Saintly Church: The early Christian church in Rome is portrayed in such a manner. Its members live simple, happy lives, standing above the depraved environment surrounding them.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Vinicius, for the first couple of chapters.
  • Take That!: Petronius' suicide note is an enormous one to Nero. To the point of stating that his wanton slaughter and destruction of Rome is still way less abhorrent than his art.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Ursus racks up quite the body count (using just his bare hands) but he regrets every single death.
  • Wicked Cultured: For all his faults, Nero does love poetry and music.

The movies also have examples of:

  • Adaptational Dye Job: Lygia is described as having dark hair in the book, whereas in both versions of the movie she has reddish-blond to straight blond hair.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Petronius and Vinicius are shown playing chess, which even in primitive form wouldn't be invented for a couple of centuries after this time setting and wouldn't reach Europe until several centuries after that.
    • Nero would never have been able to get away with crucifying let alone burning alive a Roman citizen of the Senatorial class like Aulus Plautius.
  • Artistic License – Religion:
    • There's a cross at the underground Christian church service and a cross in Lygia's house. The cross would not become the main symbol of the Christian religion until a few more centuries after the events portrayed.
    • Oddly Peter refers to James and John as his brothers, considering his brother in the Gospels was Andrew, unless he was being figurative in the sense of "Brothers in Christ."
  • As You Know: "You'll spend some time with me, before rushing off to your estate in Sicily?"
  • But Liquor Is Quicker: Vincius gives Lydia a goblet of wine and calls it "the panacea for all reticence."
  • Establishing Character Moment: Nero singing a song horribly while carping at his lute players over how to play said song, while one slave gives him a pedicure and another styles his hair.
  • Face Death with Dignity: St. Peter, Aulus Plautius, Pomponia... everyone but the villains fit the bill.
  • Godiva Hair: Notably when Lygia is tied on the bull.
  • Headbutt of Love: The 2001 movie
  • Hero of Another Story: Aulus Plautius conquered Britain for Rome and defeated the Lygians.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Nero's singing.
  • Large Ham: Peter Ustinov as Nero? Yes, please.
  • Lady Macbeth: Nero has Pomponia executed on this excuse.
  • "Last Supper" Steal: A live-action recreation of the painting as Peter recounts the scene to the congregation in Rome.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Chilon.
  • Neck Snap: Ursus does this to a goddamn bull.
  • Psychopathic Man Child / Sissy Villain: Nero as portrayed in both film versions is capricious, self-absorbed, and effeminate.
  • Putting on the Reich: Directly choreographed from Triumph of the Will.
  • This Is What the Building Will Look Like: Nero with his plans of what the new Rome will look like—as long as something like, say, a fire gets rid of all the stuff already there.
  • Title Drop: As per the legend, Peter says "Quo vadis, Domine?" on the way out of town.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Paul has a prominent supporting role in the first part of the film, but vanishes afterward, apart from a mention of him going to Greece. Odd since he's also believed to have died during Nero's persecutions.
  • While Rome Burns: Quite literally, since the Trope Namer is one of the key characters.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: