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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Emperor Nero in Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewcz- YOU SO CRAY EMPEROR NERO!

Book Review
Quo Vadis
 by  Henryk Sienkiewicz

    Quo Vadis is a historical romance set in the time of Nero.  The heroes are early Christians and the plot revolves around Emperor Nero and his legendary persecutions of Christians during his reign.  Quo Vadis was a huge international hit as soon as it was translated into languages besides Polish, and Sienkiewicz even won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905.  Henryk Sienkiewicz was a prolific writer- according the Nobel Prize website, the complete edition of his works runs sixty volumes, but Quo Vadis is what he is remembered for.

 It's hard to discuss Quo Vadis without mentioning Ben Hur. Ben Hur was published in 1880, by American writer Lew Wallace.  Ben Hur also depicts the time of Rome after Christ but before the Emperor was converted. Considering how deeply, deeply unpopular the "Swords & Sandals" genre is today, it's funny to consider that Ben Hur and Quo Vadis were the first hit Novels to bring the historical romance genre to the time of Christ.  It seems so very obvious in retrospect, but it probably had something to do with the fact that best Romans were pagans and so writing about them would inevitably be an un-Christian affair.

 In fact, the stand out portion of Quo Vadis is his upfront, graphic depiction of the violence that was common place in the Rome of Nero.  He also does an excellent job depicting Romans as Romans- with rich detail and insight into their psychology that is lacking in Ben Hur.  The Christians kind of come off as one dimensional goody two shoes, and Sienkiewicz is not shy about dragging the Jews into the fray.  Despite the fact that none of the characters are Jewish, he manages to reference the Jewish persecution of early Christians in Rome about 50 times.  It kind of seems like he was trying to make a point independent of the plot.

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