“Quo vadis”. Sienkiewicz’s greatest work and its extraordinary adventures

enryka Henryk Sienkiewicz began to write “Quo vadis” in 1894. Initially, the novel was published in serials. It premiered in a compact form in 1896. Already in the first weeks, the book became very popular. “Quo vadis” soon made a huge career all over the world.


The action “Quo vadis” is set in the realities of ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero. The pagan world, promiscuous and bloody, is contrasted with good and moral Christians. The main character is a patrician named Vinicius, who falls in love with the beautiful League. Vinicius wants the girl to become his concubine, but she refuses to do so, because, as a Christian, she is not allowed to do it. Vinicius decides to kidnap her, but then he is wounded. He is helped by Ligia. A feeling begins to form between the two. Vinicius, surrounded by Christians, begins to get to know them better, and finally, captivated by their goodness and the teachings of the Apostle Peter, he decides to be baptized.

Soon after, when Nero is in Acjum, and with him Vinicius and Petronius (Vinicius’ uncle), news of a mighty fire broke out from Rome. Nero hurriedly returns to the City. On the spot, he accuses Christians of the catastrophe. The hunt for followers of Christ begins. Vinicius in the midst of the fire tries to find Lygia, but he fails to do so. During the next games, a turn appears in the arena carrying a naked Ligia on its back. Her servant Ursus rushes to the rescue, a man of great strength who twists the animal’s neck. Lygia is saved and soon leaves Rome with Vinicius.

Sienkiewicz’s inspirations

The title of the novel comes from the words “Quo vadis, Domine?” Which means “Where are you going, Lord?” Saint Peter was to address this question to Christ.

Henryk Sienkiewicz was inspired to write “Quo Vadis” during his stay in Rome.
– The famous Polish painter Siemiradzki, who then lived in Rome, was my guide through the eternal city and during one of our journeys he showed me the Quo vadis chapel. It was then that I had the idea of ​​writing a novel from that era and I was able to make it a reality thanks to the knowledge of the origins of the Church – said the writer later.

Sienkiewicz felt very comfortable in the genre of historical prose. He perfectly got to know the history and culture of Rome, which he revived in the pages of his novel. He read Tacitus and Suetonius in the original, as well as works by historians of antiquity. He was fascinated by paintings by Henryk Siemiradzki – colorful and very expressive. The “Torches of Nero” and “Christian Dirce” provided direct inspiration.

Henryk Sienkiewicz got to know Rome well. He stayed there for a month in 1879 and three times less in the years 1886-1893. In “Quo Vadis” he tried to reflect the topography of the city very carefully.


The novel “Quo Vadis” reached readers almost all over the world. The book was praised by Pope Leo XIII. The first translations of “Quo vadis” into other languages ​​appeared in the year of its Polish premiere, ie in 1896. At the beginning, the novel was translated into English and Russian. In the following year, 20 editions appeared. The greatest number of re-releases was recorded in 1900-52. Since then, each year, about 20 editions of Sienkiewicz’s novels have been published. The National Library has calculated that by 2016, Quo Vadis had been published approximately 2,000 times in 59 languages.

H. Siemiradzki, Nero's Torches

– In Spain, it has become customary to give this book to children receiving their First Communion, although the absorptive market in Latin America also contributes to a significant success. One of the first Spanish editions of 1900 was presented to Pope Francis by President Andrzej Duda. – writes Janusz R. Kowalczyk on the website culture.pl.

In 1905 Henryk Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize for “outstanding achievements in the field of epic and a rare genius who embodied himself in the spirit of the nation”. It was a Nobel Prize for lifetime achievement, and not, as it is sometimes mistakenly claimed, for the book “Quo vadis”.

Quo Vadis has had several film adaptations. The most famous during the silent cinema period was the Italian adaptation directed by Enrico Guazzoni. Another film adaptation took place in Italy in 1924, and the film was directed by Gabriellino D’Annunzio and Georg Jacoby. In 1951, the work of Henryk Sienkiewicz was transferred to the screen by the American director Mervyn LeRoy, and in 1985 Italian television made a six-episode series based on the novel. In Poland, “Quo Vadis” was filmed in 2001. The director was Jerzy Kawalerowicz.

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