Thursday, February 7, 2013

Quo Vadis - by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Free US/UK Kindle Classic

Quo Vadis is a famous 1895 historical novel by Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz.  The title is well known, but I do not think the book is widely read. (US Edition)  (UK Edition)  The author wanted to immerse the reader in Nero's Rome.

He visited the public baths rarely, only when some rhetor happened there who roused admiration and who was spoken of in the city, or when in the ephebias there were combats of exceptional interest. Moreover, he had in his own "insula" private baths which Celer, the famous contemporary of Severus, had extended for him, reconstructed and arranged with such uncommon taste that Nero himself acknowledged their excellence over those of the Emperor, though the imperial baths were more extensive and finished with incomparably greater luxury. 

After that feast, at which he was bored by the jesting of Vatinius with Nero, Lucan, and Seneca, he took part in a diatribe as to whether woman has a soul. Rising late, he used, as was his custom, the baths. Two enormous balneatores laid him on a cypress table covered with snow-white Egyptian byssus, and with hands dipped in perfumed olive oil began to rub his shapely body; and he waited with closed eyes till the heat of the laconicum and the heat of their hands passed through him and expelled weariness.

Well, I picked up a few new words there . . .

Let's see what an Amazon Reader reviewer says:
"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. . . . 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. . .

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."

Let us let the author have another word:

"Alas! such are the times," answered Aulus. "I lack two front teeth, knocked out by a stone from the hand of a Briton, I speak with a hiss; still my happiest days were passed in Britain."
 "Because they were days of victory," added Vinicius.
But Petronius, alarmed lest the old general might begin a narrative of his former wars, changed the conversation.

Now that is familiar territory! From Proust and Austen and Dickens, and now I guess to Sienkiewicz we know these characters.

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