Another classic I read recently is Quo Vadis, by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Quo Vadis is a classical novel, exploring modern themes in an ancient time, the time when Rome was ruled by Nero, one of the most dark figures in Roman Empire’s history. Quo Vadis is a novel about love, about faith, and about people.
The main characters are the young and lustful Vinicius, an important figure in Roman politics, with a good fortune, who falls from the highest of pleasure into a crude love despair for the daughter of a far away barbarian king, Ligia. Ligia is a simple girl, full of faith and innocence, and considering the others more important than herself, fully selfless.
Vinicius is attracted at first by her beauty, which gives him an obsession, while Ligia is vaguely attracted by him. Vinicius makes several mistakes in trying to approach her, which make her life miserable together with his own. He uses his uncle Petronius, a high ranking official and art critique at the court of the emperor Nero, to abduct her from her adoptive parents. Ligia is only revolted by his approach, and runs away. Vinicius is completely left out of options, as he is used to slaves that would obey all his wishes, and everything he would ever desire would come to him without fighting for it. He doesn’t understand why Ligia wouldn’t want to become his mistress and get all the honors and attention that few other women would have. He begins a desperate search and is consequent in his mistakes, punishing his slaves for something they didn’t deserve punishment.
Ligia prefers to stay in solitude, accompanied by kind people, who are not powerful, nor rich, but have a big heart, and a warm soul. Vinicius cannot understand this, but he begins to realize there is more in her way of being that he can try to find out, and begins her search on a different matter, a spiritual journey to finding her.
Ligia is an adept of a new religion, Christianity, that implies spiritual goodness, sacrifice of oneself for the others. She is at the edge of the city, together with other followers of the new religion, far away from the habits of Rome.
Although Vinicius made her suffer, by taking her away from her home, and forcing her to live stranded and hidden, Ligia is willing to forgive him.
Vinicius however is not yet to give up his old ways, and comes to kidnap Ligia again, after finding about her location, by infiltrating the followers of the fish, the symbol of early Christianity. Ligia’s guardian kills Vinicius’ friend and lets him badly injured, only to be saved by Ligia, who doesn’t allow more violence to happen. Vinicius is treated by Ligia for a while, which is a mystical healing of both body and soul, and begins to understand her, her thinking and her way of life. Even though he tried to kidnap her, Ligia is willing to stand by his ill bed, care for him, and let him go without any wish for avenge. Vinicius is astonished by this, and accepts that Ligia is something different that he still has a long way to decipher her. He returns home, healed, but with a different heart, and signs of change begin to show, by releasing some of his slaves.
The faith puts the characters into another test, when Nero begins to blame Vinicius and Ligia for the death of his daughter, and the burning of Rome, when Vinicius and Ligia are separated again. Vinicius meets Saint Peter, who tries to endulge him into the ways of the Christianity. The guilt for burning Rome falls on the Christians, and the most dramatic point in the novel is when the Christians are fed to animals, without fight or remorse, which turns them into martyrs. Ligia is only saved by the request of the audience, which was the only thing that Nero was still afraid of.
Also a dramatic episode is the suicide of Petronius, commanded by Nero. Being in Nero’s disgrace, Petronius asks his personal doctor to let him bleed to death, engulfing in last reads of poems and Roman bohemia, before his slow and painless death.
Overall, Quo Vadis is a book who shows an impossible love coming true, in a dark age presented magnificently, full of violence and lacking any justice or fairness.
Petronius is the ancient intellectual, desiring his pleasures, and not being afraid to pay for a life full of lust. He envies a bit but it’s full of compasion for Ligia and Vinicius.
Vinicius is the perfect Roman, which discovers a whole new world through Ligia, and an example of faith conversion and one of the most early Christians.
Ligia is the innocent maid, who can devote herself to a better cause, for the good of everyone else.