Airing tonight on C8, “Quo Vadis” is an indestructible classic of the Hollywood peplum, worn by a brilliant Peter Ustinov as the cruel Emperor Nero. Do you know moreover the origin of the Latin expression which makes the title of the film?
Airing tonight on C8, Quo vadis is an absolute and steadfast classic of the Hollywood peplum. Released in 1953 and signed by Mervyn Leroy, the film is carried by a very solid cast, in the midst of which emerge an excellent Robert Taylor in the title role, and Deborah Kerr, the Christian slave with whom Taylor falls in love. And above all an absolutely brilliant and imperial Peter Ustinov – this is the case to say it -, in the guise of the cruel Roman Emperor Nero, lover of poems and songs composed with the help of his lyre, declaiming his “mediocre verses” as his advisor Suetonius cruelly recalls in the film, in front of the hallucinatory spectacle of the city of Rome devoured by flames …
For memory, Quo Vadis, that’s it…
The title of this peplum recounting the persecution of the early Christians is actually taken from the phrase “Quo Vadis Dominates” (“Where are you going, Lord?”) Uttered by the apostle Peter when Jesus appeared to him on the Via Appia, leaving Rome, in the book of Acts.
Hearing the Messiah answer him that he is returning to Rome to be crucified a second time, Peter understands his mistake in having abandoned the Christians to their fates. He then goes there in his place, and will end up crucified upside down, out of humility, according to the stories, “unworthy to die like Christ”.
In the 9th century, a chapel will be erected on the supposed place of this meeting between Peter and Jesus; then a church, baptized Santa Maria in Palmis, or church Dominate Quo Vadis, will be built by-desus, in the 17th century.
The church houses a white marble slab which is a copy of that of the neighboring Basilica of San Sebastian, exhibiting the imprint of two feet which popular tradition associates with those of Christ during his appearance in Peter, and that Pope Innocent III (1160-1216) had decreed as true.
Latin … and Polish roots
If we are talking about this famous Latin phrase and this church, it is because there is obviously something in common with the film, beyond its title. Because Quo Vadis is above all an adaptation (the 4th in fact, the first dating back to 1901!) of a work written by a Polish author, Henryk Sienkiewicz, future Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905.
First published in serial form from March 1895, then in novel form in 1896, the book was a huge international success. In France, it was not published until 1900, under the title Quo vadis: novel of Neronian times.
What is interesting is that through this story of the thwarted love of a patrician, Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor in the film), and a young Christian girl, Callina, nicknamed Lygie (Deborah Kerr), on background of Christian persecutions under Nero, the author transposes in reality the Russian oppression on Poland then divided at the end of the XIXth century, while the Tsar is represented by Néron. The writer’s family worked actively for the independence of Poland.
Henryk Sienkiewicz traveled a lot, especially in Italy. It was there that he met Polish resistance fighters in Rome, in the famous church on Via Appia, the church Dominates Quo Vadis …