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Whither Quo Vadis?: Sienkiewicz's Novel in Film and Television

ISBN: 978-1-4443-0613-2
304 pages
March 2009, Wiley-Blackwell
Whither Quo Vadis?: Sienkiewicz
Whither Quo Vadis? offers an engaging account of how the Roman world and its history are represented in film and the way in which the different adaptations reflect the shifting historical situations and ideological concerns of their own times.



  • Explores five surviving film adaptations – Guazzoni's of 1912; D’Annunzio/Jacoby of 1925; Mervyn LeRoy's of 1951; the Italian TV mini-series of 1985 by Franco Rossi; and Kawalerowicz’s 2001 Polish version
  • Examines how these different versions interpret, select from, and modify the novel and the ancient sources on which it is based
  • Offers an exceptionally clear view of how films have presented ancient Rome and how modern conditions determine its reception
  • Looks at rare and archival material which has not previously received close scholarly attention
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List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments x

1 Novel and Film 1

2 Adapting the Narrative 16

Sienkiewicz’s Novel: Adapting the Story 16

Focalizers, Judgments, and Petronius 22

Petronius as Focal Character 28

Seeing and Mapping Rome 42

3 Gender and Ethnicity 55

Marcus and Lygia 55

Petronius and Eunice 57

Pomponia 61

Gender Roles in Public and Private Life 63

Ethnicity and Gender Roles in the 1985 Version 70

Adaptations in the 2001 Version 80

4 Political Institutions, Political Subtexts 88

Political Implications of the Silent Versions 91

Fascists and Communists: The 1951 and 2001 Films 94

The Complex Allusions of the 1985 Miniseries 97

Foreign Policy in the Films 116

The Military in the 1951 Version 118

The Arrival of Galba 124

5 The Roman People 139

6 Religion and Religious Authority in Quo Vadis? 173

Paganism 173

Judaism 178

Christianity: Ritual, Theology, and Confl ict in Sienkiewicz’s Novel 185

Transmitting a Tradition: Sermons in Novel and Film 188

The Representation of the Scriptures 190

Radicals: Crispus 194

Mainstream Christianity: Peter and Paul 200

Conclusion 211

7 Conclusions 219

8 Exkursus: Chilo’s Mother 223

A Peculiarity of the German Translations of Quo Vadis? 223

Description of the Films 227

Synopsis of the Novel and the Film Versions of Quo Vadis 230

References 266

Index of Ancient Sources 275

Index of Personal Names 279

Index of Things and Places 285

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Ruth Scodel is D. R. Shackleton Bailey Collegiate Professor of Greek and Latin at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Listening to Homer (2002) and Epic Facework: Self-Presentation and Social Interaction in Homer (2008).

Anja Bettenworth is Assistant Professor of Latin at the University of Münster. She is the author of Gastmahlszenen in der antiken Epik von Homer bis Claudian. Diachrone Untersuchungen zur Szenentypik (2004).

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  • Explores five surviving film adaptations – Guazzoni's of 1912; D’Annunzio/Jacoby of 1925; Mervyn LeRoy's of 1951; the Italian TV mini-series of 1985 by Franco Rossi; and Kawalerowicz’s 2001 Polish version
  • Examines how these different versions interpret, select from, and modify the novel and the ancient sources on which it is based
  • Offers an exceptionally clear view of how films have presented ancient Rome and how modern conditions determine its reception
  • Looks at rare and archival material which has not previously received close scholarly attention
See More
"Recommended [to] all readers." (CHOICE, March 2010)

“There is much to admire in this book. It has a clear focus and a good set of questions. It knows its way round the five films and around the classical sources, and is prepared to look at broader issues in relation to the close reading of the films.” (Bryn Mawr Classical Review, March 2009)

“A remarkable achievement! Scodel and Bettenworth have produced a splendid synthesis at once inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural. Informed by fine classical scholarship and incisive film-criticism Whither Quo Vadis is a compelling contribution to the study of world literature, history, religion, cinema studies.”
John F. Makowski, Loyola University Chicago

“A masterly analysis of all aspects of the art of making a film from a historical novel. Written in a clear, engaging style, it makes an enjoyable read, with extensive references for readers who wish to explore the subject further.”
– David Hahm, Ohio State University

"Anyone interested in the translation of epic novel to epic film will find valuable insights and learned nuggets here, especially concerning gender roles and political subtexts in the four cinematic versions (1912 to 2001) and the 1985 television miniseries."
Emily Albu, University of California, Davis

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