International Conference, "Quo vadis": inspirations, contexts, reception. Henryk Sienkiewicz and his vision of Ancient Rome


Scientific committee:

Prof. Jerzy Axer, University of Warsaw

Prof. Tadeusz Bujnicki, University of Warsaw

Prof. Luigi Marinelli, Sapienza University of Rome

Prof. Piotr Salwa, Polish Academy of the Sciences, Scientific Centre in Rome

Prof. Martin M. Winkler, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Prof. Monika Woźniak, Sapienza University of Rome

Prof. Maria Wyke, University College London


International Conference

Quo vadis: inspirations, contexts, reception

Henryk Sienkiewicz and his vision of Ancient Rome

Rome, November, 14-15, 2016


Casa del Cinema, Villa Borghese (14.11)

Istituto Polacco di Roma, Via Vittoria Colonna 1 (15.11)


Many people are under the impression that Henryk Sienkiewicz was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1905 for his novel Quo vadis?. While the Stockholm committee’s reason for its verdict was in fact couched in the formula ‘for outstanding services as an epic writer’, suggesting that it had taken into account his entire oeuvre, this impression is accurate inasmuch as it was indeed Quo vadis? that opened this Polish writer the door to the highest literary decoration. Prior to the publication of his novel about ancient Rome Sienkiewicz had been a writer beloved by his compatriots and respected abroad – at least in some countries – for his contemporary novels, in particular Without Dogma. The dizzying international success of Quo vadis? catapulted him into the highest league of stardom, placing him for some time at the top of readership league tables, even above national writers, especially in countries such as Russia and Italy, and at the same time creating the impulse for the translation of his other works for foreign readers. But before long the novel began to ‘detach’ itself from the person of its writer and to function in the sphere of popular art and in the collective imagination as a true ‘product’ of mass culture ante litteram.

Much has been written about Quo vadis? and its unprecedented success as a novel. The work itself and its critical reception have been analysed; scientific sessions have been devoted to the reception of the novel, extensive sections of broader studies of Sienkiewicz’s work have been focused on it. There are a plethora of factographic studies on the new forms it assumed, particularly at the turn of the centuries, on ‘Sienkiewiczomania’ – or rather ‘Quovadisomania’ – in various countries: we know that Quo vadis? was adapted for the stage, and that it was the inspiration for works of music and literature, that it was made into comics and children’s books, that it was referenced in advertising (‘Petroniusz’ shoes…) and everyday objects of material culture. The purpose of this conference, which is organised to mark the centenary of the great writer’s death, is however not so much to recall the former glory and splendour of the novel, but to develop reflection on the mechanisms that released it into mass circulation and on the influence that the ‘spin-off’ forms of Quo vadis?, above all the film adaptations, exercised on other areas of culture, and, conversely, on the reception and interpretation of the literary text itself. The interdisciplinary character of the conference, which will involve specialists from a range of fields, will create a platform for the meeting of a variety of points of view and methodological approaches, and perhaps also for the revision of certain judgments and stances and for opening up new research perspectives.

Key-note speakers:

Maria Wyke, University College of London.

Martin M.Winkler, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Info and contacts:,

tel. + 39 06 679 21 70