It is obvious that Henryk Sienkiewicz was an expert first century Rome. The city and the monarchy come alive in Quo Vadis in an amazingly tangible way. Even though not all the events are historically accurate, I don't see how a better job could be done of recreating the time and place. The description of the Roman circus with its gladiators and Christian massacres is the strongest section of the book. It is awful. I hadn't thought more than superficially about what went on in the ampitheatres but after reading this, it is clear to me that any complaining about how morals are worse now than ever can easily be answered by referring to the Romans. Two thousand years ago, shortly after the death of Christ, humanity had already plumbed the depths of depravity.How does a society get to the point where the slaughter and violation of women and children whose only crime is their religion is viewed as acceptable entertainment? Gladiators are vaguely comprehensible to me. I can see how a people that prizes strength and valor in war could come to idolize it to the point of recreating it artificially in games; it's sick but understandable. But when it comes to releasing men, women and children to be torn apart by animals while thousands of onlookers enjoy the spectical, it is hard to see how that can be justified in any context. It is strange that the famous philosophers and historians of Rome weren't more vocal in condemning the arena. Was life really so little valued? Are people really so easily blinded by their surroundings?Outside the descriptions of damnatio ad bestias, Quo Vadis has its moments but it repeatedly comes close to greatness without ever really reaching it. The primary focus of the plot, the love story between Marcus Vinicius and Ligia, is melodramatic and sometimes so overdone that it is almost nauseating. At other times in the story there is compelling and real relationship there, but it is overshadowed by the prevailing sappiness.Early Christians are portrayed as the embodiment of "turn the other cheek" and "lambs to the slaughter," completely unwilling, even when able, to defend themselves. Maybe that's how they were, I don't know. Either way, it makes for a frustrating story.Thinking about the book while writing this review makes me realize that Quo Vadis is impressive for the amount of information it conveys about Rome, Nero and the environment of early Christianity. Maybe it deserves another star, but I didn't read it for the history, I read it for the story and the story is definitely only 3 stars.