Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
The novel reaches its climax when Nero starts a fire that consumes much of the city. Fire is a symbol of both destruction and perfection. Christians preach that the world will perish in fire, and Christ promised to cast fire upon the earth. Christianity itself is said to have begun with flames of fire at Pentecost. In this symbol Sienkiewicz illustrates both the death and coming rebirth of Rome.
Nero’s palace. The novel repeatedly contrasts houses. Nero’s Roman palace is the home of a beast who “devours.” Evenings, the palace is the site of excessively lavish and wasteful meals, lascivious sexuality, mediocre artistic performances, superstition, malicious court intrigue, militant atheism, and savage brutality. (Christians are occasionally used as human torches to illuminate evening garden parties). The ultimate waste is Nero’s order to burn Rome so that its destruction may inspire his poetry.
Christian houses. Homes of Roman Christians, who typically live in the labyrinthine alleys of cheap Roman apartment complexes. Their houses are places of labor, not leisure, of poverty, not luxury. Nevertheless, these homes are characterized by true equality, simplicity, joy, hope, trust, and love. They radiate compassion, as when a Christian physician tends his would-be murderer.
Sand pits and tombs. Forbidding and forlorn places in Rome where Christians gather in secrecy at night to find fellowship and encouragement. In these places, the Christians perform baptisms and the Eucharist, preach, and pray at the same hours during which Nero’s orgies take place–a study in the marked contrast of two philosophies.
Amphitheater. Public area that Nero has had built for the brutal games in which Christian and pagan Rome meet. There, day after day, Christians are fed to wild beasts, killed by gladiators, and burned in fires to amuse the populace and to avenge their alleged responsibility for burning Rome. In contrast to the pagan blood-lust of the crowd is the symbolic blood-sacrifice of the Christians, through whose innocent lives Rome will ultimately be redeemed.
*Appian Way (Via Appia). Royal road outside Rome that is the site of the incident that gives the novel its title. While fleeing the Neronian persecution in Rome, Peter encounters Christ, who asks him, “Quo vadis?” (where are you going?). When Peter learns that Christ is going to Rome to be crucified anew, he retraces his steps to experience his own martyrdom. In addition to giving the novel its title. the road symbolizes the choice between the way of Caesar and the way of Christ.