Quo vadis? Astor Theatre, New York 1913

Cast of Characters: Peter, the Apostle (Mr. J. Gizzi); Nero, Emperor of Rome (Mr. C. Cattaneo); Poppaea, Nero’s second wife (Mrs. O. Brandini); Tigellinus, Roman general ((Mr. C. Moltini); Ursus, a Lygian servant to Lygia (Mr. B. Castellani); Lygia, daughter of a Lygian king (Miss L. Giunchi); Petronius, Nero’s favorite (Mr. G. Serena); Vinitius, a military tribune (Mr. A. Novelli); Chilo Chilonides, a Greek soothsayer and spy (Mr. A. Mastripietri); Eunice, a slave (Mrs. A. Cattaneo); Aulus Plautius, a retired Roman general (Mr. L. Lupi).

Music: The instrument used is a Wurlitzer – Orchestra Style J.

The Story of Quo Vadis?

Act I. The opening scene pictures the interior of the luxurious home of Petronius, one of Nero’s favorites, who is seen in his private baths. A slave announces the arrival of Marcus Vinitius, his nephew, who tells his uncle of his love for Lygia, and begs Petronius to help him win her. Lygia is the daighter of a Lygian king, held as hostage by Rome, and placed under the care of Aulus Plautius and his wife, who regard her as their own daughter. Petronius consents to enlist the help of the Emperor Nero.

The next day a Centurion appears with an order from the Emperor commanding that Lygia accompany him to the Imperial Palace, and there be placed in the care of Actea, a woman of influence at the Court.

Plautius and his wife are in deep sorrow over Lygia’s departure, but are consoled by the fact that she is accompanied by Ursus, her giant follower. The next day, overcome with grief, Aulus goes to the palace to ask that Lygia be restored to him, but without success.

The following evening Nero gives a magnificent banquet. Lygia and Actea attend, and there meet Vinitius and Petronius. Nero, yielding to the flattery of his courtiers, rises to sing his hymn to Venus.

Next a group of Syrian girls dance to the accompaniment of lutes and cymbals. The bacchanalia becomes more turbulent toward midnight. Vinitius indulges too freely and makes violent love to Lygia. Although she repulses him he clasps her in his arms. The giant Ursus appears and carries her to her apartments. Later, Actea counsels her not to flee from the palace, which would incur the wrath of Nero.

The next evening Vinitius sends his freedman, Aticinus, to bring Lygia to his house, but upon the return journey Ursus, with a crowd of fellow-Christians, intercepts the litter, and after rescuing his mistress, disappears with her into a remote part of the city. When the slaves of Vinitius return, the young patrician is roused to a terrible fury, and slays Aticinus.

Soon afterward Eunice, the favorite slave of Petronius, suggests that they employ the services of Chilo, the soothsayer and spy. Chilo is instructed to find her, and, after a long search, learns that Lygia and Ursus worship with the Christians at Ostranium.

He informs Vinitius, who sets out for Ostranium, accompanied by Chilo and Croton, a huge gladiator. At Ostranium, they mingle with the Christians. The Apostle Peter appears and blesses the faithful. After prayers are over, and they are returning homeward, Vinitius orders Croton to attack Ursus, while he attemps to seize Lygia. But the gladiator proves no match for Ursus, and meets a terrible death at his hands. After disposing of him he rushes to rescue Lygia from the arms of Vinitius, and is about to slay the latter when his mistress commands him to be merciful.

Vinitius is carried to their dwelling where, under the tender care of Lygia, he soon recovers from his injuries. His heart is touched by the Christian charity of those about him, and his love for the girl becomes greater than ever. He begs Lygia to forgive him and agree to marry him, but she flees from his passionate words.

Act II. Vinitius then returns to his palatial home, and attempts to forget Lygia in a life of renewed dissipation. A magnificent banquet is given at the Pond of Agrippa. The guests are invited by Nero to roam in the gardens and groves, Vinitius among them. He is a great favorite among the ladies at the Court, and even Poppaea, the Empress, meeting him in the garden, makes violent love to him, but Vinitius repels her with the words, “Leave me, for I olve another,” not realizing who the veiled figure is. Petronius, however, has been watching, and later rushes up with the words, “Knowest thou who that was? It was Poppaea! Hadst thou recognized her, nothing could have saved thee, nor Lygia, nor, perhaps, myself!”.

One day, while Vinitius is meditating, the prophet Chilo appears, and whispers that he has again discovered the whereabouts of Lygia. Vinitius  accompanies him to the place, but dismisses the old man in front of the house, telling him to go his way and forget that he had ever served him. Vinitius enters the house, and finds the Apostle Peter with a small band of Christians. He tells them he wishes to marry Lygia, and declares himself ready to accept Christianity. Lygia then appears, and the Apostle blesses their love.

Vinitius then returns home, frees all his slaves for Lygia’s sake, and realizes that he is indeed a changed man. Petronius now counsels him to join Nero’s Court, which has removed to Antrium.

Here feasting and revelry take place, and Nero indulges to his heart’s desire. He is intensely fond of poetry and song, and devotes much of his time in pursuit of these, but he still yearns for some subject to give him inspiration for much greater work, and it is suggested by Tigellinus that he might care to behold Rome in flames.

It is not long afterwards that a messenger enters with the words, “Rome is burning!” to which the Emperor answers in ecstasy, “Ye gods! I shall see a burning city, and can complete my Iliad!” When Vinitius hears the news he makes frantic haste toward Rome, and upon reaching the city inquires of the fugitives concerning Lygia, but for a long time can learn nothing definite.

The whole city is now seen a mass of flames! Thousands of unfortunate people perish, and the others rush through the crowded streets carrying their goods upon their backs. Roman architecture totters and falls to the ground! Confusion reigns everywhere, followed by violence and robbery.

In order to obtain a better view of the perishing city Nero journeys close by, accompanied by a company of his courtiers. At a safe distance he goes  out upon a balcony and gazes upon the mammoth conflagration. At last he can gratify his desire to behold Rome in flames. Who could wish for greater inspiration for a poem? The fall of Troy was nothing to be compared with it. The Emperor raises his voice and sings, accompanying himself upon his lute.

In the meantime Vinitius braves the terrible confusion and succeeds in finding Lygia, Ursus and the Apostle Peter. He begs them to leave Rome, but they refuse. Vinitius too, remains, and asks to be baptized, and the Apostle Peter baptizes him.

When the flames are finally extinguished the Roman people cry loudly for revenge. Many angrily accuse Nero of the crime. Shouts of “Matricide!” “Incendiary!” fill the air. Nero, dreading the wrath of the people, sends his favorite, Petronius, to calm their furious threats by making liberal promises of grain and entertainments.

In order to turn the blame upn someone else the Emperor gladly embraces the suggestion of the false Chilo, seconded by Tigellinus, that the Christians are the real culprits and a general arrest of them takes place, among them Lygia, Ursus, and Glaucus. The Roman soldiers search the houses and drive the unfortunate people to the foul prisons to await their cruel fate. Vinitius makes a heroic attempt to save Lygia, but in vain.

Act III. A great series of spectacles is to be given in the amphitheatre, the crowning events of which will be Christian martyrs being thrown to the lions. On the appointed day great crowds fill the amphitheatre, including the Emperor and his Court.

Exciting chariot races, and gladiators engaged in mortal combat, entertain the people for awhile, but they soon cry for the more terrible events which are to follow. Then the Christian martyrs, men, women, and children, are brutally driven into the arena, after which lions are turned in upon them.

Nero smilingly turns to Petronius and inquires, “What think you of it?” and Petronius cybically replies, “They are a spectacle worthy of thee, O Caesar!” Vinitius can harddly restrain his anxiety over what fate shall fall to Lygia, when suddenly a huge bull dashes into the arena with the body of a woman lashed to its back.

“Lygia, Lygia,” cries Vinitius, tearing his hair. “I believe! Oh Christ! a miracle!” An extraordinary thing occurs! Ursus advances toward the beast! Seizing the animal by the horns man and beast become  engaged in a terrible struggle.

Suddenly the head of the infuriated bull is twisted under the iron mand of the barbarian. Finally the animal, exhausted, falls to the ground. Quickly the giant releases Lygia and lifting her in his arms approaches the Imperial Balcony.

Vinitius makes a desperate leap into the arena and baring his breast disclosing the scars received in the Armenian wars, pleads to Nero for Lygia’s life. Fearing a more furious outbreak from the populace, and seeing nothing but angry looks, Nero upturns his thumb, the sign of grace, and Lygia is borne out of the arena. This ends the festivities.

Petronius, who has so nobly defended the Christians in Nero’s Court, has sacrificed his favor and is condemned to die. He gives an elaborate farewell banquet to his friends. At its close he reads aloud a letter, denouncing Nero and branding him as the real incendiary of Rome. With this done he summons the doctor to open his veins.

About that time, on the Appian way, are seen two figures leaving Rome, the Apostle Peter and Nazarius. The road is empty. Thinking their  work is at an end in Rome they desire to seek other fields, but suddenly a vision appears before them on the roadway and they look with wonder upon the figure of Christ. In a broken voice Peter exclaims: “Quo Vadis, Domine?” (Whither goest Thou, O Master?) and receives answer: “If you desertest My people I shall go to Rome to be crucified a second time.” Rising to their feet, with bowed heads, they turn without a word and hasten back toward the City of Seven Hills.

The reign of Nero is now ended. The signal of revolt is given, and the Legions acclaim Galba Emperor, while Nero seeks safety in flight. He learns that his enemies are rapidly closing in upon him and determines to take his own life. At the critical moment his courage fails him; one of his followers comes to his aid and presses the dagger home to his heart.


QUO VADIS?” AT ASTOR.; Moving Pictures of Famous Story of Rome Shown for First Time Here, The New York Times, April 22, 1913

“Quo Vadis” at the Astor, Hearing the Movies