Quo Vadis (1951) Poster


Leo Genn: Petronius



  • Petronius : [in his dying letter to Nero]  To Nero, Emperor of Rome, Master of the World, Divine Pontiff. I know that my death will be a disappointment to you, since you wished to render me this service yourself. To be born in your reign is a miscalculation; but to die in it is a joy. I can forgive you for murdering your wife and your mother, for burning our beloved Rome, for befouling our fair country with the stench of your crimes. But one thing I cannot forgive - the boredom of having to listen to your verses, your second-rate songs, your mediocre performances. Adhere to your special gifts, Nero - murder and arson, betrayal and terror. Mutilate your subjects if you must; but with my last breath I beg you - do not mutilate the arts. Fare well, but compose no more music. Brutalize the people, but do not bore them, as you have bored to death your friend, the late Gaius Petronius.

  • [on being told the Christians are being blamed for the burning of Rome] 

    Vinicius : The people won't believe such a lie!

    Petronius : But they are believing it. People will believe any lie, if it is fantastic enough.

  • Petronius : It is not enough to live well. One must die well.

  • Vinicius : [speaking of Nero]  His new wife, Poppea, sounds interesting - a harlot for an empress?

    Petronius : [sardonically humorous]  My dear Marcus, what a proletarian observation! You must know that a woman has no past when she mates with a god.

  • [Nero is exasperated with the mobs] 

    Emperor Nero : Do I live for the people or do the people live for me?

    Petronius : You are the sun in their sky! Does the sun have privacy?

    Emperor Nero : The sun has the night! These people expect me to shine daily - hourly!

  • Petronius : [Nero begins to sing again, and his voice is horrible]  Body of Bacchus, I've been listening to *that* since morning!

    Vinicius : [amused]  He seems in rare voice!

  • Emperor Nero : Is it possible that human beings can produce such a sound?

    Petronius : Yes, when they've been pushed too far.

  • Petronius : [after seeing Rome consumed by flames]  Now indeed, Nero has his place in history.

  • Emperor Nero : [During the burning of Rome]  What do they want?

    Petronius : Justice.

    Emperor Nero : A mob doesn't want justice - they want revenge!

  • Petronius : [to Nero]  You will be worthy of the spectacle - as the spectacle is worthy of you.

  • Petronius : [to Eunice]  You ask why I do this. Because I love Nero, perhaps? He fills me with loathing!

  • Petronius : [to Nero]  A genius, Divinity, should hold to his first thoughts on any subject.

  • Petronius : Marcus, I've recently purchased several new delectable slaves. There's one from Spain. Skin like cream. Hair with the sheen of a young raven. She's yours.

  • Petronius : [talking to Marcus Vinicius about the spanish slave]  You don't want her? And I refused an offer from Seneca of six Arabian stallions.

  • Emperor Nero : Dear Poppaea, one woman should never judge another. She hasn't the glands for it. Ha-ha-ha. Isn't that witty, Petronius?

    Petronius : Among the gods, your humor is unique.

  • Petronius : But what of the Rome that has stood for a thousand years? After all, Divinity, the old Rome, our Rome... dirty and magnificent, but still our beloved Rome... it still stands.

    Emperor Nero : Does it?

  • Emperor Nero : [about the angry roman mob]  Petronius, you're not like these other people. They think that you're their friend. Speak to them, make promises. Grain, oil, wine.

    Petronius : They will take them, Nero, without your permission.

  • Petronius : Rome has given the world justice and order. Sign that, and Roman justice will receive a blow... from which it may never recover. Condemn these Christians and you make martyrs of them... and insure their immortality. Condemn them, and in the eyes of history... you'll condemn yourself.

    Emperor Nero : When I have finished with these Christians, Petronius... history will not be sure that they ever existed.

  • Petronius : Yesterday, I could have gone to the mob and told them that Nero burned Rome. I could've offered them a new emperor in General Galba... and so set my seal upon the times. But I did not. Do you know why, Eunice? Because I love Nero, perhaps? He fills me with loathing. No, because out of force of long habit... I've become content only to be an amused cynic... a selfish onlooker, leaving others to shape the world.

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