Lake Baikal is the largest body of fresh water in the Old World, being over four hundred miles long and from twenty-four to fifty-six miles broad, its total area covering about thirteen thousand square miles. The Buriats living west of that water, and those inhabiting the sacred island of Olkhon, are the only Mongols who have preserved their own race religion with its primitive usages, archaic beliefs, and philosophy, hence they are a people of great interest to science.
The region about that immense body of water, Lake Baikal, is of still greater interest in history, for from the mountain land south of the lake, and touching it, came Temudjin, known later as Jinghis Khan, and Tamerlane, or Timur Lenk (the Iron Limper), the two greatest personages in the Mongol division of mankind.
From the first of these two mighty man-slayers were descended the Mongol subduers of China and Russia. Among Jinghis Khan's many grandsons were Kublai Khan, the subjector of China, together with Burma and other lands east of India; Hulagu, who destroyed the Assassin Commonwealth of Persia, stormed Bagdad, and extinguished the Abbasid Kalifat; and Batu, who covered Russia with blood and ashes, mined Hungary, hunting its king to an island in the Adriatic, crushed German and other forces opposed to the Mongols at Liegnitz, and returned to the Volga region, where he established his chief headquarters.
Descendants of Jinghis Khan ruled in Russia for two centuries and almost five decades. In China they wielded power only sixty-eight years.
From Tamerlane, a more brilliant, if not a greater, leader than Jinghis, descended the Mongols of India, whose history is remarkable both in the rise and the fall of the empire which they founded.
These two Mongol conquerors had a common ancestor in Jinghis Khan's great-great-grandfather, Tumbinai; hence both men were of the same blood and had the same land of origin,—the region south of Lake Baikal.
That Mongol power which began its career near Baikal covered all Asia, or most of it, and a large part of Europe, and lasted till destroyed by Russia and England. The histories of these struggles are world-wide in their meaning; they deserve the closest study, and in time will surely receive it.
When the descendants of Jinghis Khan had lost China, the only great conquest left them was Russia, and there, after a rule of two hundred and forty-four years, power was snatched from them.
The Grand Moguls, those masters of India, the descendants of Tamerlane, met with Great Britain, and were stripped of their empire in consequence.
Quo Vadis tells of a love that develops between a young Christian woman, Ligia (or Lygia), and Marcus Vinicius, a Roman patrician. It takes place in the city of Rome under the rule of emperor Nero around AD 64.
Sienkiewicz studied the Roman Empire extensively prior to writing the novel, with the aim of getting historical details correct. As such, several historical figures appear in the book. As a whole, the novel carries a powerful pro-Christian message.
Published in installments in three Polish dailies in 1895, it came out in book form in 1896 and has since been translated into more than 50 languages. This novel contributed to Sienkiewicz's Nobel Prize for literature in 1905.
Quo Vadis ("Where are you going?") was one of the world's first bestsellers and contributed toward the author's 1905 receipt of the Nobel Prize in literature. Originally written in Polish, its tale of the Roman suppression of Christianity echoes the Russian domination of Poland. This edition features Jeremiah Curtin's English translation of Henryk Sienkiewicz's enduring epic.
Translator Peter J. Obst is a lecturer at LaSalle University and a researcher for The Poles in America Foundation, established by historian Edward Pinkowski. He received his BS in Commerce and Engineering from Drexel University (1977) and his MA in Central and East European Studies from LaSalle University (2004). He also studied at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Several of his book-length translations from Polish have been published: Lech Walesa: Democrat or Dictator?, My Flights to Freedom, A Family from Sosnowiec, and A Man Who Spanned Two Eras. His articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal Europe, Private Pilot magazine, the Polish-American Journal, Nowy Dziennik, Post-Eagle and other Polonia and American mainstream publications. The recently published Polish American Encyclopedia (edited by James Pula) contains nine entries he authored. He contributed 42 photographs to Allan M. Heller’s album Monuments and Memorials of Philadelphia. He is active in the Kosciuszko Foundation (KF) and the American Council for Polish Culture (ACPC).
In his introduction, Curtin explains the profound antiquity of these myths of creation, which preserve some of the earliest religious expression. He also provides an unflinching account of the appalling genocidal attacks on the peaceful Yana by white Californians in the 1860s. Because the Yana became extinct, Curtin's rendering of some of their important myths is an especially valuable contribution to contemporary understanding of Native American mythology.