Thursday, 25 March 2010


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Salome (Greek: Σαλωμη, Salōmē), the Daughter of Herodias (c AD 14 - between 62 and 71), is known from the New Testament (Mark 6:17-29 and Matt 14:3-11, where, however her name is not given). Another source from Antiquity, Flavius Josephus's Jewish Antiquities, gives her name and some detail about her family relations.
Name in Hebrew reads שלומית (Shlomit) and is derived from Shalom שלום, meaning "peace". (Pictured right: Salome with the head of John the Baptist by Titian c 1515 (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome).
Christian traditions depict her as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness, for instance depicting as erotic her dance mentioned in the New Testament (in some later transformations further iconised to the dance of the seven veils), or concentrate on her lighthearted and cold foolishness that, according to the gospels, led to John the Baptist's death.
A new ramification was added by Oscar Wilde, who in his play Salome let her devolve into a necrophiliac, killed the same day as the man whose death she had requested. This last interpretation, made even more memorable by Richard Strauss's opera based on Wilde, is not consistent with Josephus's account; according to the Romanized Jewish historian, she lived long enough to marry twice and raise several children. Few literary accounts elaborate the biographical data given by Josephus.

Biblical character
According to Mark 6:21-29 (Salome is not mentioned by name in this passage so reference is incomplete), Salome was the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, danced before him and her mother Herodias at the occasion of his birthday, and in doing so gave her mother the opportunity to obtain the head of John the Baptist. According to Mark's gospel Herodias bore a grudge against John for stating that Herod's marriage to Herodias was unlawful; Herodias encouraged Salome to demand that John be executed.
And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:21-29, KJV)
A parallel passage to Mark 6:21-29 is in the Gospel of Matthew 14:6-11:
But on Herod's birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them: and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him. But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body, and buried it, and came and told Jesus. (Matt 14:6-11, D-R)
Some ancient Greek versions of Mark read "Herod's daughter Herodias" (rather than "daughter of the said Herodias") . To scholars using these ancient texts, both mother and daughter had the same name. However, the Latin Vulgate Bible translates the passage as it is above, and western Church Fathers therefore tended to refer to Salome as "Herodias's daughter" or just "the girl". Nevertheless, because she is otherwise unnamed in the Bible, the idea that both mother and daughter were named Herodias gained some currency in early modern Europe.
This Salome is not considered to be the same person as Salome the disciple, who is a witness to the Crucifixion of Jesus in Mark 15:40.

Account by Flavius Josephus
The name "Salome" is given to the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas (unnamed in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark) in Josephus's Jewish Antiquities (Book XVIII, Chapter 5, 4):
Herodias, [...], was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great, who was born of Mariamne, the daughter of Simon the High Priest, who had a daughter, Salome; after whose birth Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod, her husband's brother by the father's side, he was tetrarch of Galilee; but her daughter Salome was married to Philip, the son of Herod, and tetrarch of Trachonitis; and as he died childless, Aristobulus, the son of Herod, the brother of Agrippa, married her; they had three sons, Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus;

Salome in the arts
Salome has become a symbol for dangerous female seductiveness. Her dance before Herod, or with the head of John the Baptist on a charger have provided inspiration for Christian artists.
Despite Josephus's account, she was not consistently called Salome until the nineteenth century when Gustave Flaubert (following Josephus) referred to her as Salome in his short story "Herodias".

Painting and sculpture
This Biblical story has long been a favourite of painters. Painters who have done notable representations of Salome include Titian, Henri Regnault, Georges Rochegrosse, Gustave
Moreau, and Federico Beltran-Masses. Titian's version (illustration c.1515) emphasizes the contrast between the innocent girlish face and the brutally severed head. Because of the maid by her side, this Titian painting is also considered to be Judith with the Head of Holofernes. Unlike Salome who goes nameless in the Christian bible, Judith is a Judeo-Christian mythical patriot whose story is perhaps less psychological and being a widow, may not be particularly girlish nor innocent in representations. (Pictured left: Salome, by Henri Regnault (1870). In Moreau's version the figure of Salome is emblematic of the femme fatale, a fashionable trope of fin-de-siecle decadence. In his 1884 novel A rebours Frenchman Joris-Karl Huysmans describes, in somewhat fevered terms, the depiction of Salome in Moreau's painting: No longer was she merely the dancing-girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old Vice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs her flesh and steels her muscles, - a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning.

Theatre and literature
In 1877 Gustave Flaubert's Three Tales were published, including "Herodias". In this story full responsibility for John's death is given to Salome's mother Herodias and the priests who fear his religious power. Salome herself is shown as a young girl who forgets the name of the man whose head she requests as she is asking for it. Jules Massenet's 1881 opera Herodiade was based on Flaubert's short story.

Oscar Wilde's play
Salomé's story was made the subject of a play by Oscar Wilde that premiered in Paris in 1896, under the French name Salome. In Wilde's play, Salome takes a perverse fancy for John the Baptist, and causes him to be executed when John spurns her affections. In the finale, the Salome takes up John's severed head and kisses it.
Because at the time British law forbade the depiction of Biblical characters on stage, Wilde wrote the play originally in French, and then produced an English translation (titled Salome).

Richard Strauss opera
The Wilde play (in a German translation of Hedwig Lachmann) was edited down to a one-act opera by Richard Strauss. The opera Salome, which premiered in Dresden in 1905, is famous for the Dance of the seven Veils. As with the Wilde play, it turns the action to Salome herself, reducing her mother to a bit-player, though the opera is less centered on Herod's motivations than the play.

In 1907 Florent Schmitt composed the ballet La tragédie de Salomé. Another Salome ballet was composed by the Japanese composer Akira Ifukube in 1948. Danish choreographer Flemming
Flindt's ballet Salome premiered in 1978.

In "Salome" (1896) by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, characterised by some critics as "neo-Pagan", Salome instigated the death of John the Baptist as part of a futile effort to get the interest of "a young sophist who was indifferent to the charms of love". When Salome presents to him the Baptist's head, the sophist rejects it, remarking in jest "Dear Salome, I would have liked better to get your own head". Taking the jest seriously, the hopelessly infatuated Salome lets herself be beheaded and her head is duly brought to the sophist, who however rejects it in disgust and turns back to studying the Dialogues of Plato.
Other Salome poetry has been written by among others including Ai (1986), Nick Cave (1988), and Carol Ann Duffy (1999).

Songs about Salome were written by, among others, Karel Kryl (1965), Drs.P (1974), John Cale (1978), Kim Wlde (1984), U2 (1990), Andew Lloyd Webber (1993), Liz Phair (1993), Kurt Elling (1995), Susan McKeown (1995), Mark St. John Ellis as Elijah's Mantle (1995), Old 97's (1997), The Changelings (1997), The Residents (1998), Enrique Bunbury (1998), Chayanne (1999), Patti Smith (2000), Killing Miranda (2001), Gary Jules's "Pills" (2001), The Booda Velvets (2001), Xandria (2007), Pete Doherty (2009).
Wilde's Salome has often been made into a film, notably a 1923 silent film
, Salome, starring Alla Nazimova in the title role and a 1988 Ken Russell play-within-a-film treatment, Salome's Last Dance, which also includes Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas as characters. Steven Berkoff filmed his stage version of the play in 1988.