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  • Salome, Herodias, and the "curious transition":The Cultural Logic of Reproductive Fetishism in the Representation of Erotic Dance
  • Cecily Devereux (bio)

The gospels of Mark (6.14–29) and Matthew (14.1–12) both tell similar stories of the dance of Salome for her stepfather Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea between 6 and 39 ce, in exchange for the head of John the Baptist. In the Gospels, that demand, while expressed by the dancer, is made at the behest of her mother Herodias, who "had a quarrel against [John the Baptist], and would have killed him" (King James Bible Online, Mark 6.19) because he had told Herod it was "not lawful" for him to marry his brother's wife (Mark 6.18). According to Mark's text,

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 she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.

[End Page 121]

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.


Saliently "the daughter of the said Herodias," Salome, as many observers have noted, is unnamed in the biblical texts and is identified first as Salome, Megan Becker-Leckrone points out, in historian Flavius Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, a "first-century source nearly contemporary with Matthew and Mark" (244).1

Represented in Judaeo-Christian visual arts, as Udo Kultermann has observed, from at least the ninth century ce (188), around the middle of the nineteenth century the image and the story of the dancer would be "rejuvenated" (Kultermann 189) not only in visual arts but in literature, and a new history of the representation of the dancer Salome began to take shape in a proliferation of works by European artists and writers. The dramatic increase in the number of representations of the figure of Salome in late nineteenth-century European culture is by now well documented. Helen Grace Zagona (1960), Anthony Pym (1989), and Rosina Neginsky (2014) as well as Kultermann (2006) all note a significant expansion in the production of Salome works around 1850 or shortly thereafter, when what Pym describes as a new secular "corpus" took shape (311).

That "corpus," as many studies have affirmed, includes a number of texts by influential authors and artists of the period. Heinrich Heine's 1841 epic poem Atta Troll is usually positioned as the earliest work in the "rejuvenation" of Salome in the nineteenth century. Gustave Flaubert's 1863 novel Salammbô, for what would be its influential representation of a dancer and, more specifically, his 1877 novella Hérodias perhaps even more clearly signal a cultural turn to a "new" representation of Salome. Flaubert's works are followed by—and, as has often been observed, profoundly influence—Stéphane Mallarmé's dramatic poem Hérodiade, begun in 1864 and, in 1898, his poem Les Noces d'Hérodiade; Joris-Karl Huysmans's 1884 [End Page 122] novel Against Nature (À rebours); Jules Laforgue's 1886 story "Salomé"; and Oscar Wilde's play Salomé, published in French in 1891 and in English in 1894. A number of lesser-known or shorter texts have also been noted by many critics: these include works by poet Théodore de Banville (1823 to 1891), especially his 1870 poem "La danseuse," dramatic poems published in 1862 and 1867 by Joseph Converse Heywood (1834 to 1900), and works by John Arthur Symons (1865 to 1945), including a "partial translation of Mallarmé's dramatic fragment" (Hérodiade) in 1896 (Dijkstra 385) and "The Dance of the Daughters of Herodias" (Dijkstra 385) in 1897, as well as a later series of poems in...


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