In Salome and Judas in the Cave of Sex Ewa Kuryluk outlines the origins, versions, and interpretations of the story of Salome. The most obvious origin is the Biblical story which tells of Salome’s dance to please her uncle Herod and her demand, incited by her mother, for John the Baptist’s head. According to Mark 6:21-29,

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.

Artists and intellectuals of the nineteenth century interpreted the Biblical story of Salome in different manners. While mid-century artists pointed to the innocence of Salome and the guilt of her mother Herodias, the fin de siècle became obsessed with the image of Salome as what Bram Dijkstra calls “the virgin whore.” The blame for John the Baptist’s decapitation shifted entirely to Salome and she became a symbol of feminine evil and bloodthirsty lust.

Salome, Judith, and Decapitated Men in the Fin de Siècle imagination


Dijkstra, Bram. Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Last modified 26 December 2006