The Last Dance of Salome

The gyrating daughter of Herodias met her death in a gruesome, winter-time danse macabre. Salome, it should be recalled, was the damsel whose shameful dancing was rewarded by Herod Antipas with the head of St. John the Baptist (Mt. 14:6-8; Mk. 6:22). She was a little girl very much like her mother, whose own low character made her a worthy granddaughter of Herod the Great. Herodias was not only guilty of adultery — marrying Herod Antipas after she had already been married to his brother, Philip — but also of incest, since she was the niece of both men, for she was the daughter of Aristobulus, their brother. According to St. Jerome (Apologia contra Ruffin.), Herodias wasn’t satisfied with beheading the prophet: she insulted his severed head, piercing with a needle that tongue which had accused her.

But now for the damsel daughter’s grisly death dance: Cornelius a Lapide quotes one Nicephorus (probably St. Nicephorus of Constantinople, +829) describing the scene: “As she was journeying once in the winter-time, and a frozen river had to be crossed on foot, the ice broke beneath her, not without the providence of God. Straightway she sank down up to her neck. This made her dance and wriggle about with all the lower parts of her body, not on land, but in the water. Her wicked head was glazed with ice, and at length severed from her body by the sharp edges, not of iron, but of the frozen water. Thus in the very ice she displayed the dance of death, and furnished a spectacle to all who beheld it, which brought to mind what she had done.”

Salome and the Apparition of the Baptist's Head, watercolor by Gustave Moreau (source)

Salome and the Apparition of the Baptist’s Head, watercolor by Gustave Moreau (source)