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Judith & Salome Links and Resources

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Judith & Salome Book List

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Idols of Perversity

Salome's Last Dance

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Salome's Last Dance
by Ken Russell
A film by Ken Russell
The moon has a strange look tonight. Has she not a strange look? She is like a mad woman, a mad woman who is seeking everywhere for lovers. She is naked too. She is quite naked.

Russell's 1988 adaptation of Wilde's "Salome" is exploitation at its most delicious. Russell and Wilde make an indomitable pair exploring the fears/delights of being engulfed by the female body. Russell takes his queues from the Oscar's lucious text, the result being Salome putting something in her mouth in nearly every scene. From an apple to a large heart shaped lollypop (in nod to Nabokov's LOLITA, a not-so-distant cousin), Salome mouths the props like a teething three year old. And in the final scene, of course, Salome sups on that "vermillon of Moab": the lips of the John the Baptist. By this time his head had been removed from his body, which does not seem to deter the ever eager Salome from giving him a thorough schlupping. As the grand finale, Salome lifts her robes and lowers herself over the Baptist's head, engulfing him in one great dark moist metaphor.

Vagina dentata, indeed.

Salome & Judith Links

Galleries & Art:

Web Gallery of Art
Representations of Women and Death in German Literature, Art and Media after 1500
Links to images of the Death of John the Baptist

JUDITH: a Poem

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Gustave Klimt
Judith has chosen to devote her body to her country, She has prepared her breasts to tempt her dreadful lover, Painted her eyes and brightened their somber scintillation, And she has perfumed her skin ~ destined to return much faded.

Pale, she has stepped forward to stage her massacre ~
Her large eyes crazed with ecstasy and terror;
And her voice, her dance, her lean, hypnotic body
Have served the dark Assyrian as dread intoxicants.

In the arms of her triumphant master, suddenly
She has cried out, closing her eyes as if she were a child.
Afterward the man, relaxed, descends into a bestial slumber:

Caught as much witin a horror of love as of dark death,
Her conscience free, woman has lashed out at man:
Coldly and with slow determination she has sliced off his head.

— Jean Lahor c. 1886

Holy Strumpet

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Jan Massys c. 1565
Judith, as an exemplar of civic virtue triumphant over tyranny, more often than not was depicted as the reluctant assassin. The Decandents had a little fun with her, but they could turn even the Holy Virgin into a strumpet, bless 'em.

"The late nineteenth-century painters, however, unmasked her as a lustful predator and anorexic tigress. Painters and sculptors showed how she had taken man's head and had stomped on it maliciously with her dainty foot." (Bram Djikstra, Idols of Perversity) But Judith's story is a fantastic tale, worthy of the best heroic fiction, she is a post-modern biblical She-Ra, raging against her oppressors, sword in hand.


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Judith, Painted Marble
Conrad Meit 1510-15
"Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes' head, and took down his fauchion from thence, And approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day. And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him. And tumbled his body down from the bed, and pulled down the canopy from the pillars; and anon after she went forth, and gave Holofernes his head to her maid."

— The Book of Judith 13:6-9

In a nutshell, Judith (meaning jewess) is the story of a fetching widow who tarts herself up to seduce the enemy, gets him drunk, cuts off his head as he snores, and marches back to town triumphant, head in bag.

Oscar Wilde's "Salome"

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The Kiss
Illust. for Salome
Aubrey Beardley 1894
"She is like a woman rising from a tomb. She is like a dead woman. One might fancy she was looking for dead things." — Salome, by Oscar Wilde

This vision of Salome remains more or less intact to the present day. Exemplified in Oscar Wilde's "Salome" of 1894, which was so iconic and archetypal that almost any version of Salome that has been done in the past hundred years is either a direct descendent — or a bastard child. Wilde explored the beauty of heightened biblical language to exquisite effect. The rhythm of the play reverberates long after the words were spoke. Oscar doesn┬╣t invent anything new; he merely draws on centuries of church repressed sex, expressed thru the pantomime of ritual assassinations. Especially poignant to the Victorian English, as they were the most socially repressed of all.

Huysman on Gustave Moreau's "Salome"

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Gustave Moreau
Des Esseintes saw realized at last the Salome, weird and superhuman, he had dreamed of. 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 ice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs the flesh and steels her muscles, ~a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning, like Helen of Troy of the Classic fables, all who come near her, all who see her, all who touch her.

— Huysman waxes masochistically ecstatic over Gustave Moreau's painting of Salome Joris-Karl Huysman c. 1884

"Herodias" by Gustave Flaubert

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by Paul Delaroche (1797 - 1856)
The girl depicted the frenzy of a love which demands satisfaction. She danced like the priestesses of the Indies, like the Nubian girls of the cataracts, like the bacchantes of Lydia. She twisted from side to side like a flower shaken by the wind. The jewels in her ears swung in the air, the silk on her back shimmerred in the light, and from her arms, her feet, and her clothes there shot out invisible sparks which set the men on fire. A harp sang, and the crowd answered it with cheers. Without bending her knees, she opened her legs and leant over so low that her chin touched the floor. And the nomads inured to abstinence, the Roman soldiers skilled in debauchery, the avaricious publicans, and the old priests soured by controversy all sat there with their nostrils distended, quivering with desire.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), click here for the e-text (original in French).

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