Themes and Meanings
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw many adaptations of the biblical story of John the Baptist and Salome. Notable examples are the verse drama Hérodias (1940) by Stephane Mallarme and Richard Strauss’s opera Salome (1905), which was based on a play of the same name by Oscar Wilde. In “Hérodias,” Gustave Flaubert focuses on the struggle between the worldly Hérodias and the righteous Iaokanann. The swirl of political and religious interests that surrounds Herod Antipas and his wife is the antithesis of the simple yet terrible preaching of the Baptist. Hérodias’s power is doubled in the person of the young Salome, the incarnation of the sensuous life, while Iaokanann effaces himself as a double for Jesus, the Messiah. Iaokanann speaks from the shadows, a powerful voice whose echoes rock the citadel, while Hérodias strikes the reader visually; she stands in the light, bright in color, sharp-edged. The pivotal point in this struggle is reached in the familiar scene of Salome’s dance, the trap for the wavering Herod, who finds a kind of relief in seeing his decision made for him by Hérodias’s ruse. The execution of her enemy seems a victory for Hérodias, yet it is only through the death of Iaokanann that Jesus can rise; the personal diminishment of the Baptist contributes to the eventual triumph of the Messiah.