Herodias Then, Hillary Now

Francesco del Cairo, “Herodias with the head of John the Baptist,” 1625-1630

 

On reading the short story Herodias in Gustave Flaubert’s slim volume Three Tales (1877), I realized that this Biblical story of Salome’s dance being paid for by the beheading of John the Baptist could serve as an analogy to the political tragedy of the 2016 Democratic party’s national convention in the United States. This parallel is achieved if the story is cast in the following way:

Herodias: – – – – – -> Hillary Clinton
Herod Antipas: – – -> Barack Obama (understudy: Bill Clinton)
John the Baptist: – -> Bernie Sanders
Agrippa: – – – – – – -> Donald Trump
Mannaeï: – – – – – – > Al Franken
Caesar: – – – – – – -> Goldman Sachs
Assembly: – – – – – > DNC Super-delegates
Salome:
– – – – – – – – – – – – – > Michelle Obama?,
– – – – – – – – – – – – – > Loretta Lynch?,
– – – – – – – – – – – – – > Kamala Harris?,
– – – – – – – – – – – – – > Debbie Wasserman Schultz?,
– – – – – – – – – – – – – > Donna Brazile?,
– – – – – – – – – – – – – > Nancy Pelosi?,
– – – – – – – – – – – – – > Liz Warren?

During the reign of Tiberius as the Caesar of the Roman Empire, Herod Antipas was the king of Judea, which is the southern part of Palestine. Antipas had divorced his first wife, who was the daughter of the king of the Arabs, and married Herodias, who herself had been the wife of his brother Herod Agrippa. Herodias was extremely ambitious to be the queen of a great empire and had left Agrippa for Antipas to further that ambition. Agrippa was a rival to Antipas for the throne of Judea, and he had gone to Rome to conspire with Caius (the future Caesar to be known as Caligula) against Antipas. Both Herodias and Antipas wanted Agrippa killed by order of Tiberius Caesar.

Antipas was slavishly allied to Rome because he needed Imperial protection against the threat of invasion from the south by the Arabs angered by his divorce of their princess, as well as to ensure he was favored by Caesar instead of Agrippa. Herodias was fanatically allied to Rome because she saw its power as a means to advancing her aims, and of eliminating her enemies. As an occupied and subjugated people, the Jews of Palestine resented Rome and their subservient political leader Antipas, and their subservient and wealthy religious elites, but made an effort to minimize resistance to the Empire so as not to draw Rome’s ire upon themselves.

All of these incidents and attitudes were loudly and widely condemned by John the Baptist, a reformer popular with the common people, who talked about a Messiah who would create an independent kingdom free of both Romans and the compromised political (Antipas’s administration) and religious (Pharisees and Sadducees) ruling classes of the Jews. John the Baptist also railed against the immorality and weak moral character of Herod Antipas and his scheming, impious queen, Herodias.

Naturally, such talk in public was an irritant to the Roman governor (Vitellius), who was Caesar’s direct representative in Judea, as well as to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Herod Antipas and especially Herodias, who felt threatened by it and whose vanity was deeply wounded, thus inflaming a malevolent obsession for a fatal revenge against the prophet. John the Baptist had already been imprisoned for his incitement of popular indignation and hope.

Salome was Herodias’s daughter from her previous marriage, and Antipas did not know about Salome because Herodias had had her brought up away from the palace. Salome was the key to Herodias’s scheme for revenge, and had been carefully prepared for her task. During a palace feast to celebrate Antipas’s birthday, with Vitellius and the political and religious elites of the Jews in attendance, Herodias sent Salome out to perform “the dance of the seven veils” to excite Herod Antipas’s lust. Herodias knew her craven and lecherous husband well, and before all the company he soon promised Salome anything she wanted, in payment for helping him maintain the tepid approval of the assembled company, and in anticipation of gaining her favors after her dance. Salome knew her mission, and requested the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod Antipas was bound by his word spoken before so many witnesses from the ruling classes, and so ordered Mannaeï, the executioner in his employ, to do the dirty deed. Concern for the hopes and dreams of his Jewish commoner subjects, and their inevitable disappointment were John the Baptist to be killed, was never a consideration.

Shortly after, Mannaeï returned with the requested platter and gave it to Salome who in turn presented it to the orgasmically satisfied Herodias. The company at the party were variously pleased, amused, curious or indifferent to inspect the bloody grimacing prize. And so was the prophet of the people dispatched for the political convenience of the Empire and the compromised Jewish elite; because of the fear and lust of Herod Antipas; and because of the malevolence, megalomania and vanity of Herodias.

Gustave Flaubert tells the Biblical story much better than I have. The 2016 American reality-show remake as a political intrigue was comparably shameful but much more tawdry.

In the painting, above, Herodias is sticking pins into the tongue that spoke out against her, and being so deliciously aroused in this climax of her revenge. The parallel to the American political events occurred between 12-26 July 2016.

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Two Samurai Duel

Two samurai, Isao and Kyuzo, each seeking saki and shelter during a night of heavy rain, became aware of each other seated separately on the tatami mats around the same low table in the bar of a country inn. The weather discouraged both travel (retreat) and outdoor swordplay, while samurai nature required evaluation of a rival’s skill (and all samurai regarded each other as potential rivals).

Talk being largely unnecessary among samurai, Isao picked up a cherry from a fruit bowl on the table, tossed it up into the darkness hiding the ceiling, then in a flash unsheathed his katana, twisted it blade up and sliced, and two halves of cherry, one pitted and one with pit, fell to the table on either side of the blade.

Kyuzo chuckled, picked up a cherry and tossed it up into the darkness above them, then all in a flash unsheathed his katana, twisted it blade up slicing, then twisted it blade down slicing, finishing with the sword held level and its blade horizontal. Two halves of cherry, pitted, fell on the table on either side of the sword, and the pit rested on the flat of Kyuzo’s blade.

Isao was impressed but not put off. There were a number of flies buzzing overhead, attracted by food that was still out, and the leftovers and scraps that had not yet been cleared away. One bluebottle fly was circling them annoyingly with a heavy buzz:

Zuzuzuzuzuzuzuzuzuzu…

Isao pointed to it and said “watch.” He stood in a calm stillness like a tree in a forest, while the fly circled him.

Zuzuzuzuzuzuzuzuzuzu…

In a flash he unsheathed his katana, slicing in an arc to his right —

Zuzu-uuP! —

then rested for a moment at the end of his stroke, and carefully sheathed his sword. He pointed with his outstretched palm to a part of the floor, and when a lantern was brought up close the two neatly sliced halves of the fly could be seen.

“Not bad,” said Kyuzo, and pointing to another big bluebottle fly, said “watch that big boy.”

Zuzuzuzuzuzuzuzuzuzu…

He stood in a calm stillness like a tree in a forest, while the fly circled him.

Zuzuzuzuzuzuzuzuzuzu…

In a flash he unsheathed his katana, slicing in a tightening arc to his right twisting into an upward cut —

Zuzu-uuP!-Zeeeeeeeeee!!…

Kyuzo sheathed his katana, as the fly raced around erratically, issuing its excited high-pitched buzz,

Zeeeeeeeeee!!…

Isao conceded.

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The above is my elaboration of a story I learned from Tom FitzPatrick, an avid rugby player, in 1978. This story is part of the vast, earthy oral tradition among rugby players. While presenting it here as text helps to preserve it in cyberspace, the audio effects which are intrinsic to an oral presentation are missing. The following “sound” definitions of letter-strings used above may help:

zuzuzuzuzu… = low-pitched, buzzing sound,

zeeeeeeeeee… = high-pitched buzzing sound,

uuP! = the sudden cessation of a low-pitched buzz.

A photo of Tom FitzPatrick’s chalkboard in February 1978 (Ah, boy talk in student days):