The Dance of Herodias's Daughter

John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing in the waters. He preached, ""The Kingdom of God is at hand;" and, "Repent from your sins against God's laws."

He also preached "It is not lawful for Herod to have his brother's wife."

Therefore, Herod Antipas ordered John seized, and had him bound. He put John in prison on account of Herodias, whom Herod Antipas had married. Herodias had been the wife of Herod's brother, whom the evangelist called Philip. Herodias had divorced her first husband.

Though Herod desired to put John to death, he feared the multitude, because they held John as a prophet, so Herod kept John under lock and key.

Nevertheless, when Herod's birthday was celebrated near midsummer, Herod made a supper for his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee. It was at this feast that St. John's fate was sealed.

When the daughter of the said Herodias came in, she danced the dance of the seven veils before them.

Herod was well pleased. Thereupon, he said unto the damsel, "Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee." And he swore an oath to her before all his guests, "Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom."

She, having been advised by her mother, requested, "Give me here and now upon a dish the head of John the Baptist."

Herod was grieved; but for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which ate with him at the feast, he commanded the head to be given to her. An executioner beheaded John in the prison and brought the head in a charger and gave it to the damsel, and the damsel carried John's head to her mother.

When the head was presented, a great wind began to blow. It seemed to be blowing from the dead saint's mouth. Then the daughter of Herodias wept. The many tears of the damsel fell upon the ground. The wind blew into a roaring tempest, and she was swept away up into the night sky, where she must go in the airs until the end of time.

copyright 2009 Myth Woodling


Myth's Notes

This story is my retelling of an old Italian folktale.

The Roman Catholic Church commemorates of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist on August 29. However, in Italian folklore the story of the daughter of Herodias became attached to June 23, St John's Eve, which is the night before the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist, June 24. Usually, a feast day of a saint commemorated the death of that saint to celebrate her/his martyrdom; the feast of St. John the Baptist is one of the very few saints' days to mark the anniversary of a saint's birth. In Rome, youths would gather in front of the cathedral of Basilica of St. John Lateran on the night of June 23, because Herodias traveled in the air.

"Salome of the Seven Veils" is the name by which the "daughter of Herodias" is generally known in modern USA culture. Yet, I specifically refer to the girl as "daughter of Herodias" for a reason.

J.B. Andrews in his folklore article Neapolian Witchcraft, FOLK-LORE TRANSACTIONS OF THE FOLK-LORE SOCIETY, Vol III March, 1897 No.1 wrote:

It is believed that at midnight then [St. John Baptist's Eve, June 23] Herodiade may be seen in the sky seated across a ray of fire, saying:
" Mamma, mamma, perche` lo dicesti?"
"Figlia, figlia, perche' lo facesti? "
"Herodiade" or "Erodiade" is the Italian version of the name Herodias.

Sabina Magliocco in her incredible article Who Was Aradia? The History and Development of a Legend, The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies, Issue 18, Feb. 2002 explained what Herodiade was doing in the airs on June 23, the Eve of St. John Baptist's Feast Day, by citing a legend in Alfredo Cattabiani, Lunario. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori, 1994.

According Sabina Magliocco, there was an early Christian legend or folklore derived from the bibical account (Matthew 14:3-11, Mark 6:17-28) of Herodias and Herodias' daughter. When the head of the saint was brought forth on a platter, she-who-danced-for-the-head-of-the-Baptist had a fit of remorse, weeping and bemoaning her sin. A powerful wind began to blow forth from the saint's mouth, so strong that it blew the famous dancer up into the air, where she is condemned to wander.

Titus Flavius Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian provides the name of stepdaughter and niece of Herod Antipas as Salome, but Josephus makes no mention of the infamous dance. Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews recounted that after the excution of John that Herod, Herodias, and her daughter Salome were exiled Lugdunum, near Spain.

However, the name "Salome" does not appear in the biblical accounts of the beheading of John the Baptist. In the Latin Vulgate Version, the girl is refered to as the "daughter of the said Herodias."

At some point, the "daughter of Herodias" and "Herodias" became conflated in folklore in early medieval Europe.

Perhaps because she is otherwise unnamed in the bible narrative, it was not odd that Herodias and her daughter became confused in folklore in medieval Europe. Most Catholic Church doctors refered to the one who danced for the head of John as "Herodias's daughter" or "the girl."

Isaac Asimov in Asimov's Guide to the Bible: A Historical Look at the Old and New Testaments, 1967, 1969, 1981 explained that some ancient Greek versions of Mark read "Herod's daughter Herodias" (rather than "daughter of the said Herodias").

Another reason why some Christian Church Fathers using these ancient Greek texts thought both mother and daughter had the same name of "Herodias" was explained by Magliocco in her article about Aradia: "Since in Roman usage, the wives and daughters of a house were commonly known by the name of the male head of the household, it is easy to see how Salome became confused with her mother Herodias."

Probably because the holiday of St John the Baptist was widely celebrated during the Middle Ages, a great deal of religious folklore surrounds Herodias. Magliocco also explained:

Diana in the Canon Episcopi, a document attributed to the Council of Ancyra in 314 CE, but probably a much later forgery, since the earliest written record of it appears around 872 CE (Caro Baroja, 1961:62). Regino, Abbot of Prłm, writing in 899 CE, cites the Canon, telling bishops to warn their flocks against the false beliefs of women who think they follow "Diana the pagan goddess, or Herodias" on their night-time travels. These women believed they rode out on the backs of animals over long distances, following the orders of their mistress who called them to service on certain appointed nights. Three centuries later, Ugo da San Vittore, a 12th century Italian abbot, refers to women who believe they go out at night riding on the backs of animals with "Erodiade," whom he conflates with Diana and Minerva (Bonomo, 1959:18-19).
Eventually there developed a widespread belief that Herodias was a the supernatural leader of a supposed cult of witches, apparently asociated with or synonymous with the legendary witch-queens Diana, Holda, Abundia, and many others. In Italy, Raterius of Liegi, Bishop of Veronia in the 9th century c.e. complained that many folk believed that Herodias was a queen or goddess and that they also claimed a third of the earth was under the dominion of Herodias. Herodias was supposed to preside over the night assembly or night flight.

In parts of Italy, the dew formed on St. John's Eve was often said to represent the tears of the daughter of Herodias. This dew was believed to have healing virtues and promote fecundity. June 23 was also known as la notte delle streghe. It was once customary in Rome to build bonfires outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran in anticipation of the night flight led by Herodias.

For more information on Erodiade or Herodiade, the flight of Herodias, or the cult of Herodias, you really ought to read the article by Sabina Magliocco.

My retelling of the legend incorporates the drama of the story from Matthew 14:3-11, Mark 6:17-28 (KJV), as well as the Italian elements above.

On June 23, 2013, which was also happened to be the night of the brightest and largest moon of 2013, I decided to add the two tales retold from Matthew and Mark with a sprinkling of Latin from the Catholic Vugate

According to Matthew...
In that time, Herod the Tetrarch [Herodes tetrarcha] heard the news about Jesus. And he said to his servants: "This is John the Baptist. He has risen from the dead, and that is why miracles are at work in him. [Hic est Ioannes Baptista: ipse surrexit a mortuis, et ideo virtutes operantur in eo.]" For Herod had apprehended John, and bound him, and put him in prison, because of Herodias, the wife of his brother. For John was preaching to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have her." [Dicebat enim illi Ioannes: Non licet tibi habere eam.] And though he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. [Et volens illum occidere, timuit populum: quia sicut prophetam eum habebant.] Then, on Herodís birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced in their midst, and it pleased Herod. And so he promised with an oath to give her whatever she would ask of him. But, having been advised by her mother, she said, "Give me here and now, on a platter, the head of John the Baptist [Da mihi, inquit, hic in disco caput Ioannis Baptistae]." And the king was greatly saddened. But because of his oath, and because of those who sat at table with him, he ordered it to be given. And he sent and beheaded John in prison. And his head was brought on a platter, and it was given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. [Et allatum est caput eius in disco, et datum est puellae, et attulit matri suae.] Retold from Matthew 14:1-11.

According to Mark...
Jesus sent his twelve Apostles out in twos. And going out, they were preaching, so that people would repent. And they cast out many demons, and they anointed many of the sick with oil and healed them. And king Herod [rex Herodes] heard of it, (for Jesus' name had become well-known) and he said: "John the Baptist has risen again from the dead, and because of this, miracles are at work in him. [Quia Ioannes Baptista resurrexit a mortuis: et propterea virtutes operantur in illo.]" But others were saying, "Because it is Elijah. [Quia Elias est.]" Still others were saying, "Because he is a prophet, like one of the prophets. [Quia propheta est, quasi unus ex prophetis.]" When Herod had heard it, he said, "John whom I beheaded, the same has risen again from the dead. [Quem ego decollavi Ioannem, hic a mortuis resurrexit.]" For Herod himself had sent to capture John, and had chained him in prison, because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip; for he had married her. "It is not lawful for you to have your brotherís wife. [Non licet tibi habere uxorem fratris tui.]" Now Herodias was devising treachery against John for her own sake; and she wanted to kill him, but she was unable.And when an opportune time had arrived, Herod held a feast on his birthday, with the leaders, and the tribunes, and the first rulers of Galilee. And when the daughter of the same Herodias had entered, and danced, and pleased Herod, along with those who were at table with him, the king said to the girl [puellae], "Request from me whatever you want, and I will give it to you." And he swore to her, "Anything that you request, I will give to you, even up to half my kingdom." And when she had gone out, she said to her mother, "What shall I request?" But her mother said, "The head of John the Baptist. [Caput Ioannis Baptistae]." And immediately, when she had entered with haste to the king, she petitioned him, saying: "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter. [Volo ut protinus des mihi in disco caput Ioannis Baptistae]." And the king [rex] was greatly saddened. But because of his oath [iusiurandum], and because of those who were sitting with him at table, he was not willing to disappoint her. So, having sent an executioner, he instructed that his head be brought on a platter. And he beheaded him in prison, and he brought his head on a platter. And he gave it to the girl, and the girl [puella] gave it her mother. Retold from Mark 6:13-28

According to Luke the infamous dance of the daughter of Herodias is not mentioned...
The Apostles of Jesus traveled around, through the towns, evangelizing and curing everywhere. Now Herod the Tetrarch [Herodes tetrarcha] heard about all the things that were being done by a holy man, but Herod doubted, because it was said by some--"For John has risen from the dead, [Quia Ioannes surrexit a mortuis]" yet truly, by others, "For Elijah has appeared [Quia Elias apparuit]," and by still others, "For one of the prophets from of old has risen again [propheta unus de antiquis surrexit]." And Herod said: "I beheaded John. [Ioannem ego decollavit:] So then, who is this, about whom I hear such things?" Retold from Luke 9:6-9.

Those who are familiar with the metaphorical phrase, "Give me his head on a silver platter," should know that this phrase is directly related to the request by the daughter of Herodias for the head of John the Baptist. A "charger," also known as a service plate, is a large decorative plate used to dress up dinner tables at parties and other special events. Formerly, the word, charger, which originated in 1275 - 1325 from the Middle English chargeour, signified either a large, shallow dish for liquids or a large platter.

We know from the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, that Herodias had divorced Herod Philip I in order to marry Herod Antipas around 34 CE. Josephus does not mention any grudge, but does say that John the Baptist disapproved of the marriage and was imprisoned at Macherus and eventually executed because of his outspokeness. -- Answers Corporation, Why did Herodias have a grudge against John the Baptist?, 2013
Now for a bit of history about Herod Antipas and his half brother, "Philip," who has been called "Herod Philip I" or "Herod II". Herod II was the first husband of Herodias.

According to Mark, Herodias was orginally married to "Philip." Some scholars have argued that Herod II's name was prbably "Herod Philip." Most scholars believe Mark was confused by all the Herods in the family. The text more correctly should refer Herod Antipas the Tetrarch who had married the former wife of his half brother Herod II. (By the way, Herod II, also known as Herod Philip I, must not to be confused with "Philip the Tetrarch," who was another half brother of "Herod Antipas the Tetrarch.")

According to Matthew and Mark, Herod Antipas the Tetrarch imprisioned John the Baptist because he preached that his marriage Herodias was an "unlawful" marriage. This charge carried the implication that he was a morally corrupt and therefore morally unfit to be a ruler over the Jewish peoples.

Old Testement laws forbid adultery. The charge of an "unlawful" marriage also implied that Herod Antipas should be required to divorce Herodias.

You shall not commit adultery. Exodus 20:14 (KJV)

And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. Leviticus 20:10 (KJV)

Old Testement laws also specifically forbid adultry with spouses of family members.
And thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister, nor of thy father's sister: for he uncovereth his near kin: they shall bear their iniquity. And if a man shall lie with his uncle's wife, he hath uncovered his uncle's nakedness: they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless. And if a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless. Leviticus 20:19-23 (KJV)

Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son's wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness. Leviticus 18:15-20 (KJV)

You will note that the biblical punishment for adultery was stoning.

Yet both Matthew and Mark are strangely silent about the fact Herodias was no longer the wife of either "Philip" who more correctly ought to be called Herod II or Herod Philip I. Herodias and her first husband were divorced.

As Old Testament laws do not forbid divorce, the charge of an "unlawful" marriage also implied that Herod should be required to divorce Herodias. Under these circumstances, it would not be surprising if Herodias did have a "quarrel" against John the Baptist.

Herodias, herself, had indeed been married to one of Herod's half brothers. Yet, Herod II, who is called "Philip" in Mark, and Herodias had been legally divorced prior to her remarriage to Herod Antipas. Since Old Testement laws do not forbid divorce, Herodias and Herod Antipas were legally married.

It is quite possible that the Dance of the Daughter of Herodias may have never taken place. The entire tale is omitted from Luke. First, it was simply not a common practice for young women of royal blood to dance for male strangers at a family birthday party. Secondly, this story uses a common folklore motif of the "dolorous promise" or "rash boon." This motif related to the fact that a ruler may lose honor as the result of failing to fulfill a publically uttered oath.

All that being said it is still a great legend from Italy which enriches the folklore surrounding Erodiade/Aradia and explains Erodiade's connection to the night flight.

copyright 2009, 2013 Myth Woodling

"Who was Aradia?" by Sabina Magliocco
Daughter of Herodias
Erodiade painting
Erodiade Regina
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