"caused his head to look not a little like that of John the Baptist in a charger"
Salome with the head of John the Baptist on a charger (1889)
Public DomainSalome with the head of John the Baptist on a charger (1889) - Credit: Leon Herbo

John the Baptist is a nomadic prophet who features in both the Canonical Gospels and the Qur’an. He foretells the coming of Christ and is sometimes considered to be his precursor. The most famous tale about him appears in the Gospels when he falls foul of Herodias, both wife and niece of the tetrarch Herod Antipas. He incurs her wrath by condemning the union as sinful, a view for which Herod imprisons him. Later, their daughter Salome performs a dance at Herod’s birthday feast that so pleases him he promises to give her whatever her heart desires. The girl consults her mother and is instructed to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a silver charger. Herod, though horrified, abides by his pledge. This tale, one of the best-known in the Bible, has provided grist for hoards of poets, painters, screenwriters and composers. The most famous reinterpretation is Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play which, together with Richard Strauss’s subsequent opera adaptation, introduced the sado-sexual elements with which this tale is now usually associated. Watch a beautifully-filmed silent performance from 1923.