Hérodias by Gustave Flaubert.

The Feast of Herod by Donatello (1427).


Hérodias is the third story in Gustave Flaubert's Three Tales (Trois Contes; 1877) following A Simple Heart (which I've not got to yet) and The Legend of St Julian Hospitator. It's a very familiar story that I've read in Against Nature by J.-K. Huysmans (1884), Salomé by Oscar Wilde (1891), and the Bible - Matthew 14: 3 - 11:
[3] For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife. [4] For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. [5] And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. [6] But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. [7] Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. [8] And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger. [9] And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. [10] And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. [11] And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. 
Salomé dansant devant Hérode 
by Gustave Moreau (1876).

Hérodias is a re-telling of this story, beginning with a description of the harsh landscape of Machaerus (Jordan). It is the home of Herod the Great, his son Tetrach Herod Antipas, his wife Princess Herodias, and her daughter Princess Salome. Herodias has a plan to kill John the Baptist who has openly spoken against her marriage to Herod (she is divorced from Herod's brother), and on the birthday feast of Herod she arranges for Salome to dance for him and make him fall in love with her. When he offers her anything she wants, she will ask for the head of John the Baptist.

It is a simple yet very powerful tale, full of portents of doom and the great sense of both a personal and political crisis. There is a great attention to detail in the story, and Flaubert was at times almost overwhelming, but at the same time it was so very gripping, so disturbing, and almost unnerving, and thus compelling. It's an ancient tale, but it is very much a 19th Century re-telling - it's far too full of detail to be wholly reminiscent of an ancient text. It is too overwhelming to be enjoyable, but yet I admired it very much.

And that was my 39th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: A Florentine Tragedy and La Sainte Courtisane by Oscar Wilde.

Comments

  1. I can't wait to read this one! I've read A Simple Heart, which is one of my favourite if not my very favourite short stories ever, and have to get to the other two eventually. I've noticed Flaubert loves to overwhelm but his stories give you something new every time you revisit them.

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    1. Indeed, he certainly does :) I'm looking forward to A Simple Heart - I have read it before and remember loving it. I must read more of Flaubert - I always love what I read, but have hardly read any!

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