Caravaggio, Oscar Wilde, Salome…and the head of the Baptist!

One of the most famous versions of the myth of Salome is the play written by Oscar Wilde, originally in French, in 1891. In this version, Salome is the daughter of Herodias, wife of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea.

The prophet John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod for criticizing his marriage to Herodias, who had previously been Herod’s brother’s wife. John the Baptist claims the consortium is incestuous.

In Wilde’s play, the action takes place during a party thrown by Herod probably in celebration of his own birthday.

Caravaggio's Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, 1607.

Caravaggio’s Salome and the Head of John the Baptist, 1607

During the party, Salome tries to seduce the prisoner John the Baptist but does not succeed in her intent. A number of signs indicate that tragedy looms ahead: the moon looks strange and ominous; a soldier/servant has just committed suicide; Herod, coming out of the party, slips in a pool of the blood shed by the victim, and hears a sound like the one made by the flapping of giant wings…These are all bad omens. What is going to happen?

Soon afterwards, Herod, drunk on wine, and somewhat infatuated by his stepdaughter Salome, begs her to dance for him. Herodias, her mother, does not think this is appropriate and tries to forbid her, but Salome acquiesces when Herod promises she can have anything she wishes in return.

Salome then dances the famous “dance of the seven veils”, which mesmerizes Herod. Time has come now for her to ask for her reward: she wants it to come on a silver platter. Herod laughs: “sure, she can have it on a silver platter…but what is it that she wants?” Salome demands: “The head of the Baptist”, catching Herod completely off guard. He is horrified by the request.

Her demand is fully appreciated by Herodias, who hates the prophet. She insists that her daughter should get what she wants. Herod tries to make Salome change her mind by offering her lots of alternative gifts, such as jewels and beautiful birds, but she is adamant: all she wants is the prophet’s head on a silver platter.

Her wish is granted: John the Baptist is decapitated. Caravaggio painted in gory detail a gruesome scene based on the myth, almost 300 years before the play was written.

Note: the text above is from the ebook: TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: CARAVAGGIO. For further info on the series please CLICK HERE:

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Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Mick Jagger is Dorian Gray

Today I read in the paper that the killer of John Lennon, Mark David Chapman, appealed to be released from prison for the third time now. It has been denied. Now he can try again in two years’ time. I don’t think he will be able to lead a normal like outside of prison. There is always the danger of his being lynched. Besides, it looks like Yoko Ono is against the measure too. She must be really afraid he will be coming after her. It makes sense. I can only imagine the amount of publicity he is going to get the minute the steps out of jail: book deals, reality shows, record contracts (Chapman sings Lennon) and what not.

Although I started off as a fierce Beatles fan in my childhood and early adolescence, things changed as I came in contact with the Stones’ music through a close friend while we lived in England in the late eighties. We were language students in Bournemouth and borders in the same house. He introduced me to the Stones and I’m very grateful to this day. The roughness and wildness of the Stones’ music were a lot more reflective of my personality in those days. They are still my favorite rock band.

It’s not only the music that fascinates me, but the whole persona of their lead singer, Mick Jagger. I may have read three or four biographies about him (the one I would recommend is Philip Norman’s) and I can’t get enough of his personal and public story. Mick reversed many assumptions that most people have. He turns ugly into sexy and even cute at times. He makes looking old cool. He makes rock and roll professional and businesslike. He will not have his disturbingly wrinkled face and drooping oversized lips be touched by plastic surgery in an age when even 30-year-olds are having their features altered to look like weird Kens and Barbies.

Mick Jagger is Dorian Gray

Mick Jagger is Dorian Gray

Mick Jagger did not share the most common prejudices of his era. Legend says all he wished to be, back when he started, was Tina Turner. She opened for his shows a number to times in the sixties. Rumor has it he would imitate Tina’s moves for hours in front of a mirror. She was the coolest person in the world for him.  This is one of the funniest things I heard about Mick. There is also gossip that he’s bisexual, but whatever his sexual preferences may be, the fact is he has always treated gays and blacks friendly.

However, it’s undeniable that Mick Jagger has a very dark side to his personality. His whole attitude towards life reminds us a little bit of Oscar Wilde: especially on the occasion when he was put in jail in the sixties for drug consumption at what looked more like an orgy than a party. It’s said prison really broke him for a while, just like it damaged Mr Wilde badly at the end of the XIX century. Even more precisely, he seems to bear an uncanny similarity to one of Oscar Wilde’s most famous characters,  Dorian Gray.

Unlike Gray, however, whose aging process and corrupt and criminal lifestyle were all reflected on a portrait of himself he kept hidden in an attic, while he himself remained young with features as angelical and fresh as when he was a teenager,  Mick Jagger’s  parched and wrinkled canvas of a face certainly bears all the marks of sins and experience of someone who’s been sailing against rough winds for the most part of his life. His 70-year-old body, however, just like Dorian Gray’s tight, flexible and muscular structure, does not seem do be different than a 25-year-old man’s, when you see him on stage. The Stones’ song Time is on My Side seems to say it all about the mythological figure.

Besides, very much in Dorian Gray’s fashion, he is famous for having destroyed and corrupted many lives who dared to get too close to the light and got burned by its brightness. Marianne Faithfull, for example, the troubled young singer of the 60s who dated Jagger, especially reminds me of a modern Sybil Vane, the first woman Dorian Gray destroyed on his path to utter corruption and crime. Some will say that Jagger sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for the success of his career and eternal youth of his body. No wonder he continuously thanks the dark forces through the ultra popular ode Sympathy for the Devil.

Not only until the mid-nineties did I have a chance to actually attend a Stones concert. An unforgettable experience at the Pacaembu Stadium in Sao Paulo, under heavy rain, with some of my closest friends.  Also, in the summer of 2012, I visited a great exhibition in London at Somerset House, where they showed rare pictures of the Stones in poster-like sizes.  This was part of a celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the band. I had a great time attending the exhibition, being in the heart of London, and looking at this rare collection of Stones pictures. The gift store was a rip-off, however, and the same T-shirt you could buy for 10 pounds in Camden Town would cost close to 50 at the museum. I was rational enough not to give in to the temptation.

Unlike Lennon, we are fortunate Mick Jagger is still among us. I know we will always have his music and his taped shows, but it’s good to know that this force of nature is very much alive and kicking. In the movie SHINE A LIGHT, Martin Scorsese manages to capture much of his energy and charisma. You feel like Mick is not performing for the camera at any moment, he is just doing his thing, being his difficult-self, while Scorsese and his crew are running around trying to capture his best on camera. Good thing the director managed to do so. Now we have this wonderful performance frozen in time on our bookshelf and can watch it whenever we need to infuse more energy and inspiration into our dull and unglamorous lives.

What do you think of Mick Jagger and the Stones? Share your opinion with us as you rate this post.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

Como (não) escrever como Oscar Wilde (PDF – presentation)

Como (não) escrever como Oscar Wilde (PDF - presentation)

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