Gustave Flaubert.

Herodias online

. (page 3 of 4)
Online LibraryGustave FlaubertHerodias → online text (page 3 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of his dislike, not all the bonds were yet broken of that sorcery which
once she had woven about him.

When he entered her chamber, he was met by the pungent odour of cinnamon
burning in a porphyry vase and the perfume of powders, unguents,
cloud-like gauzes and embroideries light as feathers, filled the air
with fragrance.

He did not speak of Phanuel's prophecy, nor of his own fear of the Jews
and the Arabs. Herodias had already accused him of cowardice. He spoke
only of the Romans, and complained that Vitellius had not confided to
him any of his military projects. He said he supposed the proconsul
was the friend of Caligula, who often visited Agrippa; and expressed
a surmise that he himself might be exiled, or that perhaps his throat
would be cut.

Herodias, who now treated him with a kind of disdainful indulgence,
tried to reassure him. At last she took from a small casket a curious
medallion, ornamented with a profile of Tiberius. The sight of it, she
said, as she gave it to Antipas, would make the lictors turn pale and
silence all accusing voices.

Antipas, filled with gratitude, asked her how the medallion had come
into her possession.

"It was given to me," was her only answer.

At that moment Antipas beheld a bare arm slipping through a portiere
hanging in front of him. It was the arm of a youthful woman, as graceful
in outline as if carved from ivory by Polyclitus. With a movement a
little awkward and at the same time charming, it felt about the wall an
instant, as if seeking something, then took down a tunic hanging upon a
hook near the doorway, and disappeared.

An elderly female attendant passed quietly through the room, lifted the
portiere, and went out. A sudden recollection pierced the memory of the

"Is that woman one of thy slaves?" he asked.

"What matters that to thee?" was the disdainful reply.


The great banqueting-hall was filled with guests. This apartment
had three naves, like a basilica, which were separated by columns of
sandalwood, whose capitals were of sculptured bonze. On each side of the
apartment was a gallery for spectators, and a third, with a facade of
gold filigree, was at one end, opposite an immense arch at the other.

The candelabra burning on the tables, which were spread the whole length
of the banqueting-hall, glowed like clusters of flaming flowers among
the painted cups, the plates of shining copper, the cubes of snow and
heaps of luscious grapes. Through the large windows the guests could
see lighted torches on the terraces of the neighbouring houses; for this
night Antipas was giving a feast to his friends, his own people, and to
anyone that presented himself at the castle.

The slaves, alert as dogs, glided about noiselessly in felt sandals,
carrying dishes to and fro.

The table of the proconsul was placed beneath the gilded balcony upon a
platform of sycamore wood. Rich tapestries from Babylon were hung about
the pavilion, giving a certain effect of seclusion.

Upon three ivory couches, one facing the great hall, and the other two
placed one on either side of the pavilion, reclined Vitellius, his son
Aulus, and Antipas; the proconsul being near the door, at the left,
Aulus on the right, the tetrarch occupying the middle couch.

Antipas wore a heavy black mantle, the texture of which was almost
hidden by coloured embroideries and glittering decorations; his beard
was spread out like a fan; blue powder had been scattered over his hair,
and on his head rested a diadem covered with precious stones. Vitellius
still wore the purple band, the emblem of his rank, crossed diagonally
over a linen toga.

Aulus had tied behind his back the sleeves of his violet robe,
embroidered with silver. His clustering curls were laid in carefully
arranged rows; a necklace of sapphires gleamed against his throat, plump
and white as that of a woman. Crouched upon a rug near him, with legs
crossed was a pretty white boy, upon whose face shone a perpetual smile.
Aulus had found him somewhere among the kitchens and had taken a violent
fancy to him. He had made the child one of his suite, but as he never
could remember his protege's Chaldean name, called him simply "the
Asiatic." From time to time the little fellow sprang up and played about
the dining-table, and his antics appeared to amuse the guests.

At one side of the tetrarch's pavilion were the tables at which
were seated his priests and officers; also a number of persons from
Jerusalem, and the more important men from the Grecian cities. At the
table on the left of the proconsul sat Marcellus with the publicans,
several friends of the tetrarch, and various representatives from Cana,
Ptolemais, and Jericho. Seated at other tables were mountaineers from
Liban and many of the old soldiers of Herod's army; a dozen Thracians,
a Greek and two Germans; besides huntsmen and herdsmen, the Sultan of
Palmyra, and sailors from Eziongaber. Before each guest was placed a
roll of soft bread, upon which to wipe the fingers. As soon as they
were seated, hands were stretched out with the eagerness of a vulture's
claws, seizing upon olives, pistachios, and almonds. Every face was
joyous, every head was crowned with flowers, except those of the
Pharisees, who refused to wear the wreaths, regarding them as a symbol
of Roman voluptuousness and vice. They shuddered when the attendants
sprinkled them with galburnum and incense, the use of which the
Pharisees reserved strictly for services in the Temple.

Antipas observed that Aulus rubbed himself under the arms, as if annoyed
by heat or chafing; and promised to give him three flasks of the same
kind of precious balm that had been used by Cleopatra.

A captain from the garrison of Tiberias who had just arrived, placed
himself behind the tetrarch as protection in case any unexpected trouble
should arise. But his attention was divided between observing the
movements of the proconsul and listening to the conversation of his

There was, naturally, much talk of Iaokanann, and other men of his

"It is said," remarked one of the guests, "that Simon of Gitta washed
away his sins in fire. And a certain man called Jesus - "

"He is the worst of them all!" interrupted Eleazar. "A miserable

At this a man sprang up from a table near the tetrarch's pavilion, and
made his way towards the place where Eleazar sat. His face was almost as
pale as his linen robe, but he addressed the Pharisees boldly, saying:
"That is a lie! Jesus has performed miracles!"

Antipas expressed a long-cherished desire to see the man Jesus perform
some of his so-called miracles. "You should have brought him with you,"
he said to the last speaker, who was still standing. "Tell us what you
know about him," he commanded.

Then the stranger said that he himself, whose name was Jacob, having a
daughter who was very ill, had gone to Capernaum to implore the Master
to heal his child. The Master had answered him, saying: "Return to thy
home: she is healed!" And he had found his daughter standing at the
threshold of his house, having risen from her couch when the gnomon had
marked the third hour, the same moment when he had made his supplication
to Jesus.

The Pharisees admitted that certain mysterious arts and powerful herbs
existed that would heal the sick. It was said that the marvellous plant
known as "baaras" grew even in Machaerus, the power of which rendered
its consumer invulnerable against all attacks; but to cure disease
without seeing or touching the afflicted person was clearly impossible,
unless, indeed, the man Jesus called in the assistance of evil spirits.

The friends of Antipas and the men from Galilee nodded wisely, saying:
"It is evident that he is aided by demons of some sort!"

Jacob, standing between their table and that of the priests, maintained
a silence at once lofty and respectful.

Several voices exclaimed: "Prove his power to us!"

Jacob leaned over the priests' table, and said slowly, in a
half-suppressed tone, as if awe-struck by his own words:

"Know ye not, then, that He is the Messiah?"

The priests stared at one another, and Vitellius demanded the meaning of
the word. His interpreter paused a moment before translating it. Then
he said that Messiah was the name to be given to one who was to come,
bringing the enjoyment of all blessings, and giving them domination over
all the peoples of the earth. Certain persons believed that there were
to be two Messiahs; one would be vanquished by Gog and Magog, the demons
of the North; but the other would exterminate the Prince of Evil; and
for centuries the coming of this Saviour of mankind had been expected at
any moment.

At this, the priests began to talk in low tones among themselves.
Eleazar addressed Jacob, saying that it had always been understood that
the Messiah would be a son of David, not of a carpenter; and that he
would confirm the law, whereas this Nazarene attacked it. Furthermore,
as a still stronger argument against the pretender, it had been promised
that the Messiah should be preceded by Elias.

"But Elias has come!" Jacob answered.

"Elias! Elias!" was repeated from one end of the banqueting-hall to the

In imagination, all fancied that they could see an old man, a flight
of ravens above his head, standing before an altar, which a flash of
lightning illumined, revealing the idolatrous priests that were thrown
into the torrent; and the women, sitting in the galleries, thought of
the widow of Sarepta.

Jacob then declared that he knew Elias; that he had seen him, and that
many of the guests there assembled had seen him!

"His name!" was the cry from all lips.


Antipas fell back in his chair as if a heavy blow had struck him on the
breast. The Sadducees rose from their seats and rushed towards Jacob.
Eleazar raised his voice to a shout in order to make himself heard. When
order was finally restored, he draped his mantle about his shoulders,
and, with the air of a judge, proceeded to put questions to Jacob.

"Since the prophet is dead - " he began.

Murmurs interrupted him. Many persons believed that Elias was not dead,
but had only disappeared.

Eleazar rebuked those who had interrupted him; and continuing, asked:

"And dost thou believe that he has indeed come to life again?"

"Why should I not believe it?" Jacob replied.

The Sadducees shrugged their shoulders. Jonathas, opening wide his
little eyes, gave a forced, buffoon-like laugh. Nothing could be more
absurd, said he, than the idea that a human body could have eternal
life; and he declaimed, for the benefit of the proconsul, this line from
a contemporaneous poet:

Nec crescit, nec post mortem durare videtur.

By this time Aulus was leaning over the side of the pavilion, with pale
face, a perspiring brow, and both hands outspread on his stomach.

The Sadducees pretended to be deeply moved at the sight of his
suffering, thinking that perhaps the next day the offices of sacrificers
would be theirs. Antipas appeared to be in despair at his guest's agony.
Vitellius preserved a calm demeanour, although he felt some anxiety, for
the loss of his son would mean the loss of his fortune.

But Aulus, quickly recovering after he had relieved his over-burdened
stomach, was as eager to eat as before.

"Let some one bring me marble-dust," he commanded, "or clay of Naxos,
sea-water - anything! Perhaps it would do me good to bathe."

He swallowed a quantity of snow; then hesitated between a ragout and a
dish of blackbirds; and finally decided in favour of gourds served
in honey. The little Asiatic gazed at his master in astonishment and
admiration; to him this exhibition of gluttony denoted a wonderful being
belonging to a superior race.

The feast went on. Slaves served the guests with kidneys, dormice,
nightingales, mince-meat dressed with vine-leaves. The priests
discoursed among themselves regarding the supposed resurrection.
Ammonius, pupil of Philon, the Platonist, pronounced them stupid, and
told the Greeks that he laughed at their oracles.

Marcellus and Jacob were seated side by side. Marcellus described the
happiness he had felt under the baptism of Mithra, and Jacob made him
promise to become a follower of Jesus.

The wines of the palm and the tamarisk, those of Safed and of Byblos,
ran from the amphoras into the crateras, from the crateras into the
cups, and from the cups down the guests' throats. Every one talked, all
hearts expanding under the good cheer. Jacim, although a Jew, did not
hesitate to express his admiration of the planets. A merchant from
Aphaka amazed the nomads with his description of the marvels in the
temple of Hierapolis; and they wished to know the cost of a pilgrimage
to that place. Others held fast to the principles of their native
religion. A German, who was nearly blind, sang a hymn celebrating that
promontory in Scandinavia where the gods were wont to appear with halos
around their heads. The people from Sichem declined to eat turtles, out
of deference to the dove Azima.

Several groups stood talking near the middle of the banqueting-hall,
and the vapour of their breath, mingled with the smoke from the candles,
formed a light mist. Presently Phanuel slipped quietly into the room,
keeping close to the wall. He had been out in the open courtyard, to
make another survey of the heavens. He stopped when he reached the
pavilion of the tetrarch, fearing he would be splashed with drops of oil
if he approached the other tables, which, to an Essene, would be a great

Suddenly violent blows resounded upon the castle gates. The news of the
imprisonment of Iaokanann had spread rapidly, and now it appeared that
the whole surrounding population was flocking to the castle. Men with
torches were hastening along the roads in all directions; a black mass
of people swarmed in the ravine; and from all throats came the cry:
"Iaokanann! Iaokanann!"

"That man will ruin everything," said Jonathas.

"We shall have no more money if this continues," said the Pharisees.

Accusations, recriminations, and pleadings were heard on all sides.

"Protect us!"

"Compel them to cease!"

"Thou didst abandon thy religion!"

"Impious as all the Herods!"

"Less impious than thou!" Antipas retorted. "Was it not my father that
erected thy Temple?"

Then the Pharisees, children of the proscribed tribes, partisans of
Mattathias, accused the tetrarch of all the crimes committed by his

The Pharisees had pointed skulls, bristling beards, feeble hands, snub
noses, great round eyes, and their countenances bore a resemblance to
that of a bull-dog. A dozen of these people, scribes and attendants upon
the priests, who picked up their living from the refuse of holocausts,
rushed to the foot of the pavilion and threatened Antipas with their
knives. He attempted to speak to them, being only slightly protected by
some of the Sadducees. Suddenly he perceived Mannaeus at a distance and
made him a sign to approach. The expression on the face of Vitellius
indicated that he regarded all this turmoil as no concern of his.

The Pharisees, leaning against the pavilion, were now beside themselves
with demoniac fury. They broke plates and dashed them upon the floor.
The attendants had served them with a ragout composed of the flesh of
the wild ass, an unclean animal, and their anger knew no bounds. Aulus
rallied them jeeringly apropos of the ass's head, which he declared they
honoured. He flung other sarcasms at them, regarding their antipathy to
the flesh of swine, intimating that no doubt their hatred arose from the
fact that that beast had killed their beloved Bacchus, and saying it was
to be feared they were too fond of wine, since a golden vine had been
discovered in the Temple.

The priests did not understand his sneers, and Phineas, of Galilean
origin, refused to translate them. Aulus suddenly became angry, the
more so because the little Asiatic, frightened at the tumult, had
disappeared. The feast no longer pleased the noble glutton; the dishes
were vulgar, and not sufficiently disguised with delicate flavourings.
After a time his displeasure abated, as he caught sight of a dish of
Syrian lambs' tails, dressed with spices, a favourite dainty.

To Vitellius the character of the Jews seemed frightful. Their God was
like Moloch, several altars to whom he had passed upon his route; and
he recalled the stories he had heard of the mysterious Jew who fattened
small children and offered them as a sacrifice. His Latin nature was
filled with disgust at their intolerance, their iconoclastic rage, their
brutal, stumbling bearing. The proconsul wished to depart, but Aulus
refused to accompany him.

The exaltation of the people increased. They abandoned themselves to
dreams of independence. They recalled the glory of Israel, and a Syrian
spoke of all the great conquerors they had vanquished, - Antigone,
Crassus, Varus.

"Miserable creatures!" cried the enraged proconsul, who had overheard
the Syrian's words.

In the midst of the uproar Antipas remembered the medallion of the
emperor that Herodias had given to him; he drew it forth and looked at
it a moment, trembling, then held it up with its face turned towards the

At the same moment, the panels of the gold-railed balcony were folded
back, and, accompanied by slaves bearing wax tapers, Herodias appeared,
her coiffure crowned with an Assyrian mitre, which was held in place
by a band passing under the chin. Her dark hair fell in ringlets over a
scarlet peplum with slashed sleeves. On either side of the door through
which one stepped into the gallery, stood a huge stone monster, like
those of Atrides; and as Herodias appeared between them, she looked
like Cybele supported by her lions. In her hands she carried a patera,
a shallow vessel of silver used by the Romans in pouring libations;
and, advancing to the front of the balcony and pausing just above the
tetrarch's chair, she cried:

"Long live Caesar!"

This homage was repeated by Vitellius, Antipas, and the priests.

But now, beginning at the farthest end of the banqueting-hall, a murmur
of surprise and admiration swept through the multitude. A beautiful
young girl had just entered the apartment, and stood motionless for an
instant, while all eyes were turned upon her.

Through a drapery of filmy blue gauze that veiled her head and
throat, her arched eyebrows, tiny ears, and ivory-white skin could be
distinguished. A scarf of shot-silk fell from her shoulders, and was
caught up at the waist by a girdle of fretted silver. Her full trousers,
of black silk, were embroidered in a pattern of silver mandragoras, and
as she moved forward with indolent grace, her little feet were seen to
be shod with slippers made of the feathers of humming-birds.

When she arrived in front of the pavilion she removed her veil. Behold!
she seemed to be Herodias herself, as she had appeared in the days of
her blooming youth.

Immediately the damsel began to dance before the tetrarch. Her slender
feet took dainty steps to the rhythm of a flute and a pair of Indian
bells. Her round white arms seemed ever beckoning and striving to
entice to her side some youth who was fleeing from her allurements. She
appeared to pursue him, with movements light as a butterfly; her whole
mien was like that of an inquisitive Psyche, or a floating spirit that
might at any moment dissolve and disappear.

Presently the plaintive notes of the gingras, a small flute of
Phoenician origin, replaced the tinkling bells. The attitudes of the
dancing nymph now denoted overpowering lassitude. Her bosom heaved with
sighs, and her whole being expressed profound languor, although it was
not clear whether she sighed for an absent swain or was expiring of love
in his embrace. With half-closed eyes and quivering form, she caused
mysterious undulations to flow downward over her whole body, like
rippling waves, while her face remained impassive and her twinkling feet
still moved in their intricate steps.

Vitellius compared her to Mnester, the famous pantomimist. Aulus was
overcome with faintness. The tetrarch watched her, lost in a voluptuous
reverie, and thought no more of the real Herodias. In fancy he saw her
again as she appeared when she had dwelt among the Sadducees. Then the
vision faded.

But this beautiful thing before him was no vision. The dancer was
Salome, the daughter of Herodias, who for many months her mother had
caused to be instructed in dancing, and other arts of pleasing, with
the sole idea of bringing her to Machaerus and presenting her to the
tetrarch, so that he should fall in love with her fresh young beauty
and feminine wiles. The plan had proved successful, it seemed; he was
evidently fascinated, and Herodias felt that at last she was sure of
retaining her power over him!

And now the graceful dancer appeared transported with the very delirium
of love and passion. She danced like the priestesses of India, like the
Nubians of the cataracts, or like the Bacchantes of Lydia. She whirled
about like a flower blown by the tempest. The jewels in her ears
sparkled, her swift movements made the colours of her draperies appear
to run into one another. Her arms, her feet, her clothing even, seemed
to emit streams of magnetism, that set the spectators' blood on fire.

Suddenly the thrilling chords of a harp rang through the hall, and the
throng burst into loud acclamations. All eyes were fixed on Salome, who
paused in her rhythmic dance, placed her feet wide apart, and without
bending the knees, suddenly swayed her lithe body downward, so that her
chin touched the floor; and her whole audience, - the nomads, accustomed
to a life of privation and abstinence, the Roman soldiers, expert in
debaucheries, the avaricious publicans, and even the crabbed, elderly
priests - gazed upon her with dilated nostrils.

Next she began to whirl frantically around the table where Antipas the
tetrarch was seated. He leaned towards the flying figure, and in a voice
half choked with the voluptuous sighs of a mad desire, he sighed: "Come
to me! Come!" But she whirled on, while the music of dulcimers swelled
louder and the excited spectators roared their applause.

The tetrarch called again, louder than before: "Come to me! Come! Thou
shalt have Capernaum, the plains of Tiberias! my citadels! yea, the half
of my kingdom!"

Again the dancer paused; then, like a flash, she threw herself upon the
palms of her hands, while her feet rose straight up into the air. In
this bizarre pose she moved about upon the floor like a gigantic beetle;
then stood motionless.

The nape of her neck formed a right angle with her vertebrae. The full
silken skirts of pale hues that enveloped her limbs when she stood
erect, now fell to her shoulders and surrounded her face like a rainbow.
Her lips were tinted a deep crimson, her arched eyebrows were black
as jet, her glowing eyes had an almost terrible radiance; and the tiny
drops of perspiration on her forehead looked like dew upon white marble.

She made no sound; and the burning gaze of that multitude of men was
concentrated upon her.

A sound like the snapping of fingers came from the gallery over the
pavilion. Instantly, with one of her movements of bird-like swiftness,
Salome stood erect. The next moment she rapidly passed up a flight of
steps leading to the gallery, and coming to the front of it she leaned
over, smiled upon the tetrarch, and, with an air of almost childlike
naivete, pronounced these words:

"I ask my lord to give me, placed upon a charger, the head of - " She
hesitated, as if not certain of the name; then said: "The head of

The tetrarch sank back in his chair as if stunned.

He had bound himself by his promise to her; and the people awaited his
next movement. But the death that night of some conspicuous man that had
been predicted to him by Phanuel, - what if, by bringing it upon another,
he could avert it from himself, thought Antipas. If Iaokanann was in
very truth the Elias so much talked of, he would have power to protect
himself; and if he were only an ordinary man, his murder was of no

Mannaeus stood beside his chair, and read his master's thoughts.
Vitellius beckoned him to his side and gave him an order for the
execution, to be transmitted to the soldiers placed on guard over the
dungeon. This execution would be a relief, he thought. In a few moments
all would be over!

But for once Mannaeus did not perform a commission satisfactorily. He
left the hall but soon returned, in a state of great perturbation.

1 3

Online LibraryGustave FlaubertHerodias → online text (page 3 of 4)