Temptation as Gendered Feminine in both Saint Antoine and Salomé

If we consider women as “world-engendering”, as in the Queen of Sheba exclaiming that she is a “world” in La Tentation de Saint Antoine, we can also think of Salomé in such terms. When Salomé is finally given Iokanaan’s head on the charger, she says “I was a princess and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire…Ah! Ah! Wherefore didst thou not look at me? If thou hadst looked at me thou hadst loved me. Well I know that thou wouldst have loved me, and the mystery of Love is greater than the mystery of Death.” (Salomé 525). The process of world making then falls into what we have thus far defined as decadence. Both Iokanaan and Saint Anthony do not love the femme fatales that they are confronted with. Both women are femme fatales, they can be equated with decadence in the sense that they evoke images of temptation, seduction, and devouring. This is the type of woman whose love will kill you (because it is poison), and while Saint Anthony is lucky enough to evade it, Iokanaan is not. Anthony is saved by a Christian sense of refusal, and moral strength, while Iokanaan, who also resists a woman’s seduction, pays for such resistance with his life. Although both women create this world of decadent seduction, there is a split between the goals with which they set out to seduce both men. They both begin on the same path, as they create their worlds through intense passion and desire. This falls into the category of decadence as soon as the men do not reciprocate what the women want; once this happens a sudden bout of madness ensues causing one (Sheba) to disappear in a rage, and the other (Salomé) to ask for John’s head on a silver charger. The split then occurs within this concept of world-creation: Sheba wants to seduce Anthony because she wants him to see, and be a part of her corrupt world, while Salomé wants John to see her and therefore enter her world of decadence. Salomé seems to suggest that had he looked at her, he would have loved her, and they would both have been saved. This is an illusion. In both cases temptation is gendered feminine; it is no coincidence then that what leads to sin and damnation in both texts are women.


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Filed under Week 8 reviews: Wilde's journalism, Wilde's Salome

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