Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Dialogue Between Herodias And The Daughter Of Herodias, Concerning John The Baptist

But on Herod's birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them: and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him. But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother.

–Matthew 14:6-11

Daughter of Herodias: What am I supposed to do with the head of John the Baptist? Or anyone’s head?

Herodias: I’m not going to tell you what you have to do with the head. I’m not interested in micromanaging you like that. I just think you should ask for his head. What you do with the head is entirely up to you.

Daughter of Herodias: And how am I supposed to just assume that this dance is going to go so well I’m going to get a carte-blanche offer from Herod immediately thereafter?

Herodias: I feel like the answer to both of those questions is “unrestrained female sexuality.” Or, um, “the fear of unrestrained female sexuality.” Is that right?

Daughter of Herodias: I can’t even sit cross-legged.

Herodias: What?

Daughter of Herodias: I sort of always assumed that whenever people talked about sitting cross-legged that they were joking.

Herodias: Wait, what?

Daughter of Herodias: Or being metaphorical.

Herodias: We’re talking about just…sitting on the floor with your legs crossed, right? That’s not a skill, or anything, that’s just sitting.

Daughter of Herodias [frostily]: Well, I can’t do it.

Herodias: What do you mean, can’t do it?

Daughter of Herodias: I mean exactly that. I can cross one ankle over the other, or I can sit on the floor, but I can’t do both at the same time. It hurts to even try it.

Herodias: Do you not have hip flexors, or something?

Daughter of Herodias: I haven’t the faintest idea.

Herodias: Where does it hurt, when you try to sit cross-legged?

Daughter of Herodias: I – knees, sort of. Buttocks go numb after about 20 seconds. The inside and the outside of my legs.

Herodias: The inside and the outside of your legs?

Daughter of Herodias: Of the top bits, anyhow. Starting at the crease of the thigh and extending downwards.

Herodias: Oh, those are your hip flexors.

Daughter of Herodias [politely, but without real interest]: Oh, are they. Well, solved that mystery, then.

Herodias: I don’t think that tone entirely necessary. Do you?

Daughter of Herodias: Sorry. It’s that unrestrained female sexuality again, blast it.

Herodias: Passing over it without remark, then. Assuming your dance pleases, without going into detail as to why, what would you have rather than the head of John the Baptizer? I’m not an autocrat, you know, for all my name is just Herod with an “ias” at the end.

Daughter of Herodias: Yes, I’ve been meaning to ask you – what is that about? Was that part of why you got married? Or did you change your first name after marrying him, like a sort of Ofherod thing?

Herodias: Ass, I’m full sister to Herod Agrippa, granddaughter to Herod the Great, half-niece and first wife to Herod II. It’s a family name.

Daughter of Herodias: Wait, which Herod are you married to now?

Herodias: Herod Antipas.

Daughter of Herodias: Good Lord, how many Herods are there?

Herodias: Haven’t the faintest idea.

Daughter of Herodias: Why aren’t I called Herodettus, or something? And no fair trying to call me Salome, you know I’m biblically nameless, so don’t bother dragging Flaubert or Wilde into this.

Herodias: Earlier than Flaubert. Josephus.

Daughter of Herodias [faintly interested, at best]: Oh, was it that early?

Herodias: Yes.

Daughter of Herodias: Well. At any rate, I haven’t any veils – or hip flexors, apparently – and I’m not in the least interested in kissing a severed head with the kisses of my mouth, or kisses of any variety. Can’t imagine why a person would.

Herodias: Leaving that aside –

Daughter of Herodias: It’s an awful lot to leave aside, don’t you think?

Herodias: Leaving that aside, what would you ask for, if not the head of John the Baptizer, who by all accounts has a remarkable head that any fashionable young lady would do well to add to her collection?

Daughter of Herodias: Textiles. Copper. Uh…ore, and so forth.

Herodias: What on earth would you do with ore?

Daughter of Herodias: Spices, from various locations in the Empire we might trade with. Amphorae of grain. Various goods that I might trade, or sell, or put to personal use. The Roman Empire is built more on trade than on conquest, and its boundaries extend throughout a variety of countries with distinct natural resources.

Herodias: I don’t quite know how to put this, but it sounds more like you’re reading through a primary-level overview of commerce in the Roman Empire than you’re an actual person describing things you might want. Like someone is trying to convince us they have a thorough understanding of the major imports and exports in ancient Judea, although why that would be the case I can’t possibly imagine.

Daughter of Herodias: Also garum, a popular flavoring agent used in all manner of cookery, similar to modern ketchup or Worcestershire sauce. Not that Worcestershire can be said to properly exist, at the present time.

Herodias: Are you quite finished?

Daughter of Herodias [politely]: One mining technique known to the Romans was referred to, by Pliny, as Ruina Montium, or Ruin of the Mountain, which is said to draw upon the principle of Pascal’s barrel, or hydrostatic pressure, although how that can possibly be true when Pascal didn’t get around to doing anything with barrels until 1646 AD I can’t begin to guess.

Herodias: CE, I imagine you mean.

Daughter of Herodias: Or CE, if you like.

Herodias: It isn’t a matter of personal preference, I just can’t imagine using the phrase Anno Domini when neither of us are likely to become adherents of a sect that doesn’t yet exist.

Daughter of Herodias: Means the same thing. Splitting hairs.

Herodias: Is that a fair representation of the other side of the argument?

Daughter of Herodias: No, it isn’t, and I’m sorry for it. CE, then.

Herodias: Head of John the Baptist, then?

Daughter of Herodias: Head of John the Baptist, I suppose.

Herodias: Can I have the legs?

Daughter of Herodias: Can you have the what?

Herodias: The legs. If the head’s already spoken for, and Herod seems inclined to grant you any more wishes on the strength of your dance, can I have the legs?

Daughter of Herodias: What on earth for?

Herodias: Call it a whim.

Daughter of Herodias: Cursed strange whim, if you ask me.

Herodias: I don’t believe I did ask you.

Daughter of Herodias: Should have written the play about you, Flaubert.

Herodias: Wasn’t a play, Flaubert’s. Wilde’s was the play.

Daughter of Herodias: You have an answer for everything, don’t you?

Herodias: You’re the one who keeps asking question.

Daughter of Herodias: Would you care to dance before the king, and see what he offers you for it?

Herodias: Can’t. I have a thing then.

A beat.

Daughter of Herodias: Oh, all right.

Herodias: Mind you don’t forget about the legs.

Daughter of Herodias: Oh, all right. [sotto voce] Too many Herods, that’s the problem with this family.

Herodias: What was that, dearest?

Daughter of Herodias: Nothing, mother. [to herself] One should not look at anything. Neither at things, nor at people should one look.

Herodias: In the original French, or not at all, please and thank you, dearest.

Daughter of Herodias [smiling audibly]: Just as you say.

John the Baptist [off-stage]: What a wonderful day to have my head on, and to baptize people, and so on.