Study Guide

Salomé Whore of Babylon

By Oscar Wilde

Whore of Babylon

Wilde didn't stop with the Song of Solomon. No, he went from one end of the Bible to the other. Check out this passage from the last book of the Bible, Revelation:

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration [admiration here meaning something closer to awe or horror]. (Revelation 17:4-6)

The figure which John—author of the Book of Revelation—describes here is often called "The Whore of Babylon," and while there's much debate as to its symbolic significance, it's clear that the Whore is no friend of Christianity. In fact, she's often identified with the Antichrist. Yikes.

It's clear that Wilde meant for us to identify Herodias with the Whore of Babylon. Our first and only description of Herodias, as spoken by the Cappadocian, identifies her as "she who wears a black mitre [a tall hat, like those worn by high priests] sewed with pearls" (23). Before you say, "Wait a minute, I'm sure plenty of people wear pearls in their hair," listen to what Jokanaan has to say.

He calls Salomé "daughter of Babylon" more than once and, what's more, makes a more specific reference to Revelation. "Thy mother hath filled the earth with the wine of her iniquities," he tells her, "and the cry of her sinning hath come up even to the ears of God" (34). At one point Wilde even uses the phrase "cup of abominations." And he's not talking about a Slurpee (truly a cup of abominations).

A lot of Jokanaan's speech is essentially a paraphrase of different Biblical passages. In this case, Wilde uses these quotations in order that he might associate two minor Biblical figures—Salomé and Herodias—to a much more prominent source of sin and evil.

Um, yeah, Wilde. We kind of got the "sin and evil" part when Salomé makes out with a severed head. But go ahead and gild that lily.