Salome is best known as the siren in the Bible who shed seven veils – but her name and veils have no biblical basis whatsoever.
Matthew 14:6 and Mark 6:22 tell the story, describing the young woman only as Herodias’s daughter and never mentioning her style of dancing. In AD 94 the Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus appears to have invented a name for her – Salome – and the misconception grew that her name was mentioned in the Bible.
Eighteen hundred years later came Oscar Wilde’s play Salome (1891). Wilde apparently knew the centuries-old Babylonian legend of the goddess Ishtar venturing into the underworld,surrendering a veil-like garment (or a piece of jewellery – the versions vary) at each of the seven gates to Hades, finally arriving naked at her destination. In Wilde’s play, when Salome announces she is ready to dance, the stage directions read: ‘Salome dances the dance of the seven veils.’ A few years later in 1905, Richard Strauss’s opera Salome followed suit, featuring evocative music for that same sequence of Salome’s ‘seven veils’ dance and the seven veils fantasy was here to stay.