Though she is not mentioned by name in the Bible, Salome appears in the story of John the Baptist. During the birthday celebration of her father-in-law King Herod, Salome performed a dance, some say a striptease, that excited Herod so much he promised to give her whatever she wanted. Instead of being content with jewelry, riches, or half the kingdom, Salome demanded the head of John the Baptist, then Herod’s prisoner, to be served to her on a silver platter.
Why she made such a gruesome request has been the subject of some interesting speculations through the years. According to the Biblical account, it was her mother Herodias’ idea, though later versions give Salome more credit. In Richard Strauss’ opera Salome, based on Oscar Wilde’s play, the title character wishes for John the Baptist’s death because he rejected her advances.
Salome’s powerfully seductive dance is usually identified as the Dance of the Seven Veils, in which the dancer wears only veils and removes them one by one, ending up completely nude. The Dance of the Seven Veils is often considered the original striptease and has gained nearly mythological status. One of the world’s most well known strip-clubs, the Seventh Veil on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, takes its name from Salome’s dance.
Valeria Messalina is one of the few Roman Empresses who outshines her husband in depravity.But, in all fairness, Claudius was one of the least colorful of the Julio-Claudians, who also counted Caligula and Nero among their ranks. Messalina’s exploits were so notorious that her name has become a byword for promiscuity and amorality.
Messalina was about 30 years younger than her husband, and apparently he was unable to satisfy her appetites.It is doubtful, however, that any single man could have done the job.Roman historian Pliny the Elder was the first to recount the tale of Messalina’s famous competition with a local prostitute for who could take on the most sexual partners in a single night.The competition lasted for 24 hours, with the victory going to the Empress, who exhausted 25 men.
Messalina is also said to have worked in disguise as a prostitute herself in a common brothel, allegedly calling herself the Wolf Girl. In 47, about ten years into her marriage, Messalina took the Senator Gaius Silius as her lover. After she persuaded him to leave his wife and enter into a bigamous marriage with her, the two began plotting against the life of the Emperor. When their plans were discovered in the next year, the two were executed.
The inspiration for numerous homoerotic vampire tales, Erzsebet Bathory was a Hungarian countess of the 16th century who, according to legend, bathed in the blood of her victims to keep herself young. Thought to be history’s most prolific female serial killer, Countess Bathory set up her own private torture chamber under the front of a finishing school for daughters of the local nobility.
According to the testimony of Erzsebet’s servants – and accomplices – she first began torturing peasant girls that she had hired as maids.When the local supply of sexy young peasants ran dry, Erzsebet turned to the riskier pool of the nobility.People jumped at the opportunity to have their daughters learn manners from the Countess, apparently considering it such an honor that they ignored anything suspicious, like the fact that none of the girls sent to Erzsebet’s school had ever once written home.
Erzsebet’s fun came to an end in the early years of the 17th century. Neighbors complained of the constant screaming coming from the castle, and the authorities arrested the Countess and her servants in 1610, finding a room full of dead and dying girls. While the servants were executed by fire after their confession, Erzsebet’s status earned her a gentler punishment – being bricked into a room in her castle and fed through a hole in the wall for the rest of her days.
Erzsebet Bathory served as an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the writings of the original masochist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, and countless B-grade horror movies featuring bloody lesbian torture scenes. She killed anywhere from 35 to 600 girls, depending upon who you ask.
Mata Hari, a name that is nearly synonymous with femme fatale, is actually the stage name of the Dutch exotic dancer Margaretha MacLeod. While living in Java with her husband, Margaretha became enchanted with Indonesian culture and studied traditional dance.She gave herself the stage name Mata Hari after the Indonesian term for “sun,” literally “eye of the sky.”
Mata Hari left her abusive husband in 1902 and moved to Paris a year later, where she worked as a circus performer and an artist’s model before her dancing career took off. She claimed to be a Javanese princess and was famous for her uninhibited dancing and carefree sensuality. Mata Hari’s dance performance included a striptease in which she ended wearing nothing but her jeweled bra.
Mata Hari’s fame as a dancer soon led to a career as a high ranking courtesan. Many of her patrons were powerful military officers and politicians across Europe, including the crown prince of Germany.Unfortunately, Mata Hari’s free-spirited ways came to be considered in a different light after World War I broke out. People began to question her involvement with influential men, and she was eventually arrested as a German double agent and executed by firing squad.
Though Mata Hari is one of the most infamous femmes fatales, most historians now believe that she was an innocent scapegoat and a victim of circumstances.Many rumors surrounded her death, including that she blew her executioners a kiss, or that she threw open her coat and was wearing nothing underneath. Some claim that she defiantly said of herself, “Harlot, yes, but traitor, never.”
Klimt Salome: http://www.illusionsgallery.com/salome-L.jpg
Anarkyman Bathory: Elizabeth_Bathory_by_ANARKYMAN.jpg
Mata Hari photograph: http://www.vanveluwen.nl/portfolio/matahari/matahari_scan018.jpg