Salomé

by: Oscar Wilde

Jokanaan

Jokanaan—Wilde's Saint John the Baptist—is the prophet imprisoned in a tomb-like cistern at the orders of the Tetrarch. "Terrible to look at," he spends much of the play in his subterranean prison, figuring as a mad, booming voice that prophecies the ruin of the kingdom, curses the royal family, and proclaims the coming of Christ. He appears on-stage and takes corporeal form, against his wishes, at Salomé's lustful call. As a mystic, Jokanaan is a tabooed body: Herod bans others from seeing him, and he himself—as Salomé learns—refuses to suffer the gaze of the cursed. He is also "blind" in a sense, failing to see those around him in his inspiration by the divine word. Thus the beauty of his body appears only through Salomé's amorous praises: never has Salomé seen a whiter body, blacker hair, or a redder mouth, and so on. Of particular note is the unearthly whiteness of his body, a whiteness that twins him with Salomé and the moon.