Salome was the daughter of Herodias and the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. Her story is told in the Bible (Mark 6:21-28):
And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.
When Oscar Wilde wrote his play Salome in 1890 he made two essential changes to the story. First, Salome does not just come in and dance; she makes Herod beg for it, and she refuses to dance until he swears to give her whatever she asks for. Second, it is not the mother who gets the idea of demanding the head of John the Baptist, it is Salome herself, because she wanted to kiss him and he refused. This is also the version that Richard Strauss used for his opera Salome in 1905.
By the way, the sculpture in my lead photo at the top of this post was not actually meant to be Salome. It was intended to symbolize one of the rivers of the lands governed by the Prince Elector Carl Theodor, either the Rhine, the Mosel, the Danube or the Isar. But while I was walking around Heidelberg it was the only thing I saw that I thought might be halfway appropriate for this story.
This painting of Salome with the head of John the Baptist (who is called Jochanaan in the opera) is on display in the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona, Italy.
My photos in this post are from 2004 and 2006. I revised the text in 2023.