Among those who dwelt in Caesarea was Elpis, eighth wife of the king, with her daughter Salome, whose praises had been sung at the banquet of Antipater. Both were renowned for beauty and the splendor of their dress. Salome had the colors of the far north, and that perfect and voluptuous contour found only in marble figures of Venus, above the great purple sea, and, below it, in the daughters of men. She was tall, shapely, full blooded. They called her Salome, child of the sun, because she had the dark of night in her large eyes, the tints of morning in her cheeks, and the gold of noonday in her hair.
When Manius came to seek her hand the king said, with a smile: “My noble youth, she is for the like of Achilles—a man of heroic heart and size. Have you no fear of her?”
Quickly Manius replied: “Know you not, O king! my fathers fought with Achilles?”
“But they had the protection of the gods,” said Herod, with a smile. “However, you may find her favor sufficient. I have heard her speak fair of you.”
Now a quarrel had arisen between Elpis and a sister of Herod. So, therefore, to calm a tempest, the adroit king had sent his eighth wife to live by the sea.
It was a day near the nones of October, when the tribune went to Caesarea with Manius. There in a great palace, erected by the king, they met the two renowned women. It was a fete day and the gay people of Herod’s court were in attendance. Salome was dancing, tabret in hand, her form showing through a robe of transparent silk as the two entered. Once before, at the door of the king, Vergilius had seen her.
“See the taper of arm and leg,” said he, addressing his companion, “She is wonderful!”
A lithe and beautiful creature, she swayed and bent, with arms extended, her feet, now slow as the pinions of a sailing hawk, now swift as the wings of a tilting sparrow. She stopped suddenly, her form proudly erect, looking at her lover. Now she had the dignity of a wild deer in the barrens. With one hand she felt her jewelled hair, with the other she beckoned to him. The young men approached her.
“Children of Aeneas, I give you welcome,” said she. Then turning to Vergilius: “Did Manius tell you that I bade him bring you here?”
“I knew not I was so honored.”
“He is jealous. He will not permit me to embrace my little page. I have wished to meet you, noble tribune, ever since I saw you in my father’s palace.”
Her eyes were playful, as if they would try the heart of her lover.
“And when I saw you,” said Vergilius, “I—I knew you were the betrothed of the assessor.”
“And why?” she besought, with a smile.
“Because I heard him say in Rome that, of all the daughters of Judea, you were most beautiful.”
Her eyes looked full upon his and he saw in them a glint of that fire which had begun to burn within her. He said to himself, as he came away, “Here is another Cleopatra—a woman made to pull down the mighty.”