Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Judith

When I was digging through Renaissance art for inspiration, and not finding much, I stumbled upon Lucas Cranach the Elder's Judith Victorious.  It's a very striking piece, and I couldn't get it out of my mind. 

Look at her over there, dressed up in her Sunday best, tired smile on her face, sword in one hand and the lifeless head of a bearded man in the other.


I had to do some research.

Apparently, Judith was a very popular subject of painters for several hundred years.  She is seen lopping this dude's head off, or lugging it around, in countless painting.  People really dug it.

It comes from The Book of Judith, an old account that the Catholics liked so much that they included it in their bible.  The Protestants - not so much.  Not one mention whatsoever in their bibles.

Seems this General Holofernes was stomping through the Holy Land beating up on people and came to Judith's town.  Well, they had some pretty good defenses, so the General decided to camp outside and issue threats and such.

After a while, Judith, a very beautiful widow, had had enough of it.  She got all gussied up and marched on down to the encampment.  Judith told General Holofernes that she had decided to switch sides and give him all the intel he would need to conquer her city.

General Holofernes fell head over heels in lust.  A couple days later, Judtih got the General drunk as a skunk, stole his sword, lopped off his head, and brought it back home.  Her fellow citizen hung the head from the city wall.

When the General's troops found out, they freaked and ran away.  Judith lived happily ever after.

Online commentary explains Judith's popularity through history as a David vs. Goliath kind of thing - the small and weak defeating the big and strong.  There is another aspect - Judith is the ancient world's Mata Hari, and sexy spies are always in vogue.

I see another aspect, however.  People love hot chicks with swords.  Judith is the Bible's answer to Red Sonja - minus the chainmail bikini, of course.

So go hunt down more pictures in Google Images or find the original text.  It's not a bad little story.  It would make a great background for a high level NPC in a campaign.  Perhaps she has even become leader of her city.  Or maybe she took to the road afterwards righting wrongs.  The story could even be the inspiration for a espionage based D&D adventure. 

Have fun!

- Ark


  1. I do think that the "chicks with swords" angle is important. If it were just the Mata Hari or David and Goliath angle, there's Jael in the book of Judges, who killed an enemy general by driving a tent stake through his head.

  2. Myself, I prefer four whole chickens and a good boning knife.

  3. I've found Judith quite inspiring and one of my characters in my twenty year unfinished novel is inspired by her.

    My three favourite paintings:
    Caravaggio [check out her old maid]
    Artemisia Gentileschi [check out the work involved and the commitment]
    and the mature audience Franz Stuck but not the version displayed but this one:

  4. Caravaggio is quite the inspiring character himself, and his version of Judith beheading Holofernes is stunning.

  5. Totally off-topic, slightly NSFW, comic book link:

  6. @faoladh - I'm a big fan of the Caravaggio too.

    @The Happy Whisk - Hey, chicks with knives fits into the motif perfectly. :)

    @The Jovial Priest - I didn't know bout that alternative Stuck. I would guess that, like most painters, they take a theme and paint it until they believe they 'get it right.' I'd like to see the others if there are any.

    @biopunk - Not off topic at all! There is a chick, there is a sword, there is a beheading. Okay, not all int he right order, but still . . . it works. Thanks for the link. Great stuff.

    - Ark