Books: Self-Indulgences Idols of Perversity

by Bram Dijkstra Oxford; 453 pages; $37.95

As the priestess Salammbo danced to the seductive warbling of a flute, her long white dress slowly fell to the ground, and she stood naked before the sacred python. Taking the serpent in her arms, she "wound it round her waist, under her arms, between her knees . . . Salammbo gasped beneath this weight . . . her back bent, she felt she was dying; and with the tip of its tail it gently flicked her thigh."

Is this scene a) a typically clumsy 19th century attempt at pornography, b) a rather silly self-indulgence by Gustave Flaubert, c) a shocking...

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