National Museums Liverpool/Bridgeman Art Library

The wicked temptress Delilah points triumphantly at the shorn head of her now-helpless lover Samson, in this dramatic 1886 work by the British painter Solomon J. Solomon. As the Philistines bind the mighty Israelite warrior, whose strength had been hidden in his hair, he seems to plead to Delilah: “How could you betray me like this!”

Delilah seems as wicked and false-hearted as they come. But as Dan W. Clanton, Jr., shows in the accompanying article, the biblical story (in Judges 16) actually tells us very little about her. Most of our modern impressions of this woman and the biblical judge she toppled come from the art, literature and music it inspired. One of the most influential interpretations is the 1876 opera Samson et Dalila, by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.