Vashti did more than just set the stage for Esther.

I think it’s a shame that in the story of Esther (see?), Vashti’s always kind of disregarded and glossed over. I’ve always liked Vashti. Always have. She always fascinated me. Even when I was little, I always felt like we were the same kind of person, like she was someone I could understand. Not that I don’t like Esther–I think she’s a wonderful example of an empowered, uppity female who couldn’t be kept in her “place”. She’s on my list of heroes slash role models. Vashti’s on the list too..and here’s why:

Other than having the absolute power of life and death over every human being from India to Ethiopia, King “Long Hand” Artaxerxes of Persia was a regular guy. He loved hanging out with his male friends and drinking smooth local wine. But most of all, he loved his dishy wife, Vashti, a simply stunning woman from one of the seven bluest-blooded families in Persia.

In the third year of his reign, Artaxerxes spent six months holding an assembly to show off the winter palace at Susa and its chatchkas to the vassals of his 127 provinces. The formalities over, he pitched a gold tent for 10,000 and began a banquet for his tight pals, where the wine flowed nonstop into those gold goblets. After a week of partying, Long Hand got one of those ideas that probably seemed fun at the time: He would summon his gorgeous wife and show her off. So he sent in a eunuch or two to give Vashti the message.

He hadn’t reckoned on a queen with attitude. A command appearance in front of 10,000 drunken louts was insult enough, but she had the feeling that the king wanted to display all her charms. (Persian law was on her side, too: Even the merest squint by a strange male at anyone’s wife, to say nothing of the first lady, was taboo.) In any event, Vashti said, “No way!”

The king got hot, but to no avail. He sent in more eunuchs to plead pretty-please. Vashti, however, wouldn’t budge from her lavish quarters, where she had a feast and a no-host bar going for her own women friends. Needless to say, the party went downhill from there. A highly irritated Artaxerxes huddled with his top legal beagles, who told him to nip this disobedience thing in the bud. Much as he hated to, he quickly kicked out a memo to everyone in the empire, saying that Vashti was hasta la vista. His counselors were more worried about the queen as a role model than the king’s feelings. To prevent a general epidemic of uppityness, they issued a fierce bulletin to all women, ordering them to treat their men as superiors from then on, whether they were or not.

And what of Vashti, the cool and gutsy queen who just said “No!” 2,300 years before Nancy Reagan thought of it? She was banished; most likely to her quarters or the main harem annex, not from the Earth. That’s how Esther, her replacement, came to take center stage. (exerpt from Uppity Women of Ancient Times, by Vicki León, 1995)

 

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