by Guest Author Roseanna White
In the book of Esther, the king is absent from the main story much of the time and seems fairly distant when he is there. We get only a few glimpses into his character—he had a temper on him, he was a fan of beautiful women (shocking, right?), and he was generous with those in his favor and impatient with those who weren't. Can the same be said of every king? Er, no, not actually.
In Herodotus, we get to know Xerxes pretty well. He's beloved by his people to the point of being revered as a god, though they were in a fact a monotheistic society. He was a man of passion and temper, who ordered people executed left and right when he was in a rage and offered them cities as rewards left and right when he was happy. And some of the things he's most remembered for are his affairs, one of which led to the deaths of a few of his closest family members.
Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so too.
A few other facts snapped into place so beautifully that I became really convinced it was Xerxes in Esther. First of all, the timing. If you line up the events of Esther with the events of Xerxes' reign recorded by Herodotus and Persian historians, you get a few really cool clicks. First, that 180-day-long feast, where Vashti of the Bible refuses to come before his guests in her crown? That would have been when all the nobles were gathered to plan out the war. And the queen would have been about 8 months pregnant with her final child—pretty good excuse not to want to go before all the men in the empire and be judged for your beauty, eh?
There's a three-year gap between when Vashti is dethroned and when new young women are brought to the palace. Did it really take the king that long to cool off and think, “Gee, I better name a new queen?” Well, sure—because that's when he was at war! Pretty neat, huh? Herodotus has him arriving back in Susa (Shushan) within months of when the new virgins were scouted.
Maybe to some these things are small, but to the historical novelist, they're like candy. I had so, so much fun combining two history sources into one story—and yes, explaining it all through a fictional character. See, in my version, Kasia is the real reason the queen is deposed (let it be noted that Esther never says she's put to death, though that's the common notion). She's the reason for much of what happens during the war. And she's the unifying force behind the scandalous affair mentioned above and the arrival of new potential queens at the House of Women.