The Babylonian Adventure – Dinner with the Queen
Babylon – 480 BC
“Is there enough food and wine for everyone?” The queen asked.
A tall young man behind her stepped forward and answered quickly, “Yes, your majesty. All is as you requested. Everyone is being given whatever they ask for. No request is denied.” He then bowed low and assumed his previous position.
The sun splashed walls of the queen’s pavilion, decorated with the same white cotton curtains and blue wall hangings the queen had chosen for the king’s pavilion, echoed with conversation and laughter. Queen Vashti paused, golden goblet in hand and listened to the laughter and conversation and watched her many guests. Very proud of what she saw, Vashti smiled. Surely this will make King Xerxes proud of me. I am his equal in every way.
The entire kingdom of the Medes and Persians had been celebrating for one hundred and eighty days and were now in the final day of seven days of feasting. All men were welcome at the king’s feast and all women were welcome at the queen’s feast where the food and wine flowed abundantly and freely.
In the hallway, six men jostled each other and joked as they walked down the hall approaching the queen’s pavilion. They stopped at the doorway, formed a line and assumed a more serious demeanor. The two on the outer ends stepped forward and opened the massive double doors and standing erect, held them open while the other four stepped forward.
The room grew quiet as the six tall, lean and muscular men dressed in the style of the eunuchs of the royal household, entered. Several of the women whispered quietly, a few giggled.
Harbona, the tallest, stepped forward and announced loudly, “His Royal Majesty, King Xerxes of the mighty empire of the Medes and Persians, sends his greetings and requests the presence of Queen Vashti at the king’s feast, wearing her royal crown.” He then bowed and stepped back into line with his companions.
Queen Vashti rose but kept her back to the eunuchs, “Why does the king request the queen’s presence wearing her royal crown?”
Harbona stepped forward again and replied, “The king wishes for the nobles and all of the other men to see your great beauty, your majesty.”
Queen Vashti turned to face Harbona, her cheeks flushed. “Please tell the king that I am busy with my own guests and will not be put on display to be leered at by his drunken guests. That is all, you may leave.”
Harbona bowed. “As you wish, your majesty.”
The six did an about face and left the room, closing the doors behind them.
The queen slowly returned to her seat and attempted to resume conversation; the room quickly filled with murmuring.
No one had ever defied the King before.
Harbona and the others entered the king’s banquet room discreetly and quietly. With a slight quaver in his voice he said, “Your Majesty?”
King Xerxes, turned slowly. Behind him, Harbona and the other five eunuchs stood stiff at attention, in a straight line.
“Where is the queen?”
“Um, may the king live forever…”
“Come on, out with it, Harbona!”
“Your majesty. The queen sends her regrets that she will be unable to join you this evening.”
Xerxes leaned forward.
“Were those her exact words?”
Harbona flushed and looked at the marble floor.
“No, your majesty. They were not.”
“Then tell me exactly what she said!”
Harbona repeated her words exactly.
Xerxes lept up, his face turning bright red.
“Say that again, louder, for all to hear!”
“Queen Vashti said, ‘Please tell the king that I am busy with my own guests and will not be put on display to be leered at by his drunken guests.’”
Xerxes eyes began to bulge out. He sputtered and then shouted, “How dare she defy her King?”
The room fell silent.
No one had ever defied the King before.
The King immediately departed the banquet hall and called a meeting of his seven most trusted advisors, men who knew the law better than anyone in the kingdom, the most powerful men in the empire.
“What can I do about this supreme embarrassment? No one has ever defied me — or any king — before. And to have the queen be the first? Something must be done. Tell me, what does the law say?”
Memucan, the leader of the seven solemnly stood and said, “Queen Vashti has committed an act that not only wronged the King, she has set a precedent for all women everywhere in the empire. If she is not dealt with severely, the wives of every noble and citizen will begin to defy and despise their husbands once they hear of the Queen’s defiance.”
“We would like to suggest that the king issue a written decree, a law of the Persians and Medes which cannot be revoked. Order that Queen Vashti forever banished from your presence, King Xerxes. We also think it wise that the king should choose another to be his queen, one more worthy than she. We will publish this decree throughout the empire. Husbands everywhere, of every rank, will receive from their wives, their due and proper respect!”
The king sat and thought about this for several minutes. No one dared disturb him. Finally, he stood and said simply, “Do as you say.”
And so the decree was written, sealed with his royal ring by the king’s highest advisor and sent to all corners of the empire. Queen Vashti was taken on a caravan to a place outside the empire which stretched across one hundred and twenty seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia and she was never heard from again.
After the King’s anger left him, he missed his queen. His personal advisors offered to search the empire far and wide for another queen. “Let us send envoys to each province to bring back only the most fair and beautiful young women to the royal harem. Then the king may choose, from among them, a new queen more worthy than Vashti.”
The king was very pleased by this idea and sent them forth to find a new queen.