Esther, the Jewish wife of the Persian king
I, 485-464 B.C.), is the main character of the
Book of Esther. Orphaned
at an early age, Esther was brought up in the family of her older cousin
(or Mordecai), who, like many other Jews, was a captive of Persia. The
king of that time, Assuerus (Ahasuerus), was looking for a new wife, and
many pretty girls were taken into his harem, among them was Esther. After
a year's training the girls were introduced to the king and he liked Esther
most. She became the new queen. During all this time Mardochus was
in contact with his cousin, giving her advice and instructions. Following
her cousin's instructions she did not reveal her Jewish origin. Once, lingering
at the gates of the palace, Mardochus overheard two guards planning to
kill the king. He immediately, through Esther, informed the king about
the plot. Soon thereafter king Assuerus appointed one Haman his
first minister. Mardochus was among the spectators at the palace gates
when the new first minister was entering the palace; everyone bowed, but
Mardochus refused. Haman was infuriated and plotted to kill not only Mardochus,
but all the Jews in Persia. When the terrible decree was issued Mardochus
applied to Esther for help.
Meanwhile the king was having a bad sleep and asked that the royal journal be read to him. Thus he learned that Mardochus had earlier saved him and realized that he had never thanked him. Next day when Haman came to the palace the king asked him how to reward a man to whom the king was obliged. Haman, thinking that the king meant him, offered an honorary procession, of course, he was unpleasantly surprised when the king ordered him to organize the procession in honor of the Jew Mardochus.
Esther in her turn asked the king to make a banquet and invite Haman, who was much pleased with the queen's attention. But during the banquet Esther revealed her Jewish origin and told the king about Haman's plan to kill her people. The king left the banquet room to consider the question, and Haman threw himself at the queen's feet pleading her to have mercy on him. When the king returned, he thought that Haman was attacking his queen, and ordered his death immediately. Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mardochus. Thus the Jewish population of Persia was saved and their enemy punished.
This event is celebrated by Jews as Purim holiday.
See: Andrea del Castagno. Queen Esther.
Filippino Lippi Three Scenes from the Story of Esther.
Michelangelo The Punishment of Haman.
Nicolas Poussin Esther Before Assuerus.
Rembrandt. Esther Preparing to Intercede with Assuerus (?). Assuerus, Haman and Esther, Haman Begging Esther for Mercy.
Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto. Esther before Ahasuerus. Esther before Ahasuerus.
Paolo Veronese. Coronation of Esther. Esther before Ahasuerus.