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The Beautiful Outsider Replaces the Queen: A “Compound Topos” in Esther 1-2 and Books 5 and 6 of Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe

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This article identifies an extended, highly complex literary device, here termed a “compound topos”, evident in both Esther and the Greek novel Chaereas and Callirhoe, in which a surpassingly beautiful female outsider arrives at the Persian court and comes to prominence as the romantic rival of the Persian queen. From a theoretical standpoint, the device itself consists of a series of thematic components (topoi) whose meticuIous collocation and arrangement in each text produces a combined effect that surpasses the mere sum of the constituent parts (hence “compound topos”). Seen in this way, the device exhibits both the operational principles of the type-scene and the scope and complexity of a compositional artifice, thus bridging the oral and the written realms.

Here, the specific compound topos in question is examined by way of an articulation of the various major elements of which it is constituted, and of the literary force achieved by each text’s distinctive combination of these elements. Rounding out this study is a discussion of the socio-historical significance of the compound topos’s attestation in these two particular works, with special attention devoted to the import of this device as a discrete indicator of the relationship between Esther and the Hellenistic literary sphere.

Affiliations: 1: Chicago, Illinois United States


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