Herostratus

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Herostratus (Ancient Greek: Ἡρόστρατος) was a young man and historic arsonist seeking fame who burned down the Temple of Artemis in ancient times.

Contents

Occurrence

On July 21, 356 BC, Herostratus in his quest for fame set fire to the Temple at Ephesus in what is now Turkey. The temple was constructed of marble and considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It had been built by King Croesus of Lydia to replace an older site destroyed during a flood and honoring a local goddess conflated by the Greeks with Artemis, their goddess of the hunt, the wild and childbirth. Measuring 130 metres long (425 feet) and supported by columns 18 metres high (60 feet), it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Aftermath

Far from attempting to evade responsibility for his act of arson, Herostratus proudly claimed credit in an attempt to immortalise his name in history. To dissuade similar-minded fame-seekers, the Ephesean authorities not only executed him, but also condemned him to a legacy of obscurity by forbidding mention of his name under penalty of death. This did not stop Herostratus from achieving his goal, however, as the ancient historian Theopompus recorded the event and its perpetrator in his Hellenics.

References in culture

Herostratus's name lived on in classical literature and has passed into modern languages as a term for someone who commits a criminal act in order to bask in the resultant notoriety.

Languages

  • In German a Herostrat is a criminal out of thirst for glory.
  • The English term Herostratic fame, likewise, relates to Herostratus, and means, roughly, "fame at any cost". Such men as Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon — "The result," said Chapman, "would be that I would be famous; the result would be that my life would change and I would receive a tremendous amount of attention." — may be considered modern examples of the Herostratically famous. (See Mark David Chapman: Motivation and mental health for further details.)

Film and writings

  • Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a short story entitled "Erostratus" as part of his 1939 Le mur (The Wall). In the story, a man plans to commit a crime of random violence as a means of achieving fame.
  • Herostratus is a 1967 British film by Australian film-maker Don Levy about a man who plans a spectacular public suicide.
  • "Herostratus" is a 2001 Armenian film co-written (with Armen Vatyan) and directed by Rouben Kochar. It follows closely the facts of its eponym's life.
  • Herostratus is referenced in the 1979 Soviet science fiction film Stalker.

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