Herostratic Fame

Have you ever dreamed of being famous?

Many people do, and some become obsessed with the idea.

On the night of the 21st of July, 356 B.C., Herostratus of Ephesus was up to no good. He was a completely undistinguished citizen of a city known primarily for it association with the Great Temple of Artemis,  one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, located in a sacred grove not far from the city.

Herostratus was an ordinary man, not notable in any way, and certainly not famous. But Herostratus was different from other “ordinary” men: he was not content to remain unknown. Soon, the whole world would know his name.  He would make sure.

Moving stealthily, Herostratus saturated the interior of the Great Temple with gallons of oil.  He was ready. He had been preparing for this night for a long time.  Once the interior and exterior of the Temple was thoroughly soaked, he set fire to it numerous places, inside and out. In a very short time, as he had planned, the fire was uncontrollable and the Great Temple of Artemis was doomed.

When the Ephesians rushed to burning Temple, Herostratus met them and proudly proclaimed his deed. He would be remembered as the man who burned down the Great Temple of Artemis, as the destroyer of one of the Wonders of the World. His name would be remembered.

Herostratus was executed for his arson, and the Ephesians, seeking to deny him the fame he craved, passed a law making it a capital crime ever to speak of him, his deed, or his name.  As such things do, however, this attempt to erase Herostratus from history only succeeded in generating interest in the mysterious secret the Ephesians did not want to talk about.  People began to ask, and it was not very long before someone talked. Someone always talks.  Herostratus’ story spread and eventually was recorded for future generations by the historian Theopompus.

Herostratus’ name lives on. Although few today have heard the story of Herostratus, the English language has the concept of Herostratic Fame. Herostratic Fame is fame or infamy sought by means of the commission of some terrible and highly visible crime, in which the primary motive for the crime is simply the fame that accrues to one simply for having done it.

The human desire for fame and notoriety become so great that some will seek it by Herostratic means. And ironically, whenever they do so, the name and fame of Herostratus of Ephesus continues to live and grow.

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