Herostratus (Greek: Ἡρόστρατος) was an arsonist. On July 21, 356 BC, seeking notoriety, he burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in ancient Greece [now Turkey]. The temple was constructed of marble and was built by King Croesus of Lydia to replace an older site destroyed during a flood, and it honoured a local goddess, conflated by the Greeks with Artemis, their goddess of the hunt, the wild, and childbirth. Measuring 130 metres long (426.5 feet) and supported by columns 18 metres high (60 feet), it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Far from attempting to evade responsibility for his act of arson, Herostratus proudly claimed credit in an attempt to immortalise his name. To dissuade those of a similar mind, the Ephesian authorities not only executed him, but attempted to condemn him to a legacy of obscurity by forbidding mention of his name under penalty of death. However, this did not stop Herostratus from achieving his goal as the ancient historian Theopompus recorded the event and its perpetrator in his Hellenics.
Herostratus' 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.
- 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
- Chaucer makes reference to Herostratus in The House of Fame: "I am that ylke shrewe, ywis,/That brende the temple of Ysidis / In Athenes, loo, that citee." / "And wherfor didest thou so?" quod she. / "By my thrift," quod he, "madame, / I wolde fayn han had a fame,/As other folk hadde in the toun..."
- Many authors from sixteenth and seventeenth-century Spain refer to Herostratus to represent someone who will do anything to gain notoriety. He is discussed in Chapter 8 of the second part of Cervantes' Don Quixote (1615), along with Julius Caesar and Hernán Cortés among others. Don García, the protagonist of Ruiz de Alarcón's La verdad sospechosa (Suspect Truth) compares his feats to the ancient character.
- Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a short story entitled "Herostratus" 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 to achieving fame.
- Herostratus is a 1967 British film by Australian film-maker Don Levy about a man who plans a spectacular public suicide.
- A 1972 tragic comedy Forget Herostratus! by Grigori Gorin depicts a fictitious plot of the events in Ephesus.
- Herostratus is referenced in Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 Soviet science fiction film Stalker.
- "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.
- The song "Herostratus vs. Time" by the indie rock band Shinobu refers to Herostratus and his actions throughout.
- In the March 25, 1945 episode of The Shadow, The Destroyer, the villain takes his inspiration from Herostratus.