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Died  Ephesus
Name  Herostratus Herostratus


Herostratus: The Ancient Arsonist Of Ephesus | Personage Non Grata

Herostratus (Ancient Greek: Ἡρόστρατος) — or Erostratus — was a 4th-century BC Greek arsonist, who sought notoriety by destroying the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. His acts prompted the creation of a damnatio memoriae law, forbidding anyone to mention his name. Nevertheless, his name has become a metonym for someone who commits a criminal act in order to become noted.


In the eye of the storm trial by herostratus


Archeological evidence indicates the site of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus had been of sacred use since the Bronze Age, and the original building was destroyed during a flood in the 7th century BC. A second temple was commissioned by King Croesus of Lydia around 560 BC and built by Cretan architects including Chersiphron, constructed largely of marble, and measuring 337 feet long and 180 feet wide with its pillars standing 40 feet tall. The sculpted bases of the pillars contained life-sized carvings and the roof opened to the sky around a statue of Artemis. The second temple was included on an early list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Herodotus in the 5th century BC, and was well known to many people in the ancient world.

Little is known about the life of Herostratus, though it is thought he may have been someone of low social standing, a non-Ephesian or a slave. According to tradition, the fire that destroyed the second temple was set on the day Alexander the Great was born, 21 July 356 BC. Herostratus was then captured and tortured on the rack, where he confessed to having committed the arson in an attempt to immortalize his name. To dissuade those of similar intentions, the Ephesian authorities not only executed Herostratus, but attempted to condemn him to a legacy of obscurity by forbidding mention of his name under penalty of death. However, the ancient historian Theopompus mentions the name of Herostratus in his Philippica, and it appears again later in the works of Strabo. It is said that in fact his name has outlived the names of his judges, and in his Hydriotaphia Sir Thomas Browne said:

But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity... Herostratus lives that burnt the Temple of Diana, he is almost lost that built it... Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, than any that stand remembred in the known account of time?

Work on a third temple at the site began in 323 BC, resulting in a larger and more ornate temple that would be included by Antipater of Sidon as one of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.


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 achieve notoriety, thus winning herostratic fame.

In language

The term "Herostratic fame" refers to Herostratus and means "fame [sought] at any cost".

In media

  • 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's 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.
  • In the chapter titled "Dreams" in Herman Melville's Mardi, and a Voyage Thither (1849), the protagonist states, "[W]hoso stones me, shall be as Erostratus, who put torch to the temple..."
  • Jaroslav Hašek in the preface of his last novel, The Good Soldier Švejk, compared Herostratus to Švejk (the protagonist) and praised the latter.
  • The protagonist of the 1967 film Herostratus hires a marketing company to turn his suicide-by-jumping into a mass-media spectacle.
  • In Gore Vidal's 1970 novel Two Sisters the real-life story of Herostratus appears as a sub-plot.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre's short story "Erostratus" is directly based on the story of Herostratus.
  • Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film Stalker makes reference to Herostratus.
  • References

    Herostratus Wikipedia