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Something interesting has happened on (just about) every day of the year, and Daily TWiP provides the proof. An offshoot of my local events column The Week in Preview (affectionately known as TWiP), Daily TWiP was published April 2008-Aug. 2011 and is still giving readers reasons to celebrate.

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Daily TWiP – July 21, 356 B.C.: Herostratus destroys one of the Seven Wonders of the World to ensure his own fame

Some people will try anything to get their names in the history books – even arson. That’s what was on the mind of a young man named Herostratus when he intentionally set fire to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus today on July 21, 356 B.C.

Artemis was worshiped in Greece and Rome as the goddess of the hunt and of the moon, but in Ephesus (now in modern-day Turkey), she was venerated as a fertility goddess. Her temple had stood on or near the same site since 800 B.C. and had been subjected to several reconstructions and expansions over the centuries.

The most recent reconstruction, funded by the famously wealthy King Croesus of Lydia, was begun in 550 B.C. and finally completed 120 years later. The impressive finished product was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and attracted worshipers and visitors from near and far. The entire temple was made of marble except for the roof, which was wooden and therefore flammable.

Enter Herostratus, a young man with a burning desire for fame and no scruples as to how that fame was achieved. He decided to set fire to the Temple of Artemis in hopes that, through this act, everyone would know his name. To make sure no one took credit for his accomplishment, Herostratus publicly announced his responsibility for the fire and when questioned, freely admitted his reasons for setting it.

With their temple in ruins and the functioning of local religion and tourism completely disrupted, the Ephesians were less than impressed. Herostratus’ punishment was twofold: execution and damnatio memoriae.

Of the two punishments, Herostratus likely found the latter more appalling. The Latin phrase “damnatio memoriae” literally translates to “damnation of memory” and means that the individual in question was completely excised from history. Herostratus’ name was removed from all official records; if his likeness appeared in any paintings or statuary, it was erased or destroyed. People were forbidden to speak or write about him on pain of death.

In Herostratus’ case, damnatio memoriae served two purposes. Not only did it deny him the lasting glory he so desperately sought, it discouraged those with similar aspirations from following in his footsteps.

And yet, in spite of this, Herostratus’ name and infamous accomplishment have survived. Both were recorded by the historian Theopompus. To this day, those who seek personal glory at any cost are said to be seeking herostratic fame.

The Temple of Artemis was rebuilt several more times after the fire, meeting its final destruction in 401 A.D., when it was taken to pieces by John Chrysostom and his followers. Some of the temple columns are now part of Hagia Sophia and other bits of the temple’s architecture have been incorporated into other buildings in Constantinople.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published July 21, 2010.

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