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The Herostratus Syndrome

July 21 will mark the anniversary of one of the most infamous destructions in history. On that night in 356 B.C.E., an Ephesian arsonist named Herostratus made his mark in history by burning down the greatest and most beautiful Greek temple. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis was the size of a football field with a forest of 127 lavishly decorated stone columns towering to the sky. Although Herostratus could do little damage to the marble, he destroyed the roof supports, stairways, gilded doors, and furnishings, all of which were made of wood. By morning all that remained was a smoldering ruin of 40-foot-high columns.

But in THE DEADLIEST FEVER, Miriam learns from her friend, ben Ruben, the pot-bellied dwarf, of a different disaster to affect the Temple after it was rebuilt. He explains:

The wealth of Ephesus, including its gold and jewels, has been stored in the Temple treasury for hundreds of years. But during the Festival of Artemis, for a brief period anyway, the Temple is deserted. Now some time after the men and women had returned and begun to circulate—by then most of the tourists had left—the priests went to put away the sacred objects. That’s when they discovered the lock to the treasury had been smashed. After that, during the confusion that followed, the herald announced the Thalia’s immediate departure, mind you, hours earlier than expected.

And so, the Thalia departed for Alexandria with the thieves, the treasure, and ben Ruben, and it was up to Miriam to recover the swag and see to its return to Ephesus. But getting back to Herostratus, instead of fleeing the scene, he boasted of his deed. He surrendered to the temple authorities and was imprisoned. Ephesian officials, to discourage similar acts, quickly executed Herostratus and attempted to remove his name from memory by forbidding its mention under penalty of death. Nevertheless, Herostratus’s name has lived on and passed into modern languages to mean someone who commits a crime to gain notoriety. And so, today we speak of the Herostratus Syndrome when we think of those who commit heinous acts for the blaze of fame and worry that social media enable them to claim the widest possible audience.

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