Have you ever heard of Herostratus (Ἡρόστρατος)? He was a 4th century BC Greek arsonist who was all but erased fro history because he expressed that his reason for doing what he did was personal fame throughout the ages. Who was this man? What did he light on fire? Let me tell you a story.

Little is known about the life of Herostratos, though he was probably someone of low social standing. On the day Alexander the Great was born in 356 BC, Herostratos decided to burn down the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The site 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 Kretan architects including Khersiphron, 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 statute of Artemis. This 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. This was also the temple Herostratos destroyed. Plutarch mentions the account in "Alexander":

"[...] Be that as it may, Alexander was born early in the month Hecatombaeon, the Macedonian name for which is Loüs, on the sixth day of the month, and on this day the temple of Ephesian Artemis was burnt. It was apropos of this that Hegesias the Magnesian made an utterance frigid enough to have extinguished that great conflagration. He said, namely, it was no wonder that the temple of Artemis was burned down, since the goddess was busy bringing Alexander into the world." [3.3]

So, what happened? Why did he do it? Well, Herstratos was captured and tortured on the rack, where he confessed to having committed the arson in an attempt to immortalize his name. Valerius Maximus, in the 1st century AD, recounts in "Memorable Doings and Sayings":

"Here is appetite for glory involving sacrilege. A man was found to plan the burning of the temple of Ephesian Diana so that through the destruction of this most beautiful building his name might be spread through the whole world. This madness he unveiled when put upon the rack."

To dissuade those of similar intentions, the Ephesian authorities not only executed Herostratos, but attempted to condemned 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. The latter, in his "Geography" also mentions what happened next:

"Chersiphron was the first architect of the temple of Diana; another afterwards enlarged it, but when Herostratus set fire to it,40 the citizens constructed one more magnificent. They collected for this purpose the ornaments of the women, contributions from private property, and the money arising from the sale of pillars of the former temple." [XIV. I]