Obsidian Sea – “The Trial of Herostratus”

Of the canonical Seven Wonders of the ancient world, three are clustered around the western coast of Asia Minor, a rich area of heavy Greek colonization and intermingling with the various native Anatolian cultures. One of these three wonders is a testament to this exchange, the massive, Ionic order temple at Ephesus of the Greek goddess Artemis. While to most Greeks she was patroness of the hunt, the moon, and unwed girls, her eastern versions were also fertility goddesses. It was built in the mid-6th century BCE, and its massive scale was owed to the bankrolling of the famously rich Lydian king Croesus. It was destroyed by fire two centuries later and rebuilt in the form registered in the list of Wonders. That version lasted until the end of the 4th century CE when it suffered the fate of many pagan shrines at that time under the ascendancy of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

What caused the fire that brought down the penultimate incarnation of this wonder? One of the earliest recorded instances of grand arson, carried out by a Greek man named Herostratus. The motive? The simple desire to have his name go down in history. Such was his confession upon his capture, and despite legal attempts to forbid his name from ever being mentioned again, he succeeded to such a degree that his name has become a metonym for anyone who commits a crime or otherwise nefarious act in order to gain fame. For instance, a 1967 film about a man who attempts to commit a spectacular suicide by jumping off a building is called “Herostratus.”

The Bulgarian doom metal band Obsidian Sea, in this opening track to their 2015 album Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions, grant Herostratus his wish of eternal fame in our own time. They imagine the scene of Herostratus’ trial, in which he is interrogated for his crime. We imagine the incredulity of his prosecutors at the peculiarity of his motive, yet a motive so in line with the Greek drive to achieve immortality through the memory of ages, and here, in song. As metalheads, we are familiar with the fame, or infamy, attained by certain black metallers in Norway, burning down temples to Christ rather than to Artemis. While this latter group may have had other motives than Herostratus, they nevertheless got the same result. Herostratus, on the other hand, represented a purer drive to commit violence and cause chaos for its own sake, with little to gain other than being remembered. Some people just want to watch the world burn.

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