c. 31 | Rome

Different Strokes

In the classical world, everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame.

Alexander’s heart had an insatiable longing for glory. When his friend Anaxarchus told him, following the authority of his teacher Democritus, that there were innumerable worlds, Alexander said, “Alas, poor me, because so far I have not even gained possession of one!” To possess the world was too inglorious for this man, though the world is great enough to serve as the home of all the gods.

I shall add a story about Aristotle’s thirst for acquiring glory, which was similar to the burning desire of that youthful king. Aristotle had presented his books on the art of rhetoric to Theodectes, so that this student of his could publish them as his own work. Later, Aristotle was annoyed that the authorship of this work should be attributed to another writer, so in a different book that he published under his own name, when he was discussing some issues involving rhetoric, he added that he had discussed these issues more clearly in the books of Theodectes. If I were not held back by my respect for Aristotle’s great and wide-ranging knowledge, I would have said that he was the kind of philosopher who should have been handed over to a more high-minded philosopher for the improvement of his character.

But glory is not ignored even by those who try to induce others to despise it. After all, those writers always take good care to put their own names on their books. So although they ostensibly make light of glory, they still run after it by asserting their right to be remembered. But in spite of their hypocrisy, such as it is, they are far easier to deal with than people who, in their pursuit of eternal fame, do not hesitate to win notoriety through criminal actions.

I wonder whether Pausanias should be mentioned above all other men of this kind. He asked Hermocles how he could suddenly become famous, and Hermocles replied that if Pausanias murdered some illustrious man, then the glory of that man would also spread over him. Immediately thereafter, Pausanias murdered King Philip II, and he did indeed get what he wanted, because he made himself as famous to future generations for this murder as Philip was for his goodness.

The desire for glory in the following case was sacrilegious. There was a man named Herostratus who wanted to burn down the temple of Diana in Ephesus, so that when this beautiful work of art was destroyed, his name would spread throughout the entire world. He revealed his mad scheme after he was put on the rack. The Ephesians made a wise decision and decreed that all evidence of this repulsive man’s existence should be wiped out.


Valerius Maximus

ValeFrom Memorable Deeds and Sayings. Drawing upon a variety of sources, among them Cicero and Livy, Valerius intended his book to be used as a course text in rhetoric schools. He dedicated it to the Emperor Tiberius.