Text: William Duane, Jr., “Erostratus,” Southern Literary Messenger, July 1836, 2:467-469


[page 467, continued:]

For the Southern Literary Messenger.



Early in the afternoon of an autumn day, in the first year of the hundred and fifth Olympiad, the keeper of the light-house which then marked the entrance of the harbor of Ephesus, announced the approach of a vessel, which, from its size and proportions, he decided to be from Corinth or Athens. Crowded, as the port of Diana's favorite city at that time was, with sails from every maritime town in the Mediterranean, where commerce was cultivated, the arrival of a vessel was an event of hourly occurrence, yet the news of the approach of this spread rapidly through the city. The magistrate left the bench, the merchant forsook his warehouse, and the mechanic dropped his tools. All hastened to the quay. It was expected that this vessel brought the news of the results of the Olympic games. With such rapidity the lusty rowers plyed their oars, that the most experienced eye could scarcely decide whether the approaching bark carried three or four banks. The helms-man was singing the prize verses of the games, in which all the oars-men joined at intervals as a chorus. Soon she neared sufficiently for the pilots, who stood upon an eminence, to decide that she was the Sphynx of Corinth. She presently came within speaking distance, and the name of the victor in the poetic contest was demanded. “Leonidas of Mægara,” was the reply, Other questions succeeded until the Sphynx was moored in the harbor, and then followed, amidst the embraces of friends and relatives, more minute inquiries and particular replies touching the events of the games, which then excited an interest in every land where the Greek tongue was spoken, of which the moderns can form but little conception. Preparations for the customary sacrifices to Diana of the Ephesians, Neptune, and the Winds, in grateful return for the prosperous voyage, were quickly made.


The crowds which shortly before covered the spacious quays had nearly all dispersed, when a young man for whom no one appeared to wait, and who had sought no one in the joyful multitude, stepped on shore, bearing all his baggage in a small scrip. His countenance wore an expression of the deepest melancholy, which could not have escaped notice, had not the sighs which broke from his breast, and the half dried tears which stained his cheeks, sufficiently testified that his bosom shared none of the general joy. Instead of seeking his home, he bent his steps along the quays, and shortly gained the suburbs, passing rapidly through which, he sought the open country. Here throwing himself upon the ground, hie gave way to the most passionate expressions of sorrow. “Cursed folly” he exclaimed “that induced me to believe that glory was to be obtained by merit, and that the applauses of the crowd could be won by him who has no gold in his purse to purchase their praises. Cursed be the books of the Philosophers which teach” — “Erostratus,” exclaimed a young man who, unobserved, had approached and gazed on him with astonishment, “what mischance has so disordered you, that instead of seeking your friend's house, I find you embracing our mother earth, and outshining our first tragedians? Is this a specimen of some successful drama which you have been composing, or” — ” Metazulis,” said Erostratus, “cease these ill-timed pleasantries. I have just returned from the Olympic games” — “[ know it,” interrupted Metazulis. “I was from home when the Sphynx arrived, and had I not learned from our neighbor Polisphercon that you and he had been fellow passengers, I should have assured myself that the charms of Corinth had proved stronger than your patriotism. Excuse my interruption, and pardon a friend's inquiring why these tears? why this anguish? Have you returned without that heart, which you once vowed to Diana should never leave your keeping, and without the blue-eyed maiden who has robbed you of it?” “No Metazulis, replied his friend, forcing a melancholy smile, “my heart is safe as though blue-eyed maidens had never been — but I went to Olympia, puffed up with the senseless expectation of gracing my brow with the wreath of poetry, which now encircles the head of a wealthy churl who feasted the judges. His name is celebrated through the cities of Greece; mine is unmentioned, save as that of the deluded Ephesian who dared to put his doggrel in competition with the rich strains of the rich Leonidas. But I forever forswear” — ” Forswear nothing” cried Metazulis. “Be not discouraged by a single failure. The next judges may be honester, and in four years the strengthened wings of your muse will achieve higher flights.” ” And Leonidas may become richer,” said Erostratus. “How often, how often,” [page 468:] said Metazulis, “have I had to censure my friend's faint heart, discouraged at the slightest disappointment! Who ever swam a river at a single stroke? Make my house your home. Let poetry continue your study. My sister's lyre shall accompany your odes. We will strive to put off the partiality of friends, and play the critics upon your works. I warrant not a spot shall meet the eye in the next production you lay before the Olympic Judges.” Putting his arm into that of Erostratus, who offered no resistance, he led him to the city.


Henceforth the streets of Ephesus rarely echoed to the footsteps of Erostratus. Immured in the house of the friendly Metazulis, his whole soul was occupied with the ardent hope of gaining the prize for poetry at the next Olympic games. The encouragement of Metazulis and Lesbia, had fanned into a flame the spark of ambition not to be extinguished in his breast. Every day did his impatience increase, and nightly, upon retiring to his couch, would he reckon that a day less was between him and immortal glory. The poems and odes which fell from his pen, fell not faster than they were wedded to music by the enthusiastic Lesbia. Unhappy Lesbia! it was not in thy nature to behold such kindred genius and remain unmoved! A fire was in thy breast, bright and unquenchable, save by death! Poor Lesbia! Her admiration of the poet blinded her to the most glaring defects of the poetry, and the living Erostratus, whom she daily saw, seemed to her superior to all the poets who had sung since the days of Deucalion.

Four years rolled by in poetry, music, and, though neither seemed conscious of it, in — love. The hymn to Ceres, upon which Erostratus now builds his hopes, is completed, and pronounced perfect by Metazulis, and Lesbia. Lesbia gives her brother and his friend the parting embrace, and with her scarf, waves them again and again farewell from the terraced roof. She is not to see Erostratus again until his brows are shaded with the crown of victory. Prosperous winds wafted on their course Erostratus and his friend, who had left his home and his sister, to share with his adopted brother the first triumphs of success. A few days were spent in luxurious Corinth by the travellers, and postponing a more ample view until their return, they departed for Olympia, where they arrived after a journey, which to Erostratus seemed to occupy an age.


With the usual ceremonies the games were opened, and the first, second, and third days devoted to chariot races and the athletic exercises. The fourth day was assigned to the claimants of the palm for poesy. Erostratus was the first competitor who rose. His feelings at first overpowered him, but a look from Metazulis, a burst of applause from the countless multitude, and more than all, a thought of the moment when he should lay the meed of victory at the feet of Lesbia, encouraged him. His voice was at first low and indistinct, but as the plaudits increased, he became more animated, and towards the close, the delivery was worthy of the poem. The hymn being ended, the lengthened shouts dispelled all fear of failure from his mind, and he fancied he already felt the olive wreath upon his temples. A single competitor appeared to contest with him the prize, many having withdrawn upon the conclusion of his ode. [column 2:] Cratinus of Platna arose, as soon as the applause began to subside. Four times had the crown been decreed to Cratinus, and he now aspired the fifth time to that honor. The hitherto unconquered Cratinus began, and scarcely had he recited twenty lines, when even Metazulis admitted in his heart the superiority of this poem to that of his friend. Cratinus wasloudly cheered, and in justice would have been more so, had not a large proportion of the audience been prepossessed in favor of Erostratus. Applause well merited followed the conclusion of the Judgment of Paris, (such was the theme of Cratinus) and then a breathless silence succeeded, whilst the judges compared their opinions. We cannot describe the anxiety of Erostratus in this interval. He trembled, a cold sweat bedewed his body, and leaning upon the breast of his friend, his life seemed to hang upon the decision. The presiding judge at length arose and delivered the award. The crown was decreed to Cratinus; and Erostratus fell senseless in Metazulis’ arms. For a long time he remained insensible, and his friend was beginning to fear that his hopes and his life had terminated together, when he began to revive; but having murmured “the crown, the crown,” he fell into a second swoon. So great an effect had the destruction of his long cherished hopes produced upon him, that for some days there appeared scarcely a possibility of his recovery. During this time Metazulis wrote to his sister the following letter.

“Weep with me Lesbia. Our friend has failed, Cratinus, of Plateea has obtained the prize, Erostratus is dangerously ill. The physicians bid me hope — I have none. Should he recover from the fever which now threatens to terminate his life, what a life will be his! If, contrary to my expectations, he should survive this shock, may our love to him be redoubled! Let it be our care to smooth his path to the grave, which, broken hearted as he is, can be but short. Farewell.”


The medical attendants were not disappointed. A month having elapsed, Erostratus left the couch of sickness; but another passed by before Metazulis thought his strength sufficient to warrant his proposing their return. Erostratus made no opposition. The love he felt for Lesbia, (with which the ravings of his delirium had acquainted Metazulis,) urged his return, although he felt that he scarcely dared appear before her. The task of diverting his mind from the sad recollections which occupied it, was painful and difficult. Metazulis proposed visiting the curiosities of nature, and the celebrated works of art, which lay contiguous to their route. To this Erostratus made no objection, but his eye, once so delighted with all that was beautiful and sublime, now gazed upon them without pleasure. Metazulis left Corinth in the first vessel which departed, anxious to see his sister, and to bear his friend from Greece, where every thing conspired to bring to his mind his failures. Far different were the feelings with which Erostratus had entered Corinth, and now bade it a final farewell. Thley reached Ephesus. Metazulis found none of his domestics awaiting his return; but what was their anxiety, their horror, upon finding the house closed, and the door-posts marked with the insignia of death! They hastily opened the door. All is silence and desolation. Elrostratus rushes to the sitting room, where he had [page 469:] parted from Lesbia. Metazulis following, arrives to see him fall senseless upon the couch, whereon reposed the dead body of his sister, at whose head sat the motionless domestics, murmuring the prayers for the departed.


In a month after the ashes of Lesbia had been consigned to the tomb, those of Metazulis were laid beside them. The wealth of Metazulis was now the property of Erostratus, but could gold purchase peace for his anguished soul? Never was he seen to smile, and his solitary hours (and how few of his hours were not solitary?) were passed in grief and lamentation. The love of immortality remained inextinguishable in his breast, and he resolved upon an achievement which should give his name a place in the page of history; and in the moments of his phrenzy, he imagined that the name of Lesbia would appear in the record with his, and that this would be accepted by her shade as an atonement on his part, for the fate in which her love for him had involved her. In the middle of a dark and tempestuous night, he applied a torch to that temple, the boast of Ephesus, the wonder of the world! The Greek historians of after days asserted that the goddess was in Macedon attending to the birth of Alexander. Her fane was destroyed and reduced to a mass of blackened ruin. Erostratus unhesitatingly avowed himself the incendiary, and the rack could force no reply from him but the cry “I did it for immortality.” He was condemned to be burnt to death, and expired in the most dreadful torture, with a smile upon his countenance and the name of Lesbia upon his lips. The magistrates, lest his desire of an immortal memory should be gratified, denounced death upon all who should pronounce his name, that it might be blotted out forever.

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About twenty years subsequently, a citizen of Ephesus, and his friend from Athens, were walking upon the shore of the sea, a few miles from the former city. There were a number of young Ephesians exercising themselves in athletic sports upon the sands, at whom they looked for a while, and then passed on. After a few steps they stopped to examine something over which the sea was breaking near the shore. A few human bones blackened and mouldering met their gaze. “Near this spot,” said the Ephlesian, “we burnt Erostratus.” “Who was he?” replied the Athenian, “I do not remember to have ever heard of him.” The Ephesian made no reply but hurried his friend on board a small fishing boat, and put to sea. It was long before the Athenian could obtain an explanation of this singular conduct from his agitated friend. The Ephliesian at length reminded him of the edict, and avowed that the forbidden name had escaped his lip, and been overheard by the youths who were near them. A vessel bound to Greece picked them up. The Ephesian settled in Attica, never daring to return to his native country. The greater portion of the incidents recorded above were communicated by him to his friend, and the tale, corroborated by others, became well known throughout Greece; but at Ephesus, no one for centuries dared to utter the forbidden name of Erostratus.



Duane reprinted this item, as well as several others from the SLM, in Ligan: A Collection of Tales and Essays (1857), thereby establishing his authorship.


[S:0 - SLM, 1835] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Rejected - Erostratus