He was apparently a comman man, owning no talent, no skill or wit or wisdom. He had only an appetite for fame, and he reckoned that he could forever immortalize his name if he linked it to something more famous than himself. But how?
Simple: He would destroy it.
I don't presume to know the motives of the shooter in Aurora on July 20, 2012. Several reports have him identifying himself with the DC character The Joker. Taken with the events - his choice of date, venue, and the theatricality of his attack - at least suggests a similar motive to the Greek arsonist from 2368 years ago. Because in our society, we focus much more on the criminal than the victims.
I'm not sure why this is. I sometimes wonder if we focus on the criminal less in an attempt to understand their actions than because we're taught that conflict is drama. Thus the creators of conflict make good television.
But this confuses news with entertainment. Yes, the shooting is news. Yes, it is good to know this alleged murderer acted alone. Yes, I am glad to know he is in custody.
And I will be eternally happy if I never hear his name or see his face again.
When the Greeks caught the arsonist, he confessed on the spot. During his trial he explained his motive was eternal fame. So when his sentence was pronouced, it was not just execution. His name was forbidden to be spoken for 500 years. The Greeks knew that the best way to prevent more such acts was to eliminate the motive. If the motive was fame, don't let him be famous.
Yet his name has come down to us, as it would have to. The historian Theopompus recorded his name for posterity - Herostratus. So the arsonist achieved his ultimate aim. But that doesn't mean the Greek sentence was wrong. It was exactly right.
I'm tired of making modern villains famous. Yes, I love villains in film -Heath Ledger's Joker is superb. I love villains in theatre - I'm currently performing in an excellent production of Shakespeare's Richard III. I love villains in literature - Delores Umbrage is one of the most deliciously terrifying figures I've ever read. But in real life, I don't want to hear about villains. I want to focus on the fallen, and their families. I want to focus on the survivors. I want to focus on restoring what was lost, not on the person who took it away.
So let us all please focus on the people to whom this was done, not who did it. Absolutely let us discuss guns, and society, and safety, and art, and theatre, and politics. Because we live in a free society, full of choice. I don't want the government to ban the shooter's name from being spoken. That won't work. I just want us to forget his name.
Because who he is isn't what's important. He isn't important. His name doesn't matter.