THE Athens of the South

The big question, the deep thought behind this post is this:
What does it mean when a place like Nashville, TN claims to be “THE Athens of the South”?

ClCv241 student Sarah-Jane C. stands before A. LeQuire’s 42-ft replica of Phidias’ Athena Parthenos (1990) inside the Nashville Parthenon. Aug 2021

Granted, I have added the emphatic CAPS. Yet, this was the claim in the age of Tennessee’s centennial celebration. The building of a to-scale replica of the Athenian Parthenon for the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition held in Nashville from May 1 – October 31, 1897 made the case architecturally in a park right across the street from Vanderbilt University. Now rebuilt in poured concrete — but filled with Alan LeQuire’s knock-your-socks-off replica of the Phidian cult statue of the Goddess — the Nashville Parthenon has become a MUST-SEE feature of the American mythological landscape.

The United States of America boast over twenty cities or towns named Athens. This reckoning does not double-count Athens County, OH, because its county seat is the town of Athens, nor places like Athens, NY which is a formally discrete town and village. Whatever! From Alabama to Wisconsin, though, towns small and large have identified themselves after the name of the great capital of Greek civilization. Perhaps Athens, GA, home to the University of Georgia, and Athens, OH, where the University of Ohio was established, assert most overtly the idea that they perpetuate ancient learning and culture.

Lucanian Athens, i.e. Atena Lucana, is found not far from Salerno in the Italian state of Campania has about 2,000 residents. Much smaller is the German hamlet of Athenstedt at 400’ish. Smaller still is Ateny in Poland, pop. 40. (data from Wikipedia) We could go on. But… I’ll come to a deep, rhetorical question.

In 1897, Nashville was flourishing with the influx of Vanderbilt money and booming with late-century growth. The establishment of Vanderbilt University just a few years earlier (1873) already underpinned an expectation that Nashville would excel culturally in they eyes of the world.

Is there rhetorical difference between a town’s claiming to be the THE Athens of wherever and a town’s CALLING itself ATHENS? Do you leave yourself with bigger britches to fill if you name your town Athens, MN than if you stay “Nashville” and say that you’re Athens?

Aerial of Nashville’s Centennial Park. This photo and the featured photo are taken from google searches.

I like all these places… certainly the few I have visited. And I really like Athens, Greece… both in its ancient and in its modern manifestations.


Next to consider — Mantua, UT, Ovid, ID, …
Write me with others that occur to you.
Scipio, UT I’ve already got under control.


Thanks to Sarah-Jane C. for contributing the photo
and taking the time to visit the Nashville Parthenon in Aug 2021.

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