This weekend’s trip to visit family and friends included a side trip to the Parthenon in Nashville. This is an almost-exact replica of the original Parthenon in Greece. It was built in 1897 for Tennessee’s Centennial statehood celebration and chosen due to Nashville’s reputation (or perhaps, its aspiration) as the “Athens of the South” – a name based on the abundance of Greek Revival architecture.
I was there a long long time ago as part of a junior high field trip, but that was before they added Athena in 1990. I kept meaning to visit on one of our trips (Centennial Park is only 10 miles from the airport) and this time we finally did.
Visitors enter the Parthenon from the lower level – the huge temple doors are chained shut. There is an art gallery on the lower level that includes a recent series portraying scenes from Greek mythology. I’m not a qualified art critic, but it looked good to me… except the painting of the Three Graces. The description didn’t have their names: they are Euphrosyne (mirth), Thalia (good cheer), and Aglaea (beauty). And they looked awfully Nordic to be Greek deities… but maybe I’m nitpicking.
You climb a set of steep, narrow stairs to get to the temple level. When you reach the top of the stairs you turn around and there she is – all 42 feet of her. It was an awe-inspiring experience for me – now imagine what it must have been like for the ancient Greeks who weren’t jaded by HDTV and IMAX!
I spent a few minutes letting myself be amazed by the beauty of the building and the statue. But then I tried to open a different set of eyes – was Athena really there?
Something – someone – was definitely there. What I felt was old and strong and proud. I’ve never worked with Athena – I can’t say for sure it was her. Maybe what I felt was the cumulative energy buildup of admirers and worshippers over the years. And yes, skeptics, I freely admit I may have seen and heard and felt what I wanted to see.
Or maybe, just maybe, Athena Parthenos looked down from Olympus and saw this cool house some folks in Tennessee built for her and decided to hang out for a while.
I’m going to do my best to resist the urge to overanalyze the experience and just remember it for what it was: beautiful and awe-inspiring.