Tennessee: From Athena to Elvis


It was inspiring to see Nashville’s full-scale replica of the Parthenon, an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. 

  Somehow I never found out about this site until now. It was built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the state. The reason for it was that Nashville considered itself the “Athens of the South” for its emphasis on education and learning.

The huge building is now the site of a small museum, which gives information about the Centennial fair and also contains the incredible 42-foot gold-painted statue of Athena. Sculptor Alan Lequire build this piece from 1982 to 1990. The statue then stood mostly white until 2002 when he and his collaborators gilded the statue in 23.75-karat gold. The statue is a scale replica of the original Athena Parthenos sculpted by Pheidias beginning in 447 BC.


 I found the statue awe-inspiring and brought in my 2- and 4-year-old boys to see it even though they generally don’t do well in museums and quickly become bored. I don’t think I’ll be able to show them anything like this again for quite a while. Theo, my oldest, was entranced – “It’s amazing!” he said when he entered the room. Arthur just took it all in but who knows how it will affect him in the future.

To get the other side of Nashville, I took Theo to Robert’s Western World downtown to hear some old fashioned country music. The venue on Broadway accepts all ages until 6pm and we arrived about 1pm. We heard a lot of songs about scorned and jealous lovers. After a bit, Theo turned to me and said “These songs are about bad people.” Ha! ha! Well, that’s part of life too.

  Next on our agenda was Memphis and a stop at Elvis’ mansion Graceland. Lee would have skipped it but I had to see the home of the King- if only to peek at his jet named after his daughter who shares my name. 

  We brought the boys, who were free, but they had a hard time standing still for even a minute and wanted to race around rather than gaze at the shag carpet, glittery costumes and 70s excess. Their favorite part was Elvis’ collection of classic autos. I think that was Lee’s favorite part too.

  The mansion was a bit smaller than I expected. The whole place had a lot of security- more than I’ve seen at other sites. My bag was checked before I entered and there were guards posted every few feet to tell you exactly where to go and not go. The iPads they gave you for a self-guided tour were cool but didn’t really work for us trying to supervise small children at the same time so we just wandered around on our own without listening to them.

  The funniest part to me was that the mansion today is off a major street filled with fast-food restaurants and stores. I guess I pictured it being way out in the country with a long drive to get in. I’m glad I visited and I enjoyed reliving memories of what was surely one of America’s greatest entertainers ever.

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