Nashville, TN

The goddess of Tennessee

Lauren Barton

Pallas Athene (Athena) is one of the most well-known goddesses in the Greek pantheon. Born fully clothed and armored from Zeus's head, she is the patron goddess of strategic warfare, wisdom, civilization, justice, mathematics, and industry. She had many cults that worshipped her, and has appeared in culturally impactful works such as Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven and Homer's The Odyessey. "As early as 407 BC, Plato mentioned her name and claimed that others followed her due to her wisdom and knowledge. He further claimed that her name came from the Greek word Athenoa, which can mean moon and earth or air." (Greek Gods & Goddesses, 2021.)
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At 41 feet and 10 inches tall, a statue of this legendary goddess proudly stands inside the Nashville Parthenon, which was built in 1897 for Centennial Exposition (a six-month celebration of Tennessee's 100 years of statehood). The statue was built by native Nashville artist Alan LeQuire in 1990. Later, in 2002, she was covered in 23.75-carat gold leaf. Pallas stands as a symbol of growth and success within the state, as well as a symbol of dedication to civilization.

In 1982, Alan LeQuire competed and won the commission to recreate for the Parthenon in Nashville the lost Athena Parthenos by fifth-century Greek sculptor, Pheidias. Over the eight years it took to complete, the Athena project became the most difficult, challenging, and rewarding commission any figurative sculptor could hope for—and hope to survive. This work required LeQuire to expand his knowledge of materials and sculpting techniques and to greatly broaden and deepen his knowledge of classical mythology. (LeQuire, "Athena In Depth.")

According to Culture Trip, Nashville had been colloquially known as the "Athens of the South" due primarily to the city’s focus on higher education. However, there is already an "Athens of the South" that is literally named after this Greek icon: Athens, Tennessee (founded in McMinn county in 1821).

While Athens, Tennessee may not be known for its focus on higher education, it is known for another one of Athena's attributes: war. The "Battle of Athens" was fought as returning World War II veterans struggled against corruption and voter fraud in the local government. It began and ended on August 1, 1946 when a small group of veterans opened fire on local deputies. The "battle" lasted several hours, finally ending when dynamite was used in front of the prision.

The battle of Athens stands as the most violent manifestation of a regional phenomenon of the post-World War II era. Seasoned veterans of the European and Pacific theaters returned in 1945 and 1946 to southern communities riddled with vice, economic stagnation, and deteriorating schools. Undemocratic, corrupt, and mossback rings and machines kept an iron grip on local policy and power. (Jennifer E. Brooks, The Tennessee Encyclopedia.)

It is no surprise that Athena and all that she stands for is beloved by the people of Tennessee, as she echos the values and aspirations of Tennesseans everywhere. From her determination to prioritize community, to her love of industry and justice, this goddess embodies a piece of Tennessee's very soul.

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I’m an independent journalist and entrepreneur. I often write about education, local politics, and underrepresented online communities.

Dandridge, TN

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