If you’re looking for an all-purpose goddess, look no further than Athena. Her wide-ranging purview included the arts, wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law, justice, mathematics, strength, strategy, crafts, skill, … and, justifiable (hmmm?) warfare.
She was the patron goddess of Athens, beloved by all, and one of Greece’s most famous temples, the Parthenon, was built expressly in her honor.
Following in the the footsteps of enthusiastic Athenians, a couple of millennia later, the organizers for Nashville’s 1897 Centennial and International Exhibition built a replica of the Parthenon. And about 100 years after that, city officials completed the picture with an astounding, 42-foot, gilded statue of Athena that’s the centerpiece of the Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park.
In keeping with the scholarly detail of the building itself, native Nashville artist Alan Lequire researched extensively to ensure that the replica resembled the original gold and ivory sculpture as closely as possible.
Athena, top to bottom, is a compendium of greek mythology. And, like most mythical art, the statue symbolizes her strengths and deeds.
Check out her large spear, shield, and helmet, as well as the 6 foot Mini-Me statue of Nike – goddess of victory and running shoes. All this regalia clearly establishes her warrior bona fides, and leaves no doubt that Athena was a badass.
In Greek mythology, snakes can represent good or evil, and Athena’s statue has one of each. The coiled snake behind her grandiose shield represents the people of Athens, who are under her protection.
Both her breastplate and shield bear the severed head of the evil, snake-haired Medusa. An appreciative Perseus rewarded the head to Athena as thanks for her aid in dispatching the one-look-turns-you-to-salt monster.
In the frieze below her statue, the Pantheon of Gods is witnessing the birth of Pandora: the first mortal human created by the gods, as well as the person responsible for opening the infamous box which released all the evils of humanity. (OK, extra points if you recognize this story from somewhere else.)
On Athena’s not-so-dainty feet are what must be history’s biggest, most artistic sandals, which show her battle with the horsey-human centaurs.
Not only is Athena a remarkable sight to behold, but if you know, or want to know anything about Greek mythology, she’s a glimmering billboard. She took me back to my university days and a summer-school course I took to meet an arts requirement. Oh those heady days of in-one-ear-out-the other.
This fine reproduction of the interior of the Parthenon, complete with Athena’s fabulous statue, is the only place on earth to experience what is was like to stand inside one of Athens’ premier buildings in 480 B.C. If you see just one famous celebrity on your trip to Nashville, make it Athena in the Parthenon in Centennial Park.