- January 24, 2019
Tom Markham is a writer living in Nashville, TN.
It was raining like hell, and she and I were on our second official date. They technically do not allow umbrellas inside the Replica Parthenon, so I tucked mine into my waistband under my jacket to keep it hidden. My lower back was damp. I paid using a card, and the woman told me there would be a convenience fee. She had the total – two tickets, plus convenience fee, plus tax – memorized by heart. I kept the receipt.
In my mind I had the idea that the Original Parthenon, the Greek one, was a place where Greeks went to make sacrifices to Athena. I assumed this to be true, though I did not look it up. I had not been to the Replica Parthenon, in Nashville, my hometown, for many years, likely then on a school field trip. They may have told us back then what sort of sacrifices the Greeks made to Athena in the Original Parthenon – goats, sheep, maybe just some nice incense – but I could not remember, and I did not look that up either. I wondered if the Greeks had to offer a convenience sacrifice on top of their incense or sheep or goat to gain entry.
Later, in the main viewing area, in the colonnaded room underneath the gleaming immensity of Replica Athena, she, my date, commented that the rites of worship that happened in the Original Parthenon were often performed as a measure of social status.
I asked, Like the kinds of sacrifices you would give to Athena showed off your social class? Sacrificing a goat meant you could afford to sacrifice more than, like, incense?
She said, Maybe. Something like that.
I said, That’s interesting. I guess that still happens today. You roll into church in a nice car, wearing a nice suit, as if to say, Look how much the Lord has blessed me.
I grew up in Nashville and went to a church where that sort of sacrifice-measuring was liable to happen. I go to a different church now. I am not sure what kind of sacrifice I would bring to Original Athena, if I were a Greek.
My friend from college asked me around Christmas if I had been to the Replica Parthenon in Nashville. I told him I had, though it had been some time. He asked me if I had been to the Original Parthenon, the one in Athens. I said I had not made it to that one.
As it turned out, she, my date, had been to the Original Parthenon. In the great foyer of the Replica Parthenon – is that the correct architectural term? Viewing area? Promenade? Mezzanine? – beneath the still, gilded greatness of Replica Athena, she showed me on her phone a picture of her standing in front of the Original Parthenon. She looked beautiful, sun-struck and smiling and Mediterranean.
Putting her phone away, she said, It’s closed now, to repair the facade. It’s so beautiful there. But that part of the world has a big problem with human trafficking.
I looked up and saw people posing for pictures in front of Replica Athena, their friends and family squatting and leaning at odd angles to capture the right mise-en-scène. I thought of the term structural integrity.
The Replica Parthenon was built, the museum exhibition space underneath Replica Athena’s domain told us, in Nashville as the main attraction at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, an event not unlike the World’s Fair, to showcase the promise Nashville had as a growing city after the Civil War. Nashville had already earned the nickname “the Athens of the South” due to the many colleges and universities in the area. The Parthenon was therefore the appropriate centerpiece of choice for the exposition.
I thought to myself, But wasn’t the Original Parthenon a religious building? Like a temple?
The Replica Parthenon is, we learned, designed to be as close a copy of the Original Parthenon as is scholarly possible, including the statue of Athena Parthenos, erected nearly a century after the Replica Parthenon was first constructed. The key difference, we learned, is that the Replica Parthenon used technology in its construction that would not have been available to the Greeks who built the Original Parthenon – molding and metals and composites the like.
She and I wandered among the columns and looked up at Replica Athena and her great big replica shield with the replica head of Replica Medusa as its centerpiece leaning against one side of her, while in her outstretched replica hand stood a gilded Replica Nike, wings thrown back in a dramatic victory pose. Words like fresco and stelae and DoricIonicCorinthian floated around vaguely in my head.
From a distance, the Replica Parthenon does not make tons of sense, accurately reproduced though it is. It looks a little funny in the middle of a park just west of downtown Nashville, a place not markedly known for classical architecture. Our “Athens of the South” moniker, meant to showcase our educational prowess, doesn’t exactly jive with the Original Parthenon’s religious purposes. Nashville is not known for its vast Greek population – I know only of the Greek Festival put on each year by the Greek Orthodox Church out on Franklin Road. And so I wonder now what exactly we’re supposed to be replicating here in Nashville in 2019 with our great big Replica Parthenon. Symbolic meaning meant to connect middle Tennessee with Classical Greece? I am not convinced.
But what does stand out to me is the very stand-outedness of the Replica Parthenon. Precisely because it doesn’t fit in, it works. The Original Parthenon, atop a great big hill, was also made to stand out. These acts of bigness exist precisely as such – to make us do less philosophizing and questioning and scrutinizing and to stand in wonder, to osmose the glory of bigness.
And in late December of 2018, with my date next to me, the bigness of Replica Athena inside the Replica Parthenon made me feel small, and made me want to stand closer to her, to feel connected in my smallness, to recognize my smallness within a different kind of bigness, something more immense and important than the world’s biggest bronze doors or a shield the size of a crash-landed UFO or a Replica Greek goddess towering over me, unaware of my existence.