Nashville has been many things: frontier town, Civil War battleground, New South mecca, and Music City, U.S.A. It is headquarters for several religious denominations, and also the home of some of the largest insurance, healthcare, and publishing concerns in the country. Located culturally as well as geographically between North and South, East and West, Nashville is centered in a web of often-competing contradictions.
One binding image of civic identity, however, has been consistent through all of Nashville's history: the classical Greek and Roman ideals of education, art, and community participation that early on led to the city's sobriquet, "Athens of the West," and eventually, with the settling of the territory beyond the Mississippi River, the "Athens of the South."
Illustrated with nearly a hundred archival and contemporary photographs, Classical Nashville shows how Nashville earned that appellation through its adoption of classical metaphors in several areas: its educational and literary history, from the first academies through the establishment of the Fugitive movement at Vanderbilt; the classicism of the city's public architecture, including its Capitol and legislative buildings; the evolution of neoclassicism in homes and private buildings; and the history and current state of the Parthenon, the ultimate symbol of classical Nashville, replete with the awe-inspiring 42-foot statue of Athena by sculptor Alan LeQuire.
Perhaps Nashville author John Egerton best captures the essence of this modern city with its solid roots in the past. He places Nashville "somewhere between the 'Athens of the West' and 'Music City, U.S.A.,' between the grime of a railroad town and the glitz of Opryland, between Robert Penn Warren and Robert Altman." Nashville's classical identifications have always been forward-looking, rather than antiquarian: ambitious, democratic, entrepreneurial, and culturally substantive. Classical Nashville celebrates the continuation of classical ideals in present-day Nashville, ideals that serve not as monuments to a lost past, but as sources of energy, creativity, and imagination for the future of a city.