Thursday, May 23, 2019

Tennessee Classical Road Trip

After more than twenty years of teaching the Odyssey and the Aeneid – epic tales of meandering journeys across the ancient Mediterranean – I thought that it was time for an odyssey of my own. While I would someday love to retrace the actual footsteps of Odysseus and / or Aeneas, with visits to modern-day places such as Turkey, Tunisia, Sardinia, and Crete, for this expedition, I decided on a more practical and convenient itinerary: a tour of a dozen places in Tennessee whose names were inspired by classical Greece and Rome.

According to Larry Miller, author of Tennessee Place Names (2001), there are more than three dozen places in Tennessee whose names are derived from classical antiquity. Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit all of them. This is the itinerary I followed:

Day One: Troy, Paris*, Parthenon, Parnassus
Day Two: Castalian Springs, Rome, Carthage, Sparta, Aetna Mountain
Day Three: Athens, Tusculum, Pactolus

*I had initially planned to visit the community of Ephesus. After my GPS directed me to turn on to yet another one-lane gravel road in the middle of nowhere, however, I decided to travel to Paris, instead.

Even in the most isolated areas of rural Tennessee, the influential legacy of the ancient Greeks and Romans is present. The optimistic founders of these communities arrived into an untamed wilderness and imagined something more . . . something more civilized, more sophisticated, more classical. Although some of their expansive hopes and dreams never came to full fruition, they looked back to the language and culture of ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration, and they tried to use this knowledge to build a strong foundation for the future.

Ryan Sellers
Latin Teacher
Memphis University School
Summer 2019