Indiana State University Newsroom

Time travel: Students visit ancient Greece

October 8, 2013

Katie Ash stood with 29 other Indiana state University students and gazed up and up at the golden-clad, ivory-bodied Athena, who stared imperiously ahead with Nike, the winged goddess of victory, held in her right hand.

"We knew it was big, but we didn't know it was that big," said the sophomore nursing major from Alexandria, Ind. "It was massive."

Seeing the 42-foot 10-inch statue dominate the inside of the replica Parthenon in Nashville, Tenn., brought ancient Greece to life for the students.

"It helps me understand really how amazing the Greeks were," Ash said.

Marilyn Bisch, Latin instructor, and Steven Stofferahn, associate professor of history, transported their students to Greece via the replica, which shows how the temple of Athena would have appeared to Greeks in 438 B.C.

"If there's one symbol of Athens in the fifth century, all the good and bad, it's the Parthenon," Bisch said."This is a way to enhance their experiences," Stofferahn said. "In teaching about Greece, the Parthenon serves as an ideal touchstone. Students have a general awareness about it, but once we get into the details, there is so much more to learn."

A domestic travel grant from Indiana State's Center for Community Engagement provided the funds to take students from their classes in Classical Cultures of Greece and Rome, Advanced Latin and Ancient History on the one-day field trip to see what the Parthenon resembled before its explosion into ruins during a 1687 battle between the Venetians and the Turks.

"It gives students a chance to see a classical spectacle," Stofferahn said, adding it can be difficult to have field trips to visit ancient historical sites. "Ancient temples were meant to overwhelm and impress. That's certainly true for the Parthenon, both then and now."

Written about in poetry and ancient travel guides, the 58-columned Parthenon has long inspired and awed travelers, whole and in ruins. In 1896, as Nashville, then known as the Athens of the South for the number of schools located there, prepared for the Tennessee Grand Centennial Exposition, organizers decided to construct the Parthenon. While other buildings erected for the exposition were torn down afterward, the Parthenon continued to enthrall visitors. In 1920, the city began an 11-year journey of making the building more permanent. Builders closely followed writings, descriptions and art to recreate the former Temple of Athena and Athens treasury.

"In some ways, this one is better than the old one," Bisch said. "In terms of seeing what the Athenians of the fifth century had in mind, this is better than the ruins they have in Athens."

After a guided tour of the building, Bisch led a discussion of the building's construction, Greek legends and art.

"These are?" she said gesturing to the giant fluted columns without bases that support the building.

"Doric," replied numerous students.

She continued quizzing the students about their construction, bringing their book knowledge into the darkened recreated temple.

"It helps me to get a better understanding of the Greek culture," said Taiwo Oshun, a junior criminal justice and criminology major from Chicago, about touring the Parthenon replica.

Seeing plaster casts of the marble friezes that formerly graced the Parthenon in Greece and now on display in the British Museum, helped freshman Jeremiah Edwards learn more about Greece and its myths. Though he had heard the story of Athena's birth - springing fully grown from Zeus' head - and the legend of how Athens came to be, he had forgotten them until he saw them brought to life in plaster.

"I know that I will retain them now," said the nursing major from New Albany. "You get hands-on experience. You can learn more by seeing them than by just visualizing and hearing about them in class."

From learning about the Parthenon in class and seeing the replica, Ash now has a goal to gaze upon the ruins.

"I'd like to go to Greece one day," she said.

Photos: Indiana State student at the Parthenon in Nashville. ISU Photo/Jennifer Sicking State students see how many it takes to stretch around the Parthenon's columns. ISU Photo/Jennifer Sicking State students gaze up the statue of Athena in the Parthenon. ISU Photo/Jennifer Sicking

Contact:Marilyn Bisch, Indiana State University, Latin instructor, at or 812-237-8272Steven Stofferahn, Indiana State University, associate professor of history, at or 812-2372721

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at or 812-237-7972