The Athens Area
by Paul V. Hartman
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Athens, Georgia is named for the city in Greece to which we attribute the original democracy, a government of elected wise men. And that city derived its name from the Goddess Athena, the favorite daughter of Zeus, she emerging fully formed from his head, rather than from another female. The Greeks would regard her as the Goddess of Wisdom, War, Arts, and Justice. As became the pattern in Greece (and repeated by the Romans), each god and goddess would have multiple characteristics to represent.
The statue pictured here (click on it to enlarge) is an original sculpture by Jean Westmacott, commissioned by the city of Athens, Georgia. It stands on a pedestal in the patio fronting the Classic Center, which is the town's arts and theater center, and venue for large conventions. This Athena (*) lacks the familiar spear (*2) - her right hand instead grasps her gown or cloak - but she does hold her shield. It is the most attractive interpretation of Athena that I have seen (I would have kept the spear), and I am happy it resides here in my home town.
This small city is located 60 miles east and slightly north of Atlanta, and sits at the base of the Smoky Mountains. It exists because in 1785 the University of Georgia began its existence there. It is one of the few towns in Georgia spared by the famous "march to the sea" conducted by General Sherman during the Civil War, and many antebellum homes in Athens survived that war. Most of them, interestingly enough, are, today, fraternity and sorority houses on the campus of UGA.
The university hosts 34,000 undergraduates, several hundred graduate students, and the rest of the community numbers about 100,000, including the tiny towns which surround Athens in close proximity. In that regard it reminded me of Atlantic City of similar size in which I grew up, as the size is large enough to permit privacy and anonymity, and small enough to be able to run into acquaintances with more than an expected frequency.
There is a Yale connection. Evidently a Yale graduate named Abraham Baldwin is credited with founding the University of Georgia in 1785, thus becoming its first president. In 1923, the Yale Bulldogs football team played host in New Haven to a Georgia team which at the time had a goat as a mascot. Yale won 40 to nothing, and Georgia elected to take "Bulldogs" as its new mascot. Somewhere along the way, however, the name went from Bulldogs to Dawgs.
Athens has an elevation of from 600 to 800 feet above mean sea level, and, being nestled at the southern tip of the Smoky Mountains, enjoys milder summers and winters than even nearby Atlanta. Mean temperature for January, the coldest month, is 43 degrees F., and for July, the warmest month, 79 degrees F. Average rainfall is 50 inches.
Athens has a daily newspaper, the Athens Banner Herald, and an independent student newspaper, the Red and Black. The persuasion is decidely liberal Democrat, with more than a tint of socialism. The Atlanta paper is even worse. But there is always the Internet.
There are six local radio stations and two University radio stations, WUOG-FM and WUGA-FM. One cable company delivers television throughout the greater Athens area.
Two hospitals offer comprehensive health care: Athens Regional Medical Center, and St. Mary's Hospital, and the medical community consists of 300 physicians in all disciplines.
There are more than 80 churches in the area, and all faiths are represented.
Athens has more than 150 restaurants, from the elegant to the casual. However, most are "taverns with food", because booze flows freely in this college town. There are 24 movie screens (and maybe more, by the time you read this) and several local theater production companies, in addition to an extensive program of cultural activities at both the University of Georgia and the new Athens Community Civic Center. Motion picture production companies are also fond of the Athens extended area. All of these are part of the reason this little city has won distinction as either a "good place to live and raise children", and a "good place to retire."
Athens residents enjoy a varied program of sports activites. Athens was the site of some of the 1996 Olympic games (Soccer, Volley Ball, and some gymnastics) and the University of Georgia football games are usually sell-outs. Georgia has also fielded excellent teams in Gymnastics, Basketball, Baseball, and Tennis. Athens has frequently been the site for the NCAA tennis championships. There are five golf courses in the area, and many others within a short drive.
The topography is "hilly", with many tall hills to challenge walkers and bikers. A river runs through it: the Oconee River winds gently through Athens on its way through the Oconee National Forest to the large Lake Oconee, a popular boat and vacation home location for residents of Athens and Atlanta.
Athens is 1 hour from the South Carolina border, less than 2 hours to the Tennessee border, 2 hours from Augusta, and 4 hours from Savannah, Hilton Head, and other locations along the sea coast.
With a temperate climate, outdoor living is possible every month except perhaps January and February, although even in these two coldest months the temperature may still get into the 70's on occasion. Athens is a delightful place to live and work, and a nice community in which to raise children.
* The helmet on Greek statues is often tilted backward to reveal the face. No god, goddess, or hero wore it this way in battle. As in Athena's case, you can see the eye holes in the top of the helmet. The Greeks did their sculpture this way (as in the many examples of Pericles), the Romans did not.
*2 Athens, Georgia, being a college town, is absurdly Liberal. Though they teach history, they are quite ignorant of the fact that freedom is obtained by winning a battle against an oppressive dictator or government. Thus, you get a statue commissioned of the Goddess of War without a weapon. If you also live in a college town, you are aware of this unique pathology.