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THE VIOLET CROWN

ANCIENT ATHENS AND MODERN AUSTIN

WHAT IS THE
VIOLET CROWN?

The phrase “City of the Violet Crown” refers to two cities, one ancient and one modern:

 

Ancient Athens

In one of the surviving fragments (64) the lyric poet Pindar wrote of Athens “City of light, with thy violet crown, beloved of the poets, thou art the bulwark of Greece.” The climate of Athens is characterized by low humidity and a high percentage of dust in the air, which make sunsets display hues of violet and purple and the surrounding mountains often appear immersed in a purple haze.

 

Modern Austin

During the 19th century, residents began to call Austin the “Athens of the South” due to the aspirations of its University. Pursuant to this, similar purple sunsets in the region, and the poetry of Pindar, Austin became the modern era’s City of the Violet Crown. The phrase first appeared in The Austin Daily Statesman (Now the Austin American Statesman) on May 5th, 1890. While humidity levels are higher in Austin than in Athens, global wind patterns bring dust into the region high in the atmosphere giving local sunsets that same violet and purple hue.

 

The Crown and the Necklace

The atmospheric phenomenon is that of an anti-twilight arch visible shortly before sunrise or after sunset near the point opposite the sun when a purple glow appears above the horizon. Sunlight is refracted by the fine particles high in the atmosphere with the color being due to the backscatter of reddening light from the rising or setting Sun.

As twilight progresses, the arch of color, or violet crown, is separated from the horizon by the dark band of Earth’s shadow. The common name for this dark band is the Necklace of Aphrodite or Belt of Venus, respectively the Ancient Greek and Roman Goddesses of Love. In this necklace or band was kept the power over the heart.

The greatest elongation (separation) between the planet Venus and the Sun is only 46 degrees, so the namesake planet, even when visible, is never located opposite the Sun relative to the Earth, and hence never in the Belt of Venus. The reference to Venus therefore is not astronomical, rather purely symbolic or allegorical in equating the eternal beauty of the Earth’s twilight and that of the ancient gods who once inhabited those heavens, albeit in all their intense humanity.

The amphitheater sits on the western slope of one of the highest elevations in the region surrounded by dark and still nature preserves. With most shows beginning to seat around twilight, the colorful Central Texas sunsets will be on display with the Crown and Necklace playing out in the mind’s eye, if one knows what to look for, as they have done every evening for millions, if not billions, of years.

violet crown amphitheater entrance