Rome, Italy

Considering how often people misuse common words like there and their, it should come as little surprise that this becomes even more of a problem with less common terms. It becomes even more confusing when these terms tend to be used under the same kind of context, as is the case with pantheon and Parthenon.

I will admit that, leading up to our trip through Europe earlier this year, I had the bad habit of using “Parthenon” and “pantheon” almost interchangeably. And that would be entirely incorrect, because while they are both terms that typically refer to a temple, they do not have the exact same meaning.

The word pantheon can be understood under several circumstances. It can be the word that you use to describe all the gods of a particular mythology as a collective unit. Literally translated from the Latin or Greek, pantheon means “every god.” This also leads to the word beings used in a figurative sense. On Iron Chef America, host Alton Brown refers to the five iron chefs as “a veritable pantheon of culinary giants.”

Extending beyond this, a pantheon can also refer to a temple or building that is dedicated to all the gods of that particular mythology, as opposed to the various temples that may be erected to worship one particular god or another. This can be expanded beyond the worship of deities to include the heroes or leaders of a particular group. That’s how we arrive at the Iron Chef America introduction.

When you take the lower-case “pantheon” and capitalize the first letter, the Pantheon refers to a specific building in Rome. It has the typical Roman pillars in the front, but the actual temple behind that is circular and domed. It’s the Roman Pantheon that you see pictured above. Remember when I wrote about L’Angoletto Romano Ristorante some time back? That restaurant was near the Pantheon. Curiously, there is also a Panthéon in Paris, located in the Latin Quarter.

The Parthenon, on the other hand, is a different specific building. It is not circular, it is not domed and it is not located in Rome. Instead, the Parthenon is a temple in Greece. Located on the Acropolis of Athens, it is a temple that is dedicated to the maiden goddess Athena. She is the patron goddess of the city of Athens. The building is rectangular in shape and it currently serves as a tourist attraction and museum. The word Parthenon originates from the Greek term for “unmarried women’s apartments” and acropolis refers to an “edge city” or “city on the edge.”

Taken as simply as possible, the Parthenon is the Ancient Greek temple dedicated to Athena, while the Pantheon is the Ancient Roman temple originally dedicated to all gods.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 topic? Do let me know by commenting below!