How Did Tempe Get Its Name?
The town was named Tempe in 1879. "Lord" Darrell Duppa, an Englishman who helped establish Phoenix, is credited with suggesting the name. The sight of the butte, the wide river, and the nearby expanse of green fields reminded him of the Vale of Tempe in ancient Greece.
What is the Vale of Tempe?
A vale is a valley with a stream or river running through it. The Vale of Tempe, or “Tembi” in Greek, lies at the foot of Mount Olympus, home of the Greek Gods. The goddess-huntress Artemis resided in the Vale of Tempe, often joined by her brother, Apollo, and it was a favorite locale of many of the Greek Gods in legend, due to its dramatic scenery. In fact, the laurel used in wreaths to crown the victors in the Pythian Games at Delphi was traditionally collected from the banks of the river Peneus that winds through the Vale of Tempe.
"Vale” is a deceptive term, since the Vale of Tempe is only five miles long and more closely resembles a gorge at points, bordered by sheer rock cliffs. It eventually opens into a wide plain. These characteristics made the Vale of Tempe of strategic importance, since it was one of only a few northern entrances to Thessaly, an ancient Greek city-state.
Click here to read quotes from nineteenth century literature referring to the Vale of Tempe.
Why Draw a Comparison?
Greek mythology was only the first of many literary references to the Vale of Tempe as a rugged, yet idyllic and beautiful locale. Virgil, Pliny, and Livy included detailed descriptions of the Vale of Tempe in their writings. The various ruins of temples, fortresses and castles in the Vale have only added to the romantic nature and imagery of the Vale of Tempe over time.
In the nineteenth century, landscape designers created “sacred Greek gardens” patterned on the Vale of Tempe. Literature and art of the same period often used the Vale of Tempe either as a setting or as a reference for supreme beauty, whether natural, physical or spiritual. Even celebrated American author Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to Tempe in his Essays on Spiritual Laws.
“Lord” Duppa was very much a citizen of the nineteenth century, well-read, with a fondness for the dramatic. Whether he had ever seen the Vale of Tempe is unknown, but we can be certain he had read many references to its scenery. Knowing this, it is understandable why he made the association.