The tumulus and the remus – Elpenore

Written by Carlo Gallone 

Elpenore – One of Odysseus’ companions who were transformed by Circe into pigs. Resumed human form, the night before the departure, Elpenore fell asleep on the roof of the building. Getting up to the call of Odysseus, he moved, forgot where he was, and crashed, breaking his neck (Odyssey, X, 550 ss.). 

His shadow was the first to meet Odysseus in Hades and begged him to give pitiful burial to his body, which in the haste of the preparations had been left unburied (Odyssey, XI, 54 ss.), Which the hero did on his return to the island of Circe placing an oar of his ship on the grave (Odyssey, XII, 7 ss.). Book 10th


A Elpenor there was, what the great age of 550
after the others apologize, just in arms
Strong, neither too aware of mind
Warm good licore, irrigossi waves,
is divided from the others, and the palace
I will Corcó, to cool off , on the top. 555

Heard the sound of the departure, and the motion,
Rise back suddenly, and, for the long
Staircase back descend, bending,
Mosse peak over the roof, and fell 560
from above: the neck to the nodes
The shattered , and the soul flew to Dite.

Book Eleventh

   First the soul came of Elpenore, our companion …
I cried, seeing him here, pity I felt in my heart: 55
and so I turned to him, saying to him alate words:
“How did you come, Elpenore, in this gloomy haze?
First you walk, you have come, that I over the negro naviglio “.
So I told him; and he, weeping, replied to me:
“Ulysses, or Laertes divine most treacherous son, 60 I have been
 crushed by 
a demon, he has ruined me, and the strength of the wine
Asleep I was in Circe’s house and on the point
of coming away, I forgot on which side the ladder descended:
moved from the opposite side, already swooped from the roof, and the neck
he cut me into the vertebrae, and the spirit descended to Hades. 65

Now, for your loved ones, who are far away, I pray you
for your bride, for the father, who has nourished you little one,
and for Telemachus, only left by you in the palace,
since I know that, starting from here, from the houses d’Averno, you
will head again the bow to the Eea island. 70

I pray you that you remind me of me, O lord,
so that, leaving, without a sepulcher, I will not leave you,
without the least … 

Book Twelfth

… where are the quarters and the houses
of Aurora that rises in the morning, whence also the sun rises … 
   of my companions some of Circe to the house I sent,
that brought the body of Elpenore off. And, cut 10

straight trunks, where more jutted into the sea beach,
we buried him heartfelt, pingendo bitter tears.
Now then the dead man and the dead man’s weapons were burned, we 
   built a mound, we raised a stela on it,

   and we confined, at the top of the mound, an agile oar 15 [1]


The sepulcher of Elpenore

In ancient sources the Circeo is closely linked to the image of Circe: the Greek myth of Odysseus and Circe, located in Lazio by the Greeks at the latest in the sixth century BC. and well known to the Latins thanks to the Hellenic sailors who touched the Circeo and the other landings of the Lazio coast, had already been made by the latter at least since the fourth century BC, already before 314 A.C., when Teofrasto remembers as a local tradition the presence on the Circeo promontory of the sepulcher of Elpenore where, around it, the coronary myrtles grew out of a fantastic human form:

Theophrastus (371 a.Cr – 287 a.Cr.): “Circejum, ajunt excelsum quoddam esse Promontorium spissis memoribus consitum, maxime, true robor, laurel, myrtle, Insolas autem Circum habitasse perbibere, ostendita Elpenoris tumulum, ex quo proveniant mirti, coronarii operis in modum cescentes, locumque eum ferunt homines habere figuram . [2]

The presence of myrtle trees on the so-called Elpenore tomb is also documented in the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder in the imperial era:

Gaius Plinius Second (23 CE – 79 AD): “… This tree in Europe, under the coldest sky, which starts from the Cimera mountains, the first was seen in Circeo in the burial of Elpenore and he also retains the Greek name, and is well known, as he is a foreign tree. ” [3]

He also speaks of Giovongo in his satires: “… credirerim aut tenui percussum verbere Circes et cum remigibus grunnisse Elpenora porcis …”.

Obviously the figure of Elpenore is legendary. His sepulcher must be understood, in all likelihood, as a pre-Roman construction, probably a tholos, that the natives of the place have already associated in the Roman era with the unfortunate companion of Ulysses.

Where exactly is this sepulcher? 

A first representation and location of the sepulcher is clearly indicated in a map of Abraham Ortelius of 1595 reproduced in 1670. The archaeological remains are clearly placed in the fourth municipal in an area between Torre Fico and the Historical Center.  

Suspect: 41°13’52.6″N 13°05’13.3″E

In the map of Sebastiano Cipriani of 1720 instead, remains of sepulchres are shown approximatively between the towers Cervia and Ficowith the following words: “Tombs which are claimed to be from Elpenore and other comrades of Odysseus”.

 In this area of the promontory conventionally it is believed that a Roman cistern, probably known to Petit-Radel, is the sepulcher of Elpenore which corresponds to the hermitage of the Most Holy Savior today restored a cappella. 

Louis CF Petit-Radel (1841) claims to be aware of the sepulcher from a note by M.Grongnet, a monument with an area of ??about 12 square meters (probably the current Savior). [5] More recent researchers such as Thomas Ashby and Giuseppe Lugli, like others, have not been able to trace the current location of the tomb.


Copy of Ortelius 1670


Sebastino Cipriani 1720 (precise)


Finally Giuseppe Capponi (1856) places the sepulcher in the space between Torre Cervie and the Grotta delle Capre: “I do not forget to note that in the topographic maps of the Circeo Promontory also found at the time of Poniatowsky are designated for sepulchres which are claimed may be of Elpenore and other companions of Ulysses the different ancient ruins existing in the slope of the Mount, above the destroyed tower Cervia up to the cave of the goats “. [7]


Our theory

Based on some nineteenth-century representations and other elements in our possession, we can theorize that the Sepulcher of Elpenore is actually a Greek (or Etruscan) tomb currently located within the Aguet property.
Taking as a reference the map of Ortelius is the note by Philippe Cluvier (1600 ca.) in which he claims that the tomb is placed Sub ipso oppido S. Felicis
 , we have obtained a temporary map of the site area (on the side).
In support of this hypothesis the relationship of the Prince of Arsoli (1839) relating to Gregory XVI’s visit to the Circeo is suggestive: “His Holiness the evening of the day following his arrival in San Felice, day, which was used by the Holy Father visit with his entourage the surrounding of the palace, having gone around 14 hours to walk in the adjoining villa (Aguet ex Poniatowski), which extends in the form of an amphitheater to the shore of the sea, and where in a gracious casino manufactured by Prince Poniatowsky a lavish breakfast was prepared for his Holiness and for the court, the lower the Holy Father stopped in a niche called the Occhio di bove
, which for its construction all the time makes a portentous echo, and the opening of which presents to the eye a picturesque view of immense extension by sea and land. “Could this” Eye of Bove “be the reality the sepulcher to circular form (tholos) of Elpenore
Local sources instead claim that the Eye of Bove is actually a Roman cistern diruta.


Illustration of the Tomb of Elpenore in Monte Circeo 1850


Tomb at Tholos of Pilo of Messenia
(as was the Sepulcher of Elpeneor at the end of the 19th century)


An Etruscan tomb?

Les tombeaux de l’ancienne Italie présentent une assez grande variété, à cause des rites particuliers aux populations here if sont établies dans la contrée: Aux temps les plus anciens de l’époque des métaux, dit M. Conestabile (Revue archéologique, octobre et November 1874), the usage de l’incinération prédominait dans les rites et pratiques funéraires de la plupart des populations italiques, ainsi que de certaines tribus gréco-primitives ou pélasgiques, dont les fouilles ont constaté les traces en Italie (pré-étrusques) . Les preuves de ces faits nous sont fournies par l’ensemble déjà très abondant des urnes cinéraires here sont sorties des cimetières d’Albe la Longue (Latium), de Chiusi, de Felsina and d’autres points de l’Italie. Pour les Étrusques, c’est au contraire the inhumation here prévalait dans les usages de la nation;
D’après the opinion the plus répandue aujourd’hui parmi les archéologues, the habitude d’inhumer les morts evening venue de Lydie, dont les Étrusques sont originaires.
Malgré les différences qu’on trouve dans les tombeaux étrusques, on peut, au point de vue de l’architecture, les classer en deux grandes catégories: ceux qui ont des constructions en saillie et ceux qui sont adossés aux rochers; la chambre funéraire est toujours souterraine.

Les constructions coniques sont les plus nombreuses; on peut en voir the disposition intérieure sur figure 496, and the forms extérieure sur les figures 497 et 498 Ce sont simplement des tumuli contenant une chambre funéraire souterraine et recouverts extérieure, par un revêtement en pierre. Est impossible d’assigner une dates, même approximative, à ces monuments. Ils n’appartiennent pas tous a la même époque, and the mode of construction peut aider à reconnaître ceux qui sont plus anciens que les autres. Ainsi le tombeau dit d’Elpénor (fig.499) parait fort ancien, d’après la manière irrégulière dont les pierres ont été taillés.

The conical structures are more numerous. These are simply mounds containing an underground burial chamber and externally covered by a stone cladding. It is impossible to assign a date, even an approximate one, to these monuments. They do not belong at the same time, and the construction method can help identify those that are older than others. Thus the tomb called Elpenore (below), looks very old, according to the irregular way in which the stones were cut. 


1. Translation by Ettore Romagnoli
2. Onorio Pace, The Palace of the Volsci divided into 2 books, 1713
3. Natural history of Gaius Plinius Second divided into thirty-seven books, translated by Ludovico Domenichi, 1561
4. L. Quilici – S. Quilici Gigli, The shape of the city and of the territory vol. 2, 2005
5. Petit-Radel, Recherches sur les monuments cyclopéens, 1841
7. Giuseppe Capponi, Il Circeo Promontory, 1856
-. Encyclopedia Treccani 

agg.3 03.12.2002
13 April 2013 | agg.4


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Original text


Elpenore, Circe e Ulisse in un bronzo etrusco

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