Nowadays roofing construction and the roofing business can seem mundane and often quite a hassle for those who have to deal with roof repairs or roof replacement. While that, in fact, may have always been the case throughout history, roofing does play a key role in a few tales across time, from mythological, to historical, to mundane. In the next few posts we will look at interesting ways that roofing has come up in ancient mythology and history while contextualizing these snapshots for those who may not be quite so familiar with tales from antiquity.
One of the world’s earliest works of literature is an epic poem in ancient Greek attributed to the fabled bard Homer. It is unclear whether an actual person named Homer existed who was associated with the poetry attributed to him, but two epic poems do survive from around 800-700 BCE that become foundational for world literature, particularly in Europe: the Iliad and the Odyssey. These two poems were part of what is called the Trojan cycle, which included several other narrative poems that no longer survive. They narrate events surrounding the Trojan War, a major event in Greek mythology. While the Iliad is a narrative of events surrounding the tenth year of the war, focusing on Achilles, the greatest of the Greek heroes, the Odyssey is a story of another hero’s wandering and return home after the war. Here we will address one particular, and very famous, episode in the Odyssey that involves roofs.
In book 10 (of 24) in the Odyssey, the main character, Odysseus, tells a story about his travels when he is addressing the Phaeacians, a people who welcomed him toward the end of his 10 years of travels (during which he was trying to make it home after fighting on the Greek side in the Trojan War and being instrumental in capturing the city of Troy—he was the architect behind the plan of the Trojan horse). Participating in the ancient, revered art of storytelling, a major theme in the Odyssey, Odysseus tells about how in his travels he and his men accidentally landed on the island of Aeaea, ruled by Circe, after a series of unfortunate events that involved the likes of the Cyclops and the Laestrygonians—a mythological race of boulder wielding cannibals. In Greek mythology Circe was the daughter of the god Apollo and a witch. Odysseus sent half his men to explore the island, and Circe promptly turned them into pigs by feeding them magic food, allowing one to report back to Odysseus (a folktale motif—don’t eat food in mysterious places ruled by mysterious women). Odysseus sets out to rescue his men, and he is assisted by the god Hermes, who gives him a special flower (moly) that keeps Circe’s magical food from transforming Odysseus into a pig. When Odysseus confronts Circe, she tries to turn him into a pig anyway, but he threatens her with his sword, and she sleeps with him instead (that’s definitely how that works). Circe turns the pigs back into men, and Odysseus spends a year with her. They have a son, Telegonus, who in some versions of the myth (not the Odyssey) decades later kills his father. After a year, Odysseus decides to leave, but Circe tells him to go check out the Underworld first.
The night before the journey, Odysseus and his men are invited to a banquet by Circe, who now serves as their hostess. During this banquet, using her witchy powers, Circe advises Odysseus that in order to find his way back home to Ithaca (his goal), he must consult the famed prophet Tiresias. Unfortunately, at this point Tiresias is dead. Thus, Circe instructs Odysseus on how to reach a gateway to the Greek underworld, Hades, and how there to summon the shades of the dead, particularly Tiresias, in order to get his advice. Odysseus plans to set out on this fact-finding mission immediately the next morning. Yet, also during this banquet, Odysseus’ youngest comrade, Elpenor, gets very drunk and decides to spend the night sleeping on the roof of Circe’s house.
The next morning, setting out for their journey to the Underworld, Odysseus and his men notice that Elpenor is missing. Deciding that they do not have the time to search for him, they board their ship and sail to the west (the general direction of the underworld in ancient mythology across the world). Having reached the most western lands, beyond the limits of the world (in ancient Greek mythological understanding), Odysseus proceeds to dig a giant pit to the underworld with his sword—doubtless the best instrument for this—and then he conducts the ritual (involving libations of water, milk and honey, wine, and then animal blood) to summon the shades of the dead, including Tiresias.
Before he can speak to Tiresias, however, Odysseus is confronted by the shade of Elpenor. After a short conversation, Odysseus learns from Elpenor that unbeknownst to the rest of the men, Elpenor was not just missing, but dead. He woke up on the roof the morning after the banquet and, forgetting where he was, in his confusion, fell off the roof, breaking his neck. Elpenor begs Odysseus to return to Aeaea and bury his body, since otherwise he cannot enter the underworld and proceed with the afterlife. Odysseus agrees to do so, and in fact does just that after returning to Aeaea following his conversation with the other shades of the underworld, allowing Elpenor’s shade to pass into the underworld.
If you are interested in ancient tales, stay tuned for the next post!
If you have any questions about roofs, we would be happy to help you out. Florida’s Best Roofing, Inc. is a fully licensed (CCC 1325974) and insured, local roofing contractor with decades of experience. If you are interested in roof replacement or repair and you are in the Palm Coast, Flagler, or Volusia area, please give us a call at 386-263-7906 for a free estimate!