The Stupendoleum: A Visitor’s Guide

By: Raleigh Drennon

Welcome to the Stupendoleum, the most ostentatious mausoleum and sepulchral monument known to recorded history. Unearthed in 1799 and used as a public defecation pit until 1923, it now stands fully restored in awesome testimony to the life of the monarch whose tomb is housed within, King Stupendicarchus of 4th-Century-B.C. Asia Minor.

This almost inconceivably large funerary monument was first described by Antipater of Sidon in his treatise “Affronts to the Gods” as “Affront to the Gods #1.” As Classics students may recall, the Stupendoleum collapsed under its own weight just three days after it was built. It is even more amazing, then, that this mighty necropolis appears before you now exactly as it did on the day of its completion more than two millennia ago — except for the massive, supporting framework of titanium girders. (Which are slightly radioactive.)

As you approach the Stupendoleum along the Grand Avenue, lined on either side by enormous statues of inscrutable sphinxes, ineffable monkey-faced elephants and incomprehensible winged platypuses, you’ll note that its grotesque scale really starts to hit home. It is this, the Stupendoleum’s shameless manifestation of hubris, that prompted Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger to write about it, Bruegel the Elder and Bruegel the Younger to paint it, and Frank Sinatra and Frank Sinatra Jr. to visit it.

As you can see, the exterior of the mausoleum is difficult to describe. It appears to be five gigantic, rectangular (?) colonnaded podiums stacked atop each other, crowned by a towering ziggurat of solid basalt, its walls crenellated with miniature ziggurats. This in turn is crowned by the gargantuan statues of Stupendicarchus and his far-from-beautiful queen, Preclampsia, in a ferret-drawn chariot, and these figures are themselves crowned by a large, stork-like seabird (possibly a stork) that just doesn’t seem to want to go away. [We have since determined the bird is also a statue — ed.]

Incorporating the worst of all ancient architectural traditions, the Stupendoleum is reminiscent of the stepped Pyramid of Zoser, the Palace of Sargon at Khorsabad, and a grossly oversized Stuckey’s. (An interesting side note: of the two or three manmade structures that can be seen from space, the Stupendoleum is the only one that astronauts refuse to look at.)

As you pass through the portico, please note the entrance gate flanked by two hideous, 50-foot colossi representing the ancient Etruscan twin demigods “Apathy” and “Petulance.”

Is your breath taken away? Then you have now surely entered the famous Hall of 1,000 Columns, a monumental hypostyle chamber (suffused with moderate levels of methane gas) consisting of 467 columns. All exposed surfaces are inscribed with a haphazard combination of hieroglyphics, cuneiform and Linear B, recounting Stupendicarchus’s weekly grocery lists for his entire reign. “Horrible to behold,” wrote Vitruvius, after beholding.

The stinging sensation you feel is a light acid rain that falls continuously from small, horrid clouds along the ceiling. Please make your way quickly (run) to the far end of the Hall (should take 25-30 minutes).

You now should find yourself at the entrance to the needlessly gigantic chamber containing the famous depiction, in freestanding marble statuary, of Stupendicarchus’s pilgrimage to Delphi. Moving from left to right, we first see the monarch, clad only in his trademark super-mini half-toga and coconut-husk helmet, putting a question to the oracle. In the next grouping of statues, the oracle cups her elbow and taps her cheek, formulating a response, while the king amuses himself with a yo-yo. Classical scholars have never determined exactly what the oracle’s answer was, but the next scene shows Stupendicarchus curled up in a fetal position inside a large pot, so obviously the news wasn’t good.

As you begin your trek down the kilometer-long, torch-lit passageway to the burial chamber, please avoid if possible the bottomless fissure at approximately the halfway point. Originally, the passage was to be lined with the flayed skins of vanquished foes, but since there was never any vanquishing, they just kept office supplies in here.

In truth, the reign of Stupendicarchus was never marked by even the smallest military victory or conquest, or any sort of achievement whatsoever. However, the king was described by ancient historian Philo of Byzantium as “fond of drink.”

In fact, Stupendicarchus’ sole triumph was in death. As is obvious from the shockingly massive burial tomb at which you are no doubt marveling this very moment. Inside lies the famed sarcophagus of white alabaster, encrusted with lapis lazuli and carved with nonsensical incantations from the Assyrian Pamphlet of the Defunct, the book that was Stupendicarchus’s spiritual guide throughout his life and was said to have brought him great comfort and peace of mind. The lid of this mighty stone coffin is formed by a sculpture of the great king himself, his hands folded serenely over his chest, each clutching a baby rattle, his death mask forever frozen in an expression that most describe as abject, craven terror.

So what can be said, ultimately, about the Stupendoleum, and by extension, the nature of time and the profound sweep of eternity? When one contemplates this grossly disproportionate shrine to the banal life of a minor ancient monarch, and the outrageous costs, financial and human, of reconstructing it, we hope you will not neglect to visit our gift shop. And come again soon!


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