At the Cabin


The lady realtor chatted during the thirty minute drive to the property but fell silent when her red SUV hit the gravel road that lead up the mountain. Jack wondered if all Ozark realtors drove SUVs. Maybe having to show properties off the beaten path it was a natural choice. The architect volunteered to open the gates at the perimeter of the property and the realtor handed him the key as soon as she stopped in front of heavy-duty dual gates. After the SUV passed through the gates the architect stepped off the width of the opening, checking to learn if large trucks could get through - they could.

The architect and Jack inspected the property and then the two looked at one another, smiled and nodded in agreement.

 "This is it." said Jack.

 Although the cabin was located a bit higher on a small bluff there was a patch about the size of a football field to the north of the cabin with an unobstructed view of the valley - not one man made object could be seen below. At the west end of the patch was a hollow with a small waterfall. The realtor said the waterfall was "year round."

The log cabin was almost an afterthought to the prospective buyers, but it proved to be a serviceable two bedroom, two bath affair with a large living-dining space and a porch with a view of the valley and the waterfall. A well provided water and solar panels produced electricity.

The realtor later remarked that this was the easiest closing of her career; no quibbling, no caveats, and the check for the full amount cleared the bank.

The architect took several pictures of the property and said he would have preliminary site plans in a few weeks. Jack and the architect were back in Little Rock for another night at the architect's home.

When gods and humans mingled

The Rage of Achilles (detail)
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

After dinner, the architect and his wife, a professional musician, and Jack made themselves comfortable in the living room. The architect poured three cognacs, served them on a wooden tray, then sat down next to his wife and said, "Alright, come clean.  If I'm to design a building knowing the function is mandatory; why are we building a classical tholos in the Oklahoma Ozarks? 

Jack took a deep breath. "Bear with me. At the beginning of the Iliad, as Achilles drew his sword to attack Agamemnon Athena swept down from the heavens, grabbed Achilles by his hair and ordered him to check his rage and stop the fighting. Achilles obeyed. Contrast that with Odysseus' homecoming, where he is at first unable to even recognize Athena when she appears to him."

"Slowly the gods retreated from human activity. Parallel to the fading gods are the changes in ritual sacrifice thought to placate the gods. Many primitive societies offered human sacrifice. Aztec society springs to mind where still-beating hearts were offered to the god. Even in Greek society there are ancient stories of human sacrifice.  One myth had Zeus casting thunderbolts at the Titans for eating the heart of the child Dionysus. This eventually changed to blood sacrifice of cattle, sheep, and even chickens, followed by a ritual meal of the cooked meat. There was one exception in the Greek world, the Pythagoreans, called the Pure, rejected all fleshy food and respected only altars not stained by blood. Being good vegans they offered to the gods cakes made from grain or honeycombs, which were burned at their altars."

"The next big switch comes with Christianity where the lamb of God becomes the sacrifice and the flesh and blood of the god is consumed at the altar by humans. A modification or addition to the ritual was made in the church through the beauty of the Gothic cathedrals, the light through the stained glass reinforced the belief that the godhead could also be approached through beauty. Unfortunately the church overdid it and beauty was overcome by opulence. The church constructed St Peter's and the Protestants kicked back at opulence, wine into blood, and also turned the altar into a table. Unfortunately they also discarded beauty and art. In many places during the Reformation even destroying the stained glass church windows and church pipe organs. I sometimes joke that the Protestant contribution to art has been the color beige and red brick churches."

The musician adds,"So, at first the gods wanted human blood, then animal blood, then they gave us blood, and finally they  opted for art. Bach said everything he wrote was for the glory of God. As western civilization matured the offerings we make became more refined."

The architects then asked,"So you're planning to make an offering to the gods of our best cultural artifacts."

"Only replicas of our best art, no bonfire of the vanities has been indicated.  By the way I am guessing this request has been extended to other cultures. If there is a Japanese counterpart, he will not think tholos, as their tradition is a bit different. For example in Japan there is the Grand Shrine at Ise dedicated to the worship of Amaterasu-Ômikami, the sun goddess. The Inner Shrine, Naikū, contains the sacred mirror of the goddess, one of the three great treasures of Japan. Part of the enthronement ceremony for a new emperor involves the Daijosai, or ''great food-offering ritual.'' The new Emperor goes through elaborate purification ceremonies, offers specially consecrated rice and other foods to the deities, tastes them himself and spends part of the night in a primitive temporary structure to commune with the goddess. During the night he may or may not have direct experience with the goddess. The Japanese are very guarded about any state visit by the emperor to the site, due to the legacy of State Shinto. Sometime in the future if the situation calls for a divine emperor, they will produce the documentation."

"In the west having the gods to dinner is also a tricky affair. At the marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Aphrodite gives the bride a necklace which, passing from hand to hand, generates one disaster after another. At the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, failure to invite Eris leads to the Judgment of Paris in favor of Aphrodite over Hera and Athena, thus creating the premise for the Trojan War. Tantalus's banquet, where Pelops is boiled in a big pot, begins a chain of events that will continue until Athena casts the vote that acquits Orestes of patricide.

These encounters are seldom beneficial to humans in the short term, but it does keep things moving along. Otherwise all opposites would be resolved into unity and history would end. No more bloody stories for the gods to enjoy."

Jack noticed the skeptical looks coming from the couple on the sofa, "Look you two, if it turns out that I am delusional what has been lost? You have a chance to design a building that is going to be more fun than doing another shopping mall, it gives me the chance to make a full examination of cultural artifacts, and if no other-worldly beings show, we can say it was our last beau geste."

The architect and his wife exchanged looks, then she said, "We're both in. It should be an interesting ride. So now, not only must we carefully design the building, but party favors are also important. And from what you just indicated we must also be wary of gifts they might leave behind."

"Precisely. The building and the altar-table will provide a brief opening between the temporal and spiritual world and that is always dangerous for humans."

"What do you plan to serve these special guests in addition to cultural artifacts?" asked the musician.

Jack turned her, "What do you suggest."

She smiled and said, "Ambrosia, of course.  My mother use to serve ambrosia back in the 50's, it was composed of canned pineapple, shredded coconut, and maraschino cherries. I doubt you will impress the gods with that. Seriously, if you are looking for refined yet simple cuisine, the best in the west, how about wine, cheese, and Jamon Iberico de Bellota. But its past my bedtime, we can postpone that decision until the completion of the tholos. I'll also consider your music selections."

"Okay" said Jack, "you make music suggestions and select the wine and cheese, but no ham. We want to show we have matured beyond offerings of meat and blood."

The next afternoon, thanks to United Airlines, Jack was home on the Gulf Coast and a week later there was an  email from the architect with an attachment.

I am thinking of a tholos 30 feet in diameter surrounded by a convex colored circular stone pavement 200 feet in diameter. In case your guest are flying in they should be able to spot the landing  site.

Jack replied immediately:


I am thinking "perfect."  -perhaps European style stone cubes on a sand base for the pavement.


A few days later he received another  email from the architect:

I agree with your choice of the Tholos of Philip of Macedonia as the model. The building will be 15 meters across. The height will be 4 meters to the bottom of the wooden lintel, with a total area of 353.25 square meters. The internal circle will be 1 meter inside the outer circle (measured from center of the outer column to the center of the inner column).  So that should be plenty of room for the table and space around the table.

The building will consisted of an outer colonnade of Doric order with 18 columns. Inside, nine columns of the Ionic order. The columns will be made of painted wood. There are several commercial producers of wooden columns, so that will save both time money. The first two layers of the foundation called the stereobate will be of stone and the top layer, the stylobate, will be of poured concrete which will be polished to provide a uniform surface.

As indicated earlier, the building will rest at the center of circular pattern of  pavers, to provide a dramatic sense of arrival.

The ceiling above the inner coluomnnade will be domed and illuminated by reflected light from sources hidden inside the lip of the dome. The ceiling above the outer columade will be flat.

See attachments.

Please advise.

Stuart, Lowe & Carney Architects                                                                                                                                        WestCapital                                                                                                                                                                        Little Rock, Arkansas







Your plan is approved. Commence construction as soon as possible.