And he in heavy speech: "Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Circe's ingle. "Going down the long ladder unguarded, "I fell against the buttress, "Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus. "But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied, "Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed: "A man of no fortune, and with a name to come. "And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows."
Elpenor tells him that his death was basically a combination of being drunk and having bad luck. (Isn't that always the way?)
He got drunk one night on Circe's island and slept on Circe's roof (that crazy party animal). But when he tried to climb back down the ladder, he slipped and fell, shattering his "nape-nerve," or in other words, completely destroying his spine and cracking his skull. From that point on, his soul "sought Avernus," which is an entry into the kingdom of the dead. To sum up: he died.
Nice one, Elpenor. Maybe don't get drunk next time.
Lines 54 to 57 are basically just quoting Elpenor asking Odysseus to help a brother out. He wants Odysseus to delay his journey home and to sail all the way back to Circe's island to bury Elpenor so that poor ol' Elpy won't have to be in limbo for eternity. And just for old times' sake, Elpenor wants Odysseus to mark his grave with the oar Elpenor used to row Odysseus' ship with among all his friends ("mid fellows").