Sisyphus - Greek Mythology - Myth of Sisyphus

Sisyphus - Greek Mythology - Myth of Sisyphus


Tiziano Vecellio (1480/1485 - 1576) - Sisyphus -
Madrid, Prado Museum (Spain)

The legends tell that a long time ago, a man named Sisyphus, founded the Greek city of Efira (which would later be called Corinth) and of which he became the first king.Sisyphus was the son of Enarete and Aeolus and history remembers him as a king so shrewd as wicked and greedy that he took and did all kinds of wickedness to his subjects.

Punishment of Sisyphus
Anonymous, Vase, Berlin, Staatliche Museum (from Vulci)

He married the pleiad Merope, daughter of Atlas, from whose union were born Ornizione, Sinone and Glauco (father of Bellophon)

The story tells us that Sisyphus, angry for the continuous thefts of his cattle, with a stratagem, marking the hooves of his sheep, managed to discover that the one who carried out these thefts was Autolico, a famous thief of mythology, son of Ermese Chione.

Gaius Giulio Igino (Fables CCI) recounts: «Mercury granted Autolico, who had generated from Chione, the gift of being the most skilled thief and of never being discovered in the fact; it gave him the faculty of taking on the beasts he stole the appearance he desired: from white they could become black; from a horned animal he could become a hornless animal and vice versa. Autolico stole Sisyphus' cattle on a daily basis without being discovered. Sisyphus sensed that the perpetrator of the theft was Autolico because as his livestock decreased, that of Autolico increased. To be sure he made a sign under the hoofs of his beasts. Autolico robbed him in the usual way but Sisyphus, having gone to him, discovered his beasts and took them back. Later he met Anticlea, daughter of Autolico and raped her. The woman was soon married to Laertes. From her was born Ulysses who, according to some authors, was the son of Sisyphus and not of Laertes. From this fatherhood derives the great cunning of Ulysses ».

Sisyphus 1920, painting, Franz von Stuck

Time passed and Sisyphus's wickedness could no longer be counted, even going so far as to blackmail Zeus when he discovered that he had kidnapped the nymph Aegina to make her his lover. Sisyphus, however, considered it more convenient to agree with the nymph's father, the river god Asopus, who was desperately looking for her, asking him in exchange for the name of the person who had kidnapped her daughter, a source of fresh water for his city. made the source Peirene spring forth. Zeus, who in the meantime had struggled to escape the rage of Asopus, ordered Hades to take the life of Sisyphus and give him an exemplary punishment for having betrayed the king of the gods. Once again, however, Sisyphus showed all his cunning: when Hades presented himself in front of him with the cathere to take him away, Sisyphus asked him to show him how they worked, thus remaining chained and a prisoner of Sisyphus.

The captivity of Hades unleashed a great confusion in the world because people could not die therefore Zeus, to put an end to this story, sent Ares to free Hades.

Punishment of Sisyphus
Anonymous, 500-490 BC, vase, Münster, private collection

In the end Sisyphus died but when he was in the presence of Hades, he complained that his wife had not honored him as agreed and had proved very selfish and bad not to bury him and dedicate him due funeral honors (something suggested by Sisyphus himself to his wife before dying). In this way he would have wandered forever along the banks of the Stiges without being able to cross over, but Hades did not want to hear stories unlike Persephone, at whose feet Sisyphus had thrown himself, begging her to send him back to earth for three days, in order to organize his death as befits a king. Persephone was moved and allowed Sisyphus to come back to life for another three days.

Sisyphus, once he arrived in Corinth, obviously ignored the promise made to Persephone, so that Hades had to intervene again to bring him back to the underworld by force.

The punishment that Hades chose for Sisyphus was exemplary: he was condemned to drag a huge boulder down a steep slope of a hill to roll it to the other side but, once it reached the top, the boulder, as if pushed by a divine force, rolled downstream again and Sisyphus had to start all over again, sweat soaking his forehead as clouds of dust surrounded him, and this for eternity.

This punishment known as "Sisyphus' fatigue" has remained in popular sayings to indicate useless work, a job that involves great effort with few results.

Homer narrates in the Odyssey XI, 746-758, Pindemonte translation:
«Sisyphus elsewhere enormous boulder
Between one hand and the other he carried, and pain
Pungealo unspeakable. This one,
The great stone at the top of a mountain,
Bumping with the hands, with the feet pointing,
Spingea: but when he reached the ciglion he was not,
What a resurgence of a supreme power
It rolled quickly on the stoop
Up to the valley the heavy mass.
And again with all his strength
Up he chased it: from limbs to eaves
The sweat dripped from him, and perennial
A cloud rises from his head with dust ».

It is said that Merope, the wife of Sisyphus, for the shame of being the only pleiadec with a husband in the afterlife and a criminal in addition, abandoned her sisters in heaven and for this reason it is believed that Merope shines in the sky much less than the other stars that form the star cluster of the Pleiades.

Dr. Maria Giovanna Davoli

Son of Sisyphus and Merope [1], he married Eurimedes and became the father of Hipponous (better known as Bellerophon) [2] [3] and Deliade (also known as Alcimene or Peirene [3]).

Her father (Sisyphus), tried to arrange a marriage with Mestra but despite the payment of precious gifts, she eluded the marriage and let herself be kidnapped by Poseidon who took her to an island [4].

Glauco owned horses that he fed with human flesh and which he preserved from any mating so that they were always the fastest in chariot races [5] and with these horses he participated in funeral games organized by Acastus in honor of his father (the Athla epi Pelias [6] ).
Aphrodite, however, irritated by the treatment that Glauco reserved to his animals [7], the day before the race (where Glauco would compete against Iolaus), made them flee from the stable to stop them near a sacred well and let them eat a grass that gave madness [8], to then make them return to their stable [9].
On the day of the race, the horses went wild and Glauco fell from the chariot, but remained harnessed in the reins and being dragged by the horses for the whole race until he was killed [10] and devoured by his own horses [11].

According to Pausanias, Glauco became a Tarasippo (a kind of ghost or bugbear) for all charioteers and participants in horse races of all subsequent Isthmian Games [10].

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The punishment of the Greek king: drag a stone

The penalty that Sisyphus had to perform was not based on physical pain, or precisely on humiliation. It was based, in any case, on experiencing the absurdity firsthand.

The punishment consisted of push a large rounded stone from the base of a mountain to the top a, once there, see how it fell back to square one. According to some versions of the Sisyphean myth, this punishment was (or rather, ГЁ) practically eternal.

The labors of Sisyphus

Yes, yes is a character from Greek mythology, son of Aeolus, king of the winds Aeolus, and founder of the city of Corinth.

He was renowned for his cunning, which had made him the protagonist of numerous episodes. In order to obtain a perennial spring for his city from the god of rivers, Asopus, Sisyphus had revealed to him that his daughter had been kidnapped by Zeus: the latter, as a punishment, sent Thanato, the god of death against him, but Sisyphus, after having getting drunk, chained him, thus eliminating death from the world of humans for a period of time.

Later the god of war, Ares, freed Thanatus and made Sisyphus fall into the realm of the dead. With another cunning, however, he managed to convince the gods to bring him back to life: Sisyphus had in fact ordered his wife not to bury him, but he passed this choice as an outrage committed by his wife, which he had to remedy. The gods therefore gave him three days to arrange for his burial, but he violated the agreements. Hermes' intervention resolved the situation, definitively bringing Sisyphus back to the underworld.

As punishment for all his tricks, through which he had repeatedly mocked the gods, Sisyphus on condemned for eternity to push, from the foot to the top of a mountain, a huge boulder, destined to roll again as soon as it reaches the summit.

The myth of the infinite and useless climb of Sisyphus therefore entered the common language with this expression, the "labors of Sisyphus", which indicates a continuous effort without result and which was used by the philosopher Albert Camus to express theabsurdity of human existence.

The Myth of Sisyphus

Albert Camus

He was born in Mondovi, Algeria. He lived as a Frenchman among the Arabs, son of the occupiers of the Algerians, he lived as a foreigner.

The fighting writer is an epithet that describes him perfectly: he fought for the emancipation from the exploitation of man by man, for social justice, to imagine a different society. He was one of the fathers of existentialism, nobel prize for literature in 1957. His words at the ceremony were unforgettable, as were all his literary and philosophical works. He died in 1960.

The Myth of Sisyphus it was written by Camus in 1942 and is a philosophical re-dimensioning of an episode belonging to Greek mythology.

The original myth

It is the same old story. Zeus wants to puppet a beautiful daughter. He kidnaps her to give a pinch of adrenaline to the story. Sisyphus catches him and sells the information to the fray. That mafioso Zeus sends him home Thanato (god of death) to close him in Tartarus. Sisyphus gets him drunk and chains him. Death disappears from the world for a while (EPIC WIN).

But in this way Sisyphus also enjoyed too much, so Zeus decides that the cagacazzi the crafty must suffer for having challenged the gods.

In essence, Sisyphus has to perform the same action eternally: carrying a large boulder to the top of a mountain and then seeing it roll immediately afterwards to the slopes.

The wise

Albert Camus takes up the myth and uses it as a metaphor for the existential condition of his time. Camus's generation had just emerged from Nazi totalitarianism but was still facing the Soviet one. A generation that as he himself wrote "could not be optimistic".

In that historical context the so-called was being generated mal du siècle: a tormenting awareness of the absurd and extraneousness to oneself and to the world. An evil of the spirit that had the flavor of war, of standardization, of anguish. A form of dismay in which man felt in the presence of nothingness, of the possible impossibility of his existence.

The instability of the human state thus revealed itself with the absurdity of existence and assumed the defined contours of the inexorable march towards death. In this not exactly rosy picture of the human condition, Camus meditates on the precariousness of man and the concept of the absurd, wondering to what extent suicide can be considered a valid solution.

The precariousness of man

This is the main aspect that unites the philosophical analysis of Camus with that of other existentialists such as Sartre and Heidegger (even if Camussian existentialism is ethical while Heidegger's existentialism is phenomenological)

In this regard, within the Myth of Sisyphus, verses translated from Greek are cited, belonging to Pindar that perfectly express the concept of man's precariousness:

ἐπάμεροι τί δέ τις τί δ ’οὔ τις
σκιᾶς ὄναρ ἄνθρωπος

Ephemeral plant What is the living thing? What is extinct?
A shadow dream is man.

Man is fragile and transitory, like an "ephemeral plant". In fact ἐπάμεροι etymologically derives from ἐπί and ἡμέρα and literally means "one day creature", so it should be understood as a representation of the individual as a creature exposed every day to a possible end.

The subsequent expression "σκιᾶς ὄναρ" (shadow dream) juxtaposes two terms and terms, evoking an idea of ​​absolute inconsistency, a real "nothing at all". The description reveals all the evanescence, the transience of the human essence. Man is at the same time anybody and nobody. Because?

The feeling of the absurd

The feeling of strangeness, which according to Camus reveals the absurdity of existence to man, arises first and foremost in relation to the universe. The latter in fact escapes us and is alien to us as it expands and eternally returns to itself. The world itself is unreasonable, but the absurd does not lie in the irrationality of the world but in the relationship between the aforementioned irrationality and man's violent desire for clarity.

At this point Camus wonders if human life is worth living.


For Camus, the problem is not the lawfulness of self-inflicted death from an ethical point of view, but simply understanding to what extent this can prove useful to man. In this, Camus refutes the Stoic (albeit strictly ethical) thesis according to which the iter mortis was also libertatis via.

Suicide for the Stoics was "Rational exit from life" when a man was no longer able to exercise his rational existence. The Stoic conception of suicide and that of Camus are the polar opposite: the philosopher in fact considers suicide a man's renunciation in the face of his own challenge with life.

Seneca said that life is a dilapidated dwelling: attachment to it and habit keep us as old tenants even in the midst of hardships. However, the solution does not lie in abandoning it.

As a solution to life (and therefore to the absurd), Camus proposes the concept of "absurd revolt".

The revolt

To explain what it consists of, I am going to bother a sacred monster by getting involved in things greater than myself by referring to Heidegger and his definition of anguish in “Being and time”.

First of all, Heidegger distinguishes anguish from fear. The latter in fact is always fear of a certain quid and brings with it a necessary disturbance:

What you feel distress about is not a "something". It is impossible to determine it because it corresponds to nothing.

The anguish therefore it is none other than that feeling that shows man death as the only possibility of existence. Man thus discovers the insignificance of his purposes in daily existence. From the simple awareness of being there in the world, he arrives at the awareness of being-for-death.

Death surpasses being there, delimits it, constitutes its horizon. But at the same time it is its ultimate goal: it is therefore in the anticipation of death that existence discovers its most authentic meaning.

The awareness of being-there-for-death, knowing how to accept having to die, qualifies human existence by making it authentic present and past, in fact, they only make sense in relation to the future, more precisely to that future limit which is death. , the annihilation of existence.

In other words, freedom for man it consists in choosing and accepting his situation of being there-for-death. This acceptance has no value of renunciation or despair, making man grasp his previous link with a simple postulate of freedom, on whose illusion he lived. For this reason, anguish is a fundamental moment in man's revolt: it reveals the truth about existence, the slavery of being there with respect to death.

And only in this way will man be aware of his own future as Sisyphus. Like him, he will be free because he is devoid of illusions and hopes. And in this will lie his revolt.

We must imagine Sisyphus happy

The essay ends with this sentence, which simply reveals the intrinsic meaning of existence. Man is lost, he seeks himself. He lives in the mirage of a sudden turning point, in the deception of that exceptional deviation of the automaticity of his own days. He calls life out loud: he claims the science of answers, he invokes God or, more simply, he looks inside. But life does not betray itself, it does not reveal itself. Man gets lost, searches for himself and never finds himself. Instead, he finds the hook that binds him to the past and his tormented qualms. Find the wounds generated by the constant clash between your own illusions and a present that never seems to be enough. He finds a frustrating need to reach beyond today to see tomorrow, eternally unsatisfactory. All this constitutes the weight of existence, the gigantic boulder that each individual carries on their shoulders.

Just as Sisyphus did not choose his own destiny and is perfectly aware of the uselessness of his eternal toil, so is man. Man gets lost, searches for himself, does not find himself and instead discovers the absurd. The absurdity that has always manifested itself in the total indifference of the universe that expands and escapes us as it eternally returns to itself. The absurdity that makes man a stranger in the world but also a stranger to himself. The absurd understood as human ferocity, bestial and paradoxically supported by reason, which places man in front of man, reveals him in his primordial nakedness, in his fragility.

Faced with this bleak picture of existence, man's possibilities appear insufficient: he can lead a life made of incommunicability, in a lacerating and perpetual waiting for something, for someone: for death, for destiny, for luck or even for God. Or he can die voluntarily, contemplate suicide and thus escape the challenge of the absurd with a leap, giving up, admitting his own defeat in the face of it. The absurd alternative proposed by Camus in the essay is to behave like Sisyphus.

Camus dwells on the moment in which Sisyphus goes down the mountain and goes back to meet his boulder, his destiny. The repetitiveness of it, in the alienation and extraneousness that the eternally useless gesture produces, is by no means sterile. On the contrary, it generates in Sisyphus the awareness of the exceptional nature of his gesture. In the absurd game of existence, the winner is Sisyphus whose free effort is taken as a symbol of absurd living, a life that seems to escape the world of anguish.

Sisyphus already knows what awaits him, so he lives without hope but not in despair. He escapes the desire for another life because he knows he cannot have it. And his choice is not a renunciation but a refusal which is a revolution, a continuous struggle. Even the struggle to the top is enough to fill a man's heart. This reflection for me encompasses the whole meaning of existence. Sisyphus' message is that the solution is to smile at the absurdity of the world, to cynically immerse oneself in the sea of ​​living, in the wave indifference of reality.

By focusing not on his own painful "Sisyphian" ascent which is then existence, but on his own attitude during the descent from the mountain slope towards his destiny, man can witness the marvelous spectacle of a dominating I-Sisyphus, which inspires a sense of greatness. As he descends and returns to his rock, his destiny, he is conscious, aware. He feels his own life, his own revolt. Free from the hope of another existence, free from fear, free from fallacious religious beliefs, at the mercy of one's own reason alone. Only in this way can we imagine Sisyphus happy and only in this way can we imagine ourselves happy.
Need imagine Sisyphus happy.

Video: Albert Camus The Myth of Sisyphus - Is Absurd Freedom Completely Absurd?