Welcome to Hell, I’m Sisyphus, and i’ll be your tour-guide today…

A Blog for those who are “Wicked Smart” or have fallen in love with their Rocks

Sisyphus. He gets a bad wrap in most mythology books. We see him in the Odyssey, as well as in Orpheus’s journey to save Eurydice. But the information is brief. A man must push a boulder up a hill, but just as he reaches the hill, the boulder tumbles back down to the bottom and the task must be repeated, over and over. Usually when he is mentioned, he is paired with Tantalus.

Tantalus

Tantalus is the guy who shall forever stand up to his neck in a pool of water, with grapes hanging down above his head. Whenever he tries to reach a grape, a breeze blows them out of his reach. Whenever he bends down to drink, the water sinks away. For all eternity he goes hungry and thirsty. Tantalus was given he opportunity to hold a feast for the Gods, but in his arrogance he tried to fool the Gods. He killed his own son Pelops, cut him to pieces, boiled him, and served the flesh to his guests. (Don’t worry, Pelops is resurrected) Cannibalism is a horrible act in Greek culture, so it can be understood why he receives a harsh punishment.

But what has Sisyphus done? What horrible crime has he committed for his eternal punishment. Sisyphus was the King of Corinth. Sisyphus was a very clever king, and his intelligence was actually his undoing.

The action begins, as it usually does, with Zues not being able to keep it in his toga. The target this time was Aegina, a smoking-hot river nymph. Not having any restraint, Zues  transforms into an eagle and wisks her away to an island where he has his way with her.

Zues Kidnaps Aegina As An Eagle

The father of Aegina, the river-god Asopus, is naturally upset and he chases after his daughter. Unfortunately, he has no idea where Zues has taken his daughter. That’s where our King of Corinth first comes in. Sisyphus agrees to tell Asopus the island where the two lovers are, but only for something in return. Asopus must create a fresh-water spring for his city. Asopus agrees, creating the spring, and catching Zues red handed…

Zues, having a temper problem, decides Sisyphus’s time is up and he sends Thanatos (death, that’s right. Hades is the lord of the dead, but not death himself…) with shackles to take Sisyphus away to Tartarus. Sisyphus being extremely clever, trick Thanatos into putting on the shackles. With Death trapped, people cannot die.

This is a motif that has become very popular throughout folklore. Death is somehow tricked into a sack, a tree, whatever, and the resulting consequence is that people cannot die. This is still a popular motif today and was used for humor in a very early episode of Family Guy.

Peter Takes Over For Death

Without people dying, war loses some of its sting, so a very upset Ares comes down and frees Thanatos and takes Sisyphus to Hades. Our clever hero has a back up plan. Sisyphus instructed his wife to leave his body out, no burial, no ceremony, nothing. When Hades and Persephone learn how poorly his body has been treated, the allow him to return to the land of the living to discipline his wife and get his funeral in order. Once out of Hades, Sisyphus ignored the instructions to return, and lives to an old age. For his crimes, Zues himself takes him to Tartarus where he is condemned to role his rock. Not for cannibalism, not for killing a sun, just for being a little to smart.

I think its easy for those of us in the tourism industry, or anyone who is in a very repetitive job, to relate too Sisyphus. We say the same thing every day, or take people to the same place. What makes it difficult is the knowledge all the hard work of today will make no difference tomorrow. The rock will roll back down the hill and we are stuck saying or doing the same thing we’ve done the day before. In his poem “Sisyphus,” A.E. Stallings writes:

…the massive
machinery of hope,
the broken record of alive.
Why object?
The luck of all the draws
Is the weight of stone.

More often than not, we to find ourselves stuck on “the broken record of alive.” Not only can we relate and empathize with Sisyphus, through the work of Albert Camus, we can find a hero.

Camus

In his book, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus writes that Sisyphus doesn’t have to be damned. Tantalus is stuck, standing forever with everything he wants just out of reach. Sisyphus can take action. Camus argues that if Sisyphus pushes the rock, enjoying his burden, then it is the gods who lose and not our hero. The last sentence written is very powerful. “We must imagine Sisyphus happy.” I personally believe that the reason we “Must” view Sisyphus this way, is it is the only for us to improve out view on our own lives. If we can see this man, in hell, moving forward, undiscouraged, than the own repetitions we face in life may not be as insurmountable as we have come to believe.

But I think a lot of us get to that stage. At least some of the time. But here’s the next step, the revelation. I sometimes imagine Sisyphus happy, as Camus instructs, pushing his rock. But there is more going on there than happiness. That emotion actually covers another, anxiety. For over the eons, Sisyphus has fallen in love with his rock, and the fear of not having it runs deep.

I find this is a situation we often find ourselves, falling in love with our own rock. Most of the time we don’t eve know it. We moan and groan and complain about the dreary repetition of the work we do, but the truth is, our grumblings cover up our fear. For having no rock at all is truly terrifying at times.

Films like “Clerks” and “Waiting” are all about Camus-like hero’s, but they are also about hero’s who have fallen in love with their rock. We need to recognize when we have fallen into that trap.

I like to picture an alternative to the Myth of Sisyphus, when Zues first brings our hero to the steep hill, enormous boulder sitting at the bottom.

“All you have to do is push that boulder to the top of the hill” says Zues

“Then what?” Sisyphus replies

“I can’t tell you what comes next. You must complete this task, then you will see what comes after.”

And just like that Zues vanishes and our hero is left alone. He begins to push the stone up hill. It is a very steep hill and a very heavy rock and it takes a lot of effort and time, maybe a week, maybe a month, to get the stone near the top. And the whole time, Sisyphus is left alone with his thoughts. “Will this end once I reach the top? Will I be redeemed? Will their be a worse punishment? Will the pain stop? Can I rest? What if this is only a fraction of the pain to come?”

And just as he reaches the top, in a moment of panic and uncertainty, he lets his grip loosen and allows the boulder to role back down to the bottom. He is shocked. Months of effort, sweat, pain; gone. Does he know he let it go on purpose? Does he lie to himself, call himself stupid and clumsy? He must now begin the long journey back to the bottom.

Again he is alone with his thoughts. What does he think? “I won’t let that happen again. Next time I’ll really do it. Whatever comes next can’t be as bad as that. Next time I’ll really do it.

And so he continues until the end of time.

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Myth In Life Pt. 2, “Wine”ing About Mythology

I didn’t expect to have a theme by the second posting of Myth In Life, but while walking through the wine and spirit section of the grocery store I noticed that wine labels are like a magnet for myths. So armed with nothing but my cell phone camera, I went about capturing more proof that the myths have not all gone home.

FAUST

Faust was the first bottle that really caught my eye and inspired the theme for this installment. While you could make a valid argument that Faust is not a myth (It didn’t originate through oral tradition and it has a recognized author. I feel that Faust has become a cultural obsession and we have connotatively gravitated towards him as a newer archetype of a man willing to sell his soul to the devil.

PEGASUS

Pegasus was another one of those real obvious mythic figures. The winged horse seems to pop up quite a bit and I suspect that he’s get his own myth in life segment in the near future. Pegasus came into life when Perseus severed the head of Medusa. Pegasus sprang from a drop of her blood.

ARTEMIS & ACTEON

I saw a lot of bottles with deer on them and wanted to write a piece on Acteon, but none of the wines seemed specific enough. Then I found Artemis. Artemis/Diana, Goddess of the hunt was bathing with her attendants in the forrest. Young Acteon is out hunting with his hounds and comes across the nude Goddess and decides to take a risk and spy on her. What we have here is essentially the first version of the Porky’s shower scene.

Unfortunately for Acteon, he is caught, and believe it or not, our naked Goddess isn’t to happy about the situation. She punishes Acteon by turning him into a stag, who is then hunted down and killed by his own loyal dogs. Oh sweet irony…

CAMELOT & AVALON

I was never one who followed the whole Arthurian myth scene, but i’m starting to become a fan. It seems like an area where you can’t deny diffusion was a major role in evolution of the stories. So I had to include Camelot, the kingdom that Arthur created, home to the Table Round.

And while we’re on the subject ancient, medieval, mystical realm’s, there’s also Avalon. As I mentioned earlier, Arthurian legend is not my strong point, but I do recognize Avalon. In some versions, this island was the origin of the sword Excalibur, and the place that Arthur went to heal his wounds. I think there might be a future blog on the subject of mystical islands, so stay tuned for more Avalon.


RAVEN

This one’s a homage to back home. In Alaska, and other areas in the Pacific Northwest, Raven is a trickster deity. He stars in a number of tales, my favorite one “Raven steals the light.” In the story, a wizard steals the sun. Raven steps up to get it back and on the journey eats his own scabs, making hime eternally hungry, and switches genders…what a goofball. He is successful and steals the sun back, restoring light to the world.

SOPHIA

The idea of Gnosis is new to me, but a subject is growing more and more interesting. According to some Gnostic beliefs, the Angelic Deity Sophia leaves the presence of the Alien God and looks upon the Earth/Choas. She tries to create Life/Order and creates a terrible being known as the Demiurge. His form is a snake with a lion’s head. The curse of the demiurge is that this flawed being thinks he is the one true god, and according to Gnostic belief, we think he is too. Sophia is often compared to other feminine archetypes like eve, first eve, lilith, hecate…etc…

“ORIGINAL” SIN

“For the wages of Sin is Death” This is another one that gets me excited! Here we have a Motif with multiple meaning for different cultures and time periods. Of course most people associate Sin with the Christian concept of a bad deed. But Sin is also the name of the Mesopotamian moon god. The Ur knew him as Nanna, the god of wisdom. He was the head of the pantheon. He also had a beard made of Lapis Lazuli, thats pretty awesome.

BACCHUS

And it wouldn’t be right to do a blog on myth and wine without this guy. Bacchus’s Secret Cellar is a wine bar not far from my house. Bacchus/Dionysus is the God of Wine. The followers of his cult really shook up Greek and Roman culture to the point were worshipping him was banned at times. Supposedly, it was common practice to rip apart a living virgin at his festivals. They later switched over to a living lamb; maybe they ran out of virgins. Bacchus is a great example of mythic resurrection. His mother burst into flames after demanding to see the true form of Zeus. Zeus sowed the unborn child into his leg for the remainder of his development. The Titans also tried to eat poor Bacchus and cut him into pieces and ate him. Zeus rescued him before they could eat his heart, using it to resurrect the boy. This is the second time Bacchus has made it into Myth in Life. In part one, he was attributed to giving King Midas the ears of an ass.

Great news! Mythblogogy has a shiny new email account. If you have any pictures you think might be interesting for an installment of Myth in Life, send them in. The more places they come from, the better. Send them to Mythblogogy@gmail.com.