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 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.


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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