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.

Hades is not Satan

An Opinion on the De-secularization of Myth

I feel I should warn you there Spoilers in this blog for the film Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, as well as Clash of the Titans (the 2010 version as well as the 1981 version).

Three brothers met after a battle, a heavy burden lay on their shoulders, they were now the masters of the world. As seen as a fair way to divide the earth, sky, and underworld, they drew lots. Zues received dominion over the sky, Posiedon the Sea and land, and Hades the underworld.

Hades was not tricked into ruling the land of the dead, nor was he sent there as punishment. These are popular misconceptions that are unfortunately growing more popular. With a lack of understanding for the ancient world we combine little bits of what we know with other bits. This is far from objective, and so the majority religions cast a shadow over these wonderful ancient stories and taint them.

Now let me be clear, this is not a rant against Christianity, nor a rant against the mono-mythers or the diffusionists, more of a rant on anti-intellectualism and a lack of objectivity when it comes to examining myth. I bring the figure Hades up in this piece, because he seems to become the victim more so than his other brothers.

In the new remake “Clash of the Titans” Hades as represented as being “tricked by Zues” into ruling the underworld. And when he appears in the court of Olympos, telling Zues that he has been to loving to the humans and that he must be cruel as well, one sees a scene more akin to something from the Book of Job than from any story from ancient Greece.

Now this is not to tear apart a film for straying from the original source material. The original “Clash of the Titans” did not stick perfectly to the legend of Perseus (the character “Calabos” never existed until the film, also there aren’t any “Titans” clashing in the film either), had a great story structure and was still able to represent the stories of the Greeks, that it was often shown in schools! Unfortunately, the version of the film does not have that same value.

But this is not the first time our modern culture have tried to pin the sins the devil onto poor ol’ Hades. In the 2010 film “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief” the first time we see Hades, we see a giant monstrous figure made of burning embers with giant bat-like wings and devilish horns, more akin to something from Dante. Later in the film we find out that this is only a disguise and that the real Hades is something more like a man, but even then we see that he is dressed in a leather vest and sports an electric guitar. This is a very funny image, but its funny this guitar wielding Hades is a representation of the Satanism that all those worried mothers thought was in rock n’ roll in the 80’s.

This has been going on for a while. In the 1997 Disney film “Hercules” Hades is seen a plotting schemer sending out his henchmen Pain and Panic. Its fairly certain there are many more examples of this of this mythological projection in our culture and it makes sense. In the Christian faith, Satan plays a big role. He’s responsible for the fall from grace, he destroys Job’s life, he is seen as a liar and a scemer; He’s already rebelled once!

I think its partly the connotation of the UNDERWORLD that makes some modern Christians project Satan-like qualities onto Hades. The belief in an underworld is something we share with the ancient Greeks, but there was no Heaven for the Greeks. Now there was Elysium, a special section of Hades designated specifically for Heros, but that was about it. You weren’t roasted over a spit a demons jabbed at you with pitch-forks.

Now there are tales of punishments in Hades that might mislead as well. Two of the most famous being Sisyphus and Tantalus. Sisyphus is the one who must forever roll a large stone up a hill only to have it roll back down whenever he nears completion. Tantalus must stand in water neck high with grapes above him, but whenever he bends his head down to drink the water recedes; whenever he reaches for a grape, wind takes the branches out of reach.

Harsh, customized punishments like this often might sound like what some believe to be a private Hell, but these stories of punishment are rare and usually meant to teach a moral lesson. Even in Homer’s Odyssey, the dead are merely “Shades” who’s only real punishment is existence. And so even though we confuse the two and their masters, Greek hell is much less dramatic than the Christian Hell. It is really just a place of drab existence. This would make sense since the Greeks viewed the human experience as the ultimate experience. Their focus was not on the next life but living in this one.

But to get to the heart of this, here’s the real question. Who cares? What does it matter? By endowing mythical gods with the powers and intentions of our modern day spiritual archetypes, we make them bigger than who they really are, and that is an injustice to the Greeks. For the Hero’s story was not about the Gods, it was about the men.

Traditionally, Hero’s are endowed by the Gods with Gifts and/or protection that help them complete their quests. If it was really about the gods and their gifts, it wouldn’t matter who received them. Anyone could complete the quests with the right gifts. But it is the actions of the Hero that earn him those gifts. Just like Jason who helped Hera, disguised as an old crone, across a river. It is these simple acts of kindness, wisdom, humility the allow men to become Heros.

The real magic of this line of thinking is that if it really only takes these simple actions to be a hero, then we are much closer to these Heros that we realize, and in so are that much closer to the Gods. But if we tear apart this culture were man and his intelligence come second to Supernatural figures that we give power to, then that culture, that way of thinking is lost

The real irony is that this rant started from a movie based on a Hero, Perseus, who actually represents all three brothers mentioned earlier. He is the son of Zues. Being buried alive as a baby he has already experienced death in the eyes of Hades. And he was cast into the ocean, Poseidon’s realm, and was delivered to safety.

  • Calendar

    • August 2017
      M T W T F S S
      « May    
       123456
      78910111213
      14151617181920
      21222324252627
      28293031  
  • Search