Sisyphus had it coming



Sisyphus is the inspiration for many New Yorker cartoons, here is my favorite.

He is also the star of Albert Camus most Important Work, in my opinion, “The Myth of Sisyphus” . This book inspired my personal strategy for not going nuts. “One must imagine Sisyphus happy” said Camus.

So, I want to think well of him. The image of Sisyphus is that he is personifies the human condition, the situation of the working man, and so on. We tend to think of his as a regular guy, a working stiff who just can’t catch a break. Well, not so much. In the Greek myths, Sisyphus is an asshole.

According to Diodorus Siculus VI, “Sisyphus, we are told, excelled all other men in knavery and ingenuity”.

And not the good kind of knavery, like, say, Odysseus (a shirttail relative of Sisyphus). Here are some excerpts from Bullfinch’s Mythology:

As king of Corinth he promoted navigation and commerce, but was fraudulent, avaricious, and altogether of bad character, and his whole house was in as bad repute as he himself.

The special reasons for this punishment are not the same in all authors; some say that it was because he had betrayed the designs of the gods (Serv. ad Aen. vi. 616 ; Schol. ad Horn. 11. i. 180, vi. 153), others because he attacked travellers, and killed them with a huge block of stone.

[O]ther traditions relate that Sisyphus lived in enmity with his brother Salmoneus, and consulted the oracle how he might get rid of him. Apollo answered, that if he begot sons by Tyro, the wife of his brother, they would avenge him. Sisyphus indeed became the father of two sons by Tyro, but the mother killed them immediately after their birth. Sisyphus took cruel vengeance on her, and was punished for it in the lower world (Hygin. Fab. 60).

Clever as well, in a story similar to one told about Hercules and Atlas (another shirttail relative), Hades was sent to put Sisyphus in chains but Sisyphus tricked him and Hades was the one who ended up in cuffs.

Worst of all Sisyphus bragged about his cleverness and defeat of the gods. bad move. Never goes down well.

Categorized as Essay