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Persephone supervising Sisyphus in the Underworld, Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 530 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Inv. 1494)

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus (pronounced /ˈsɪsəfəs/; Greek: Σίσυφος sísypʰos Ell-Sisyfos.ogg [ˈsisifos] ) was a king punished in Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity.

The word sisyphean means, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, "endless and unavailing, as labor or a task."

Contents

Myth

Sisyphus was son of the king Aeolus of Thessaly and Enarete, and the founder and first king of Ephyra (Corinth). He was the father of Glaucus by the nymph Merope, and the grandfather of Bellerophon.

Sisyphus promoted navigation and commerce, but was avaricious and deceitful, violating the laws of hospitality by killing travelers and guests. He took pleasure in these killings because they allowed him to maintain his dominant position. From Homer onwards, Sisyphus was famed as the craftiest of men. He seduced his niece, took his brother's throne and betrayed Zeus' secrets. Zeus then ordered Thanatos (Death personified) to chain Sisyphus in Tartarus. Sisyphus slyly asked Thanatos to try the chains to show how they worked. When Thanatos did so, Sisyphus secured them and threatened him. This caused an uproar, and no human could die until Ares (who was annoyed that his battles had lost their fun because his opponents would not die) intervened, freeing Death and sending Sisyphus to Tartarus.

However, before Sisyphus died, he had told his wife to throw his naked body into the middle of the public square in attempt to test his wife's love for him. Annoyed by the loveless obedience of his wife, Sisyphus persuaded Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, to allow him to go back to the upper world and scold his wife for not burying his body as a loving wife would. When Sisyphus returned to Corinth, he refused to retreat back to the underworld and was forcibly dragged back to the underworld by Hermes. In another version of the myth, Persephone was directly persuaded that he had been conducted to Tartarus by mistake and ordered him to be freed.[1]

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"Sisyphean task" or "Sisyphean challenge"

As a punishment from the gods for his trickery, Sisyphus was compelled to roll a huge rock up a steep hill, but before he could reach the top of the hill, the rock would always roll back down again, forcing him to begin again.[2] The maddening nature of the punishment was reserved for Sisyphus due to his hubristic belief that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus. Sisyphus took the bold step of reporting one of Zeus' sexual conquests, telling the river god Asopus of the whereabouts of his daughter Aegina. Zeus had taken her away, but regardless of the impropriety of Zeus' frequent conquests, Sisyphus overstepped his bounds by considering himself a peer of the gods who could rightfully report their indiscretions.[3] As a result, Zeus displayed his own cleverness by binding Sisyphus to an eternity of frustration. Accordingly, pointless or interminable activities are often described as Sisyphean. Sisyphus was a common subject for ancient writers and was depicted by the painter Polygnotus on the walls of the Lesche at Delphi.[4]

Interpretations

According to the solar theory, Sisyphus is the disk of the sun that rises every day in the east and then sinks into the west.[5] Other scholars regard him as a personification of waves rising and falling, or of the treacherous sea.[5] The 1st-century BC Epicurean philosopher Lucretius interprets the myth of Sisyphus as personifying politicians aspiring for political office who are constantly defeated, with the quest for power, in itself an "empty thing," being likened to rolling the boulder up the hill.[6] Friedrich Welcker suggested that he symbolises the vain struggle of man in the pursuit of knowledge, and Salomon Reinach[7] that his punishment is based on a picture in which Sisyphus was represented rolling a huge stone Acrocorinthus, symbolic of the labour and skill involved in the building of the Sisypheum. Albert Camus, in his 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus, sees Sisyphus as personifying the absurdity of human life, but concludes "one must imagine Sisyphus happy" as "The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart."

Literary interpretations

Ovid, the famous Roman poet, references Sisyphus in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. When Orpheus descends and confronts Hades and Persephone, he sings a song with the result of getting his wish of bringing Eurydice back. After this song is sung, Ovid shows how moving it was by noting that Sisyphus sat on his rock, the Latin wording being inque tuo sedisti Sisyphe, saxo.[8]

Albert Camus, the French absurdist, wrote an essay entitled The Myth of Sisyphus in which he elevates Sisyphus to the status of absurd hero.

Franz Kafka repeatedly referred to Sisyphus as a bachelor; the Kafkaesque for him were those qualities that brought out the Sisyphus-like qualities in himself. According to Frederick Karl: "The man who struggled to reach the heights only to be thrown down to the depths embodied all of Kafka's aspirations; and he remained himself, alone, solitary."[9]

The philosopher Richard Taylor uses the myth of Sisyphus as a representation of a life made meaningless because it consists of bare repetition.[10]

A radio play A View From The Mountain written by Don Haworth broadcast in 1987 on BBC Radio 4 starring Michael Williams and Judy Dench revisited the Sisyphus myth.

Sisyphus in popular culture

See also

Other figures in Greek mythology punished by the gods include:

Sources

References

  1. ^ Bernard Evslin's Gods, Demigods & Demons, 209-210
  2. ^ Odyssey, xi. 593
  3. ^ Edith Hamilton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, 312-313
  4. ^ Pausanias x. 31
  5. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg "Sisyphus". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. 
  6. ^ De Rerum Natura III
  7. ^ Revue archéologique, 1904
  8. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, 10.44.
  9. ^ Karl, Frederick. Franz Kafka: Representative Man. New York: International Publishing Corporation, 1991.
  10. ^ Taylor, Richard. "Time and Life's Meaning." Review of Metaphysics 40 (June 1987): 675-686.

1911 encyclopedia

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

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Wikipedia

Proper noun

Sisyphus

  1. (mythology) tragic figure in Greek mythology doomed eternally to roll a boulder up a hill in Tartarus, a part of Hades.

Derived terms

Translations


Wikispecies

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

Taxonavigation

Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Unikonta
Cladus: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Protostomia
Cladus: Ecdysozoa
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Hexapoda
Classis: Insecta
Cladus: Dicondylia
Cladus: Pterygota
Cladus: Metapterygota
Cladus: Neoptera
Cladus: Eumetabola
Cladus: Endopterygota
Superordo: Coleopterida
Ordo: Coleoptera
Subordo: Polyphaga
Infraordo: Scarabaeiformia
Superfamilia: Scarabaeoidea
Familia: Scarabaeidae
Subfamilia: Scarabaeinae
Tribus: Sisyphini
Genus: Sisyphus
Species: S. bowringi - S. denticrus - S. indicus - S. moltaensis - S. morio - S. neglectus - S. popovi - S. schaefferi

Name

Sisyphus Latreille, 1807

Reference

Tribe Sisyphini (Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae) - Atlas of scarab beetles of Russia


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