How long has it been since I did a straight up mythology post? Ages, at least. Well, yesterday someone brought up the myth of Sísyphos, and I realized that name is not even in my tags. Seeing as it is actually one of my favourite myths, that, of course, needs to be rectified.

Sísyphos (Σίσυφος) was a king; the king of Ephyra, the area now known as Corinth to be exact. For those who enjoy figuring out the convolutd family trees of the ancient kings, he was the son of King Aeolus of Thessaly and Enarete, and the father of Glaucus, Ornytion, Almus, and Thersander by the nymph Merope, the brother of Salmoneus, and the grandfather of Bellerophon through Glaucus. He was a very bright man, with a good mind for ruling. Unfortunately, he was also a proud man, and a deceitful one at that. He ruled his city with an iron fist, and killed visitors, breaking xenia and raising the ire of Zeus Xenios.

Sísyphos is not generally known for his deeds in life; he is far better known for his deeds in death. According to Hellenic mythology, Sísyphos is condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain in Tartaros, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top. The Gods, it seems, are well aware that working a dead end job without pay-off is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. There are various stories about Sísyphos and how he earned this fate. Apollodorus, in his Library, writes the following:

"Sisyphus is punished in Hades by rolling a stone with his hands and head in the effort to heave it over the top; but push it as he will, it rebounds backward. This punishment he endures for the sake of Aegina, daughter of Asopus; for when Zeus had secretly carried her off, Sisyphus is said to have betrayed the secret to Asopus, who was looking for her." [1.9.3]

According to Pherecydes (Frag. 78 in Müller, Fragmenta Historicum Graecorum, i. p. 91) Sísyphos told Asopus that Zeus had carried off his daughter Aegina, but continues to say that Zeus punished him by sending Death after him. Cunning as he was, Sísyphos managed to trick Death and bound him, so that men ceased to die, until Ares came to the rescue, released Death, and gave Sísyphos to Him. Before he died, however, Sísyphos told his wife Merope to omit his funeral rites, so that Hades, being deprived of his customary offerings, would be persuadable to let him go back to life in order to complain of his wife’s neglect. Hades did, indeed, let him go to deal with his wife, but when he refused to return, and had to be fetched back by Hermes, his well-known punishment ensued.

Sísyphos' tale is a cautionary one: those who do things solely for their own gain and who abuse others to do it literally deserve a fate worse than death. It is also a reminder that everyone will and must die, and that we will be judged by our actions in life. If we are pious to the Gods, kind to our fellow humans, and care about more than ourselves, we will be judged accordingly, and the afterlife does not have to be such a dreary place. As for the boulder; we all feel like we are pushing boulders up hills some days, but if we are aware of it, we--unlike Sísyphos--can change our fate. We can let go of the boulder and look for more satisfying past-times. That is a blessing all on its own.

Image property: