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Monday, 2 December 2013

Pushing stones up-hill - the myth of Sisyphus

Among the books in the late Joy Lonsdale's library was Albert Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus - which is, among other things, a polemic on the rationality of suicide. And inserted into this book was a note in Joy's handwriting that is possibly her own work. Appended here for your interest:

This King of Corinth earned the enmity of Zeus by informing and angry father that the King of the Gods had carried off his daughter, Aegina - who was to become great-grandmother to Achilles.

Zeus decided that Sisyphus must die, but did not wish to honour him by sending Hermes to conduct him to Tartarus (region of Hell). He sent a lesser messenger Thanatos, whose name meant 'death'.

However, Sisyphus, a man of infinite resource and courage, succeeded in binding Thanatos in chains and returned calmly to take his place among the living.

After some time, Thanatos was released and sent again to Sisyphus. This time, however, Sisyphus made another plan. He instructed his wife to omit any funeral rites and to offer none of the special gifts to Persephone which were supposed to placate that goddess of the underworld and ease the passage of the one who had died.

Persephone, thus, has no knowledge of Sisyphus's death and, when confronted by him, was persuaded that he had been conducted to Tartarus by mistake. She ordered him to be freed.

So Sisyphus again escaped Tartarus and resumed his life.

Now Zeus was determined that there should be no third escape. Sisyphus was taken again to Tartarus under strong guard and his impiety was blazoned forth for all to know. Once in Tartarus he was condemned to a unique punishment - to roll a huge rock up a hill. Just when the summit was reached, the rock rolled back and he was forced to resume his task at the bottom of the hill. And this went on through eternity.

In another legend, Sisyphus appears as the father of Odysseus. Indeed, the great voyager displayed the same kind of cunning and resourcefulness but never bent them to impious deed.

Here ends Joy's presumed rant on Sisyphus, the most crafty prince of the heroic ages. Where she found the information, we'll never know. We note that in Lempriere's Classical Dictionary of 1919, Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, is cited as the one who imposed the rock-rolling punishment. And the institution of the Pythian games is attributed to Sisyphus.

So where does all that leave you? Between a rock and a hard place?  You can read Joy's erudite books on Buzzword.

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