The Myth of Sysyphus (courtesy Wikipedia)
Sisyphus was son of the king Aeolus of Thessaly
, and the founder and first king of Ephyra
). 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 obedience and loveless decision by 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.
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.
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.
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