Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them.
Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus, 1941
Translated by Justin O’Brien
Of all the sinners languishing in the ancient Greek Underworld, the cunning Sisyphus was one of the most infamous. Stories tell different tales about the crime(s) of the mythical king of Ephyra (later Corinth), but he is said to have cheated Death (Thanatos) not once but twice with his crafty tricks. Not even Sisyphus could avoid the realm of Hades, though. He was punished with a laborious and futile (Sisyphean) task: the gods condemned him to roll a giant rock up a hill, only for it to roll back down again every time he reached the top. He was often shown in depictions of the Underworld in vase paintings, struggling with his burden.
Numerous adaptations of Sisyphus’ story have been created in post-antique times as well, and his punishment gains a different meaning with each new interpretation. It is in the eye of the beholder what his figure represents, endlessly rolling his boulder uphill: a futile, ridiculous effort or an achievement of superhuman perseverance, an absurd hero happy in his suffering, a sinner who has found wisdom during his long atonement, the daily motion of the Sun in the sky (“this burning Sisyphean rock”), a perpetuum mobile incarnate or the antithesis of Indiana Jones.
This time we have brought some background music to accompany (sports-related) New Year’s resolutions, along with a Sisyphean perspective outlined by the song titles: please, enjoy Sisyphus’ Workout playlist!
Sisyphus’ workout plan is especially recommended to those who have already completed the playlist which inspired ours.
Read more about Sisyphus’ story and its afterlife in David Saunders’ post on the Getty Museum blog.
· Featured image: detail of a series of photographs by Wolfgang Pietrzok: Sisyphos trifft Leonardo, 1994 © Wolfgang Pietrzok, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
· Attic black-figure neck-amphora with a scene of the Underworld. Leagros Group, 510–500 BC © Trustees of the British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
· Caricature published in an 1844 issue of Punch magazine: Sir Robert Peel, the British prime minister (as Sisyphus) is pushing a rock with the face of Irish nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell on it, who was seeking the repeal of the act which had combined Ireland with Great Britain © Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg / Public Domain
· Marcell Jankovics: Sisyphus, 1974 (screenshot from the short film) © Hungarian National Film Fund / National Film Institute Hungary – Film Archive. Restored by Arbelos Films
· Sisyphus in the 2020 video game Hades © Supergiant Games, LLC / Hades content and materials are trademarks and copyrights of Supergiant Games, LLC or its licensors and used with permission. All rights reserved.