Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday's Mythological Creature of the Day -- Sisyphus

You’ve probably heard an expression “Sisyphean task”, meaning endlessly laborious or futile work. Maybe you even felt like Sisyphus, a character from a Greek myth. You wake up, feed the kids, send them to school, get to the office, work your butt off, run errands, cook dinner for the family, stare at the TV and go to bed. The day passes only to repeat itself tomorrow, again and again. Like Queen Latifah’s character said in the movie “The Last Holiday”: “You know how it is. You keep your head down and you hustle and hustle. Then you look up one day and wonder, “How did I even get here?” If that sounds familiar – Congratulations! Now you can understand how Sisyphus felt after the Greek Gods punished him for trying to outsmart Zeus himself.

After his death and the second and final journey to the Kingdom of the Underworld (more about that later), Sisyphus was made to roll a huge boulder up a steep mountain. Just as he’d reach the top, the massive stone would always roll back down, forcing him to begin again, consigning Sisyphus to an eternity of useless efforts and frustration. That’s why today pointless or interminable activities are sometimes described as Sisyphean.
Have the Gods been unfair to Sisyphus? Was he just an innocent victim? What possibly could he have done to deserve such a horrible fate? Well, innocent he was not…  A deceitful, murderous trickster, who ignored the laws of the people and Gods, yes, he was that, indeed.
See, Sisyphus was a son of Aeolus and Enarete. He was the founder and the first kin of Ephyra, married to a beautiful nymph Merope, who brought him four sons (by the way, some myths also consider Sisyphus to be the birth father of Odysseus, who inherited his father’s wits).Instead of thanking Gods for his fortunes and ruling his lands mercifully, Sisyphus killed travelers and guests, breaking the sacred laws of hospitality. He tattled on Zeus to the river God Asopus of whereabouts of his daughter Aegina, ruining Zeus’s plans for having a good time. He seduced his own niece Tyro, who slayed the children she bore from Sisyphus, once she realized he was planning to use them to dethrone her father. He tricked a Goddess of Death Thanatos and got her chained in the Underworld, and because of that for several years nobody could die.
When Sisyphus finally passed away, and his soul moved to the Underworld like all the other normal souls, somehow he managed to wiggle his way out of the situation. He persuaded Persephone to temporarily free him, so he could punish his wife, who left his dead naked body in the middle of a public square instead of giving him a proper burial (per his own request). Once he got back to the world of living and had a celebratory feast with his wife, happily giggling about the successful implementation of his devious plan, Sisyphus refused to go back and had to be forcibly dragged there by a very irate Hermes.

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That’s it for today. Come back soon and spread the word!

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