Speaking with a friend this morning, reminded me of the myth of Sisyphus. The actual myth, not the book by Albert Camus, although it is useful to be reminded of his insight.
In general, the quick response, is to relate to the unending task of Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have the boulder slip away, falling back to the bottom. A pointless task, unsuccessful, and unrelenting. It always fails, and it always goes back to the beginning. Why doesn’t Sisyphus learn and just walk away? Because he is condemned to the task, and he genuinely believes that this time it will work, and like Charlie Brown and his football, he believes there will be success.
I wanted to go a little deeper… to perhaps explain why Sisyphus is condemned to this particular Hell. In the myth, he is the first King of Corinth. With a city placed on an important trade route, he becomes very wealthy, not only through taxes, but often by kidnapping and murdering travelers. He becomes widely known as a master trickster, lying to achieve power and wealth.
He seriously offended the Gods by backing out of his agreement to die. Death first comes to him with a pair of handcuffs, in order to drag him to Hades. King Sisyphus is intrigued with this new application of being chained, and asks Death to use himself to demonstrate the handcuffs. As soon as Death is cuffed, Sisyphus throws him into his closet, as a prisoner.
The consequence is that no ones dies with Death locked in the closet. The god Ares is miffed that warriors still get chopped to bits, but somehow pull themselves together, and manage to eat at the dinner table that night. Ares thinks, “what is the point to war if victory has no death”.
So Sisyphus is forced to go to Hades, but again he stops short of crossing the river Styx. He asks his wife to toss his naked body into the town square of Corinth, unburied. Without the honor of a funeral, he doesn’t have a coin under his tongue to pay the ferryman Charon. He never crosses the river and he remains thieving and lying as King of Corinth.
It is the sin of self aggrandizer cleverness that finally causes the gods to condemn him to Hades with this particular (customized) task of rolling the boulder.
He can’t walk away, he is allowed power, and control, over the boulder for nearly all of the task. He is convinced that, this time, he will be successful. The boulder allows this to happen, until the very end, and then the boulder has the power to break free and roll back to the bottom. An unending futile energy expense, resulting in unending failure. Wow!!
How many of us have boulders in our lives? Do we accept that we are condemned in the same way? Or can we simply turn aside and walk away? Perhaps the answer is whether or not that we are overly clever.