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The myth of Sisyphus and its punishment: the torture of a meaningless life

The myth of Sisyphus and its punishment: the torture of a meaningless life

January 22, 2022

Sisyphus is a famous character from the mythology of Ancient Greece belonging to the Homeric tradition, created around the eighth century BC. C. However, its history has transcended in the socio-cultural context of Hellenic history, because it has reached our days as one of the most important narrations linked to the importance of finding meaning in the things we do and, in general, in our lives

In the following pages we will review briefly what is the myth of Sisyphus and the stone , and in what way it can be interpreted from existentialist and humanist philosophy.

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Who was Sisyphus?

Sisyphus was, according to Greek mythology, the first king of the city of Éfira, currently known as Corinth . Appears characterized in the Odyssey and the Iliad as an ambitious and cruel ruler, who did not hesitate to use violence to stay in power and avoid losing influence to his adversaries, which led him to kill several people. In addition, he did not feel blushing when deceiving people and, in general, he was described as making him fulfill the characteristics of classic tricksters.


Certainly, having almost total control of a large territory and governing it was not unusual at that stage of Hellenic history, but Sisyphus had the misfortune to impose his will in violation of the rules that Zeus imposed on mortals. According to some versions of the myth, Sisyphus accused Zeus of kidnapping a nymph, while others point out that he crossed the limits by killing several travelers. At the moment in which Thanatos, death, went to look for the Greek king by order of Zeus , Sisyphus deceived the one who had to take him to the underworld by placing the chains and shackles that were destined to be used in him, so that he could not die until Ares intervened.


When the time came, the story did not end with Sisyphus staying in the underworld. True to his wicked and deceitful nature, the Greek king had asked his wife not to perform the typical rituals in honor of the dead, so that Sisyphus had an excuse to ask to return to the world of mortals to punish her. This desire was satisfied by Ares, but Sisyphus refused to return to the domain of death , so bringing him back meant causing new annoyances to the gods. There began the famous punishment of the great stone.

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The punishment of the Greek king: drag a stone

The penalty that Sisyphus had to fulfill was not based on physical pain, or exactly on humiliation. It was based, in any case, on the fact of experiencing first-hand the nonsense.


The punishment consisted of push a large rounded stone from the base of a mountain to its top to, once there, see how it fell rolling again to the starting point. According to some versions of the myth of Sisyphus, this punishment was (or, rather, is) practically eternal.

The pain of lack of meaning in life

As we have said, Sisyphus is a man who did not exist beyond the framework of narratives that structured the belief system of a large part of ancient Greek society. But even if it only belongs to the field of myths and fictions, his figure has something that is easy to identify even in the contemporary era. Because his story tells us about the tragedy of living an absurd , something that does not lead to anything.

The story of Sisyphus connects very well with existentialist philosophy , which in turn has greatly influenced the humanistic paradigm of psychology. This set of philosophers are characterized by worrying about the phenomenological aspect of the experiences, that is, what is subjective, private and non-transferable to other people, linked to the consciousness of each one and to the sensations that can not be expressed totally by the words .

That is why the way in which we give meaning to life, which is an aspect of life that can not be exhausted by naming it through language, is something very much explored by existentialists. And that is why one of the most important existentialist thinkers, Albert Camus , he dedicated to that piece of Greek mythology a book: The myth of Sisyphus.

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Camus and the myth of Sisyphus

For Camus, the main philosophical question that must be addressed is: what is the aspect of life that makes it worth living? Or, more succinctly: What is it that makes suicide not the option that seduces us the most? Circumstantial pleasure can invade our consciousness at a given moment, but in itself it does not make our lives worthwhile. What can make it worthwhile, on the other hand, is to make our actions fit into a vital project that makes sense.

But another of the usual premises from which the existentialists start is that life itself has no meaning. This is so because to assume that yes it does it would be to accept also that beyond the own one of the things there is something more, a story that structures and vertebla the reality; but this does not happen. Reality is simply, it exists, and nothing else . That is why, for Camus, it is oneself who must embrace the project of giving meaning to life, and not fall into the trap of adopting an existence like the one Sisyphus had by dragging the stone up and down again and again.


The Philosophy of Albert Camus - Absurd (January 2022).


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