Recently, there has been a trend surrounding the mythical Greek character Sisyphus. To explain this trend, I should probably start by talking about who he is and the myth surrounding his existence.
The mythology of Sisyphus
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus committed an array of pretty heinous crimes, leading him to the “unfortunate” end we all know and laugh about.
Sisyphus (or Sisyphos) was the king of Ephyra, a city-state now known as Corinth in Greece. Sisyphus was known for being greedy and deceitful, often killing guests and travelers in his palace to maintain his status as a powerful king. These killings were a violation of Xenia, an ancient Greek concept of hospitality, and angered the god Zeus. Apart from being on Zeus’ naughty list, he was also known for hating his brother, Salmoneus, and consulted the Oracle of Delphi on how to kill his sibling without facing consequences. Sisyphus was known as one of the crafiest men, and went to extreme lengths to dethrone/kill his brother. For example, seducing Salmoneus’ daughter and having children just to kill Salmoneus and take the throne. Unfortunately for Sisyphus, Salmoneus’ daughter caught on, and killed their children.
Now, we can already see Sisyphus is a pretty bad person, but in the face of the Gods, it gets even worse when Sisyphus decided to betray one of Zeus’ secrets for, get this, a SPRING to flow in the Ephyrian acropolis. In retaliation, Zeus ordered Thanatos to chain Sisyphus in Tartarus, one of the regions in the underworld, which is where souls are judged and where the wicked receive divine punishment. We know Sisyphus is crafty, so he came up with the idea of asking Thanatos to demonstrate how the chains worked. Thanatos decided to grant him this wish, and Sisyphus took this opportunity to trap Thanatos and escape. Once Thanatos was bound by the chains, nobody on Earth died anymore, causing problems. Ares, the god of war, was annoyed that battles lost their fun, due to none of his opponents ever dying. Thus, he intervened and freed Thanatos, allowing for death to take place once again, and turned Sisyphus in.
As a punishment for his crimes, Hades made Sisyphus roll a boulder endlessly up a steep hill in Tartarus. This punishment was reserved to Sisyphus, due to his belief that he was too clever for Zeus. This made Hades enchant the boulder in a way that made the boulder roll away from Sisyphus before he could reach the top, which left Sisyphus to an eternity of useless effort and unending frustration.
I think I covered the mythology side of it. Time to move on to the next part!
First instances of usage on the internet
The earliest known usage of Sisyphus in memes was by Know Your Meme user Olex Xelo. It was a play on the then popular meme “They see me rolling”, satirizing Sisyphus’ task with an unserious caption.
In the coming years, Sisyphus was also used on 4chan, oftentimes directly referencing Sisyphus
Moving on to more recent instances, Sisyphus started spreading on other internet spaces like Twitter (now known as X), with Sisyphus being used in the “Are you winning, son?” meme template. The first instance of this was posted by analytical_shit on Twitter.
The recent boom in usage
On January 29th, 2023, awakenatlas on TikTok posted a video, claiming that we are missing the point of Sisyphus’ myth, and that he gets stronger. In the video, awakenatlas says “The point [of Sisyphus’ punishment] is that we are free to imagine him happy, because he is. He becomes a person who can roll a boulder up a hill every single day and do it again, and its amazing, because there is a deeping of self as he does it over and over and over again, it is different everyday. Not because what he’s doing every day is different, it’s actually the thing that he’s doing is the same, but he is then allowed to become different. It’s kind of a metaphor for having a practice and a routine and like doing the same thing every dane and like cyclical, seasonal, blah blah blah that thing. It is an ode to physical suffering because that brings enlightenment. Rolling a boulder up a hill every single day is not a punishment, it is his reward”
This generated some controversy, for example Twitter user seungylee14 tweeted out “gm to the tiktok lady who said the myth of Sisyphus is about the value of having a good daily routine and that Sisyphus is happy because he is getting more swole every time he pushes the boulder up. my brain gets hot like an old laptop thinking about it”
“One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy” is the concluding sentence of Albert Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus, which then became popularized on TikTok with videos of media that can be compared to the myth of Sisyphus, with brief flashes of images of Sisyphus rolling the boulder. These videos are often accompanied by the song “Me and the Birds” by Duster.
Our day to day
When it comes to our day to day lives, can we compare Sisyphus to the modern world we live in? Maybe. Should we? Absolutely not. It is easy to see how we might be Sisyphus, constantly pushing for a better life, only to be pushed down by an insurmountable curse. It can describe a situation a lot of people are in, for example working a dead-end job, being forced into a routine with little to no variation, or struggling with mental health. These all feel like downhill fights, but most of the time it doesnt have to be. Of course, its difficult to escape these situations, but if there is the most miniscule chance of escaping them, why surrender yourself and make that chance null? Always work to a better future, never let yourself down.
Sisyphus was a bad person, and I hope the boulder keeps falling.
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