Sisyphus | King of Thessaly

Sisyphus Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus (Greek: Σίσυφος, transl.: Sísyphos), son of King Aeolus of Thessaly and Enarete, was considered the most cunning of all mortals.

He was the founder and first king of Ephira, later called Corinth, where he ruled for several years. He married Mérope, daughter of Atlas, and was the father of Glaucus and grandfather of Bellerophon.

Paternal Family

Aeolus was one of the sons of Helenus, son of Deucalion, and reigned over Thessaly. Enarete was the daughter of Deimachus.

Aeolus and Enarete had several sons, Creteus, Sisyphus, Deioneus, Salmoneus, Atamante, Perieres, Cercafas, and Magnes, and daughters, Calice, Peisidice, Perimele, Alcimone, and Carnace.

The story of Sisyphus

A master of malice and happiness, he entered tradition as one of the greatest offenders of the gods.

According to Hyginus, he hated his brother Salmoneus; asking Apollo how he could kill his enemy, the god replied that he should have sons with Tyre, Salmoneus' daughter, who would avenge him.

Two sons were born, but Tyre, discovering the prophecy, killed them. Sisyphus took revenge and, because of this, he received as punishment in the land of the dead to push a stone to the highest place on the mountain, from where it rolls back.

According to Pausanias, he became king of Corinth after the departure of Jason and Medea; in this version, Medea did not kill her own children out of revenge, but hid them in Hera's temple hoping that by doing so they would become immortal.

Sisyphus married Merepe, one of the seven Pleiades, and had a son, Glaucus, with her. He also had other sons, Ornithion, Tersander, and Almus.

Once, a great eagle flew over his city, carrying in its talons a beautiful young woman. Sisyphus recognized the young Egina, daughter of Asopos, a river-god. Later, the old Asopos came to ask him if he knew of his daughter's abduction and what her fate would be.

Sisyphus soon made a deal: in exchange for a source of water for his city, he would tell the whereabouts of his daughter. The deal was made and the gifted fountain was named Pirene.

Thus, he aroused the anger of the great Zeus, who sent the god of Death, Thanate, to take him to the underground world. However, the clever Sisyphus managed to deceive Zeus' envoy.

He praised his beauty and asked him to let him adorn his neck with a necklace. The necklace, in fact, was nothing more than a collar, with which Sisyphus kept Death imprisoned and managed to evade his destiny.

For a while no one else died. Sisyphus knew how to fool Death, but he got into new trouble. This time with Hades, the god of the dead, and with Ares, the god of war, who needed the services of Death to conclude the battles.

As soon as he learned of this, Hades released Tangatus and ordered him to bring Sisyphus immediately to the mansions of death. When Sisyphus said goodbye to his wife, he was careful to secretly ask her not to bury his body.

Once in hell, Sisyphus complained to Hades about his wife's lack of respect for not burying him. He then begged for one more day to take revenge on his ungrateful wife and to fulfill the funeral rites. Hades granted his request. Sisyphus then took back his body and fled with his wife. He had cheated Death for the second time.

Another story about Sisyphus is about what happened when Autolycus, the most clever and successful thief in Greece (who was the son of Hermes and Sisyphus' neighbor), tried to steal his cattle. Autolycus changed the color of the animals.

The cattle systematically disappeared without the slightest sign of the thief being found, but Sisyphus began to suspect something, because Autolicos' herd increased as his own decreased. Sisyphus, an educated man (he would have been one of the first Greeks to master writing), had the idea to mark the hooves of his animals with signs so that as the res moved away from the corral, the phrase "Autolycus stole me" would appear on the ground.

Later, Sisyphus and Autolycus made up and became friends. Sisyphus also seduced Anticleia, Autolycus' daughter, who later married the king of Ithaca, Laertes; for this reason, Odysseus is considered by some authors to be Sisyphus' son.

Sisyphus died of old age and Zeus sent Hermes to conduct his soul to Hades. In Tartarus, Sisyphus was considered a great rebel and had a punishment, along with Prometheus, Titus, Tantalus, and Ixion.

Sisyphus received this punishment: he was condemned for all eternity to roll a large marble stone with his hands to the top of a mountain, and every time he was almost reaching the top, the stone would roll back down the mountain to the starting point by an irresistible force, completely invalidating the hard effort expended.

For this reason, the expression "Sisyphean work" in modern contexts is used to denote any task that involves long, repetitive and inevitably doomed efforts - something like an endless cycle of efforts that not only never lead to anything useful or fruitful, but are also totally devoid of any options of giving up or refusing to do so.

Sisyphean Work

Sisyphus became known for performing routine and tiring work. This was a punishment to show him that mortals do not have the freedom of the gods. Mortals have the freedom of choice, so they must concentrate on and commit themselves to the tasks of everyday life, living it to the full, becoming creative in repetition and monotony.