The latter knew (Sisyphus), so runs the legend, that Zeus had ravished Aegina, the daughter of Asopus, but refused to give information to the seeker before he had a spring given him on the Acrocorinthus. When Asopus granted this request Sisyphus turned informer, and on this account he receives--if anyone believes the story--punishment in Hades. Pausanias Description of Greece

Sisyphus ( Σίσυφος )(also Sísyphos or Sisuphos), in Greek mythology, was the son of Aeolus and Enarete, husband of Merope, and King/Founder of Ephyra (Corinth). According to some (later) sources, he was the father of Odysseus by Anticlea, before she married her later husband, Laertes.

He was the father of the Corinthian king Glaucus by Merope. He was said to have founded the Isthmian games in honour of Melicertes, whose body he found lying on the shore of the Isthmus of Corinth.

He promoted navigation and commerce, but was avaricious and deceitful. He killed travellers and wayfarers. From Homer onwards, Sisyphus was famed as the craftiest of men. When Thanatos came to fetch him, Sisyphus put him into fetters, so that no one died till Ares came, freed Thanatos, and delivered Sisyphus into his custody.

But Sisyphus was not yet at the end of his resources. For before he died he told his wife that when he was gone she was not to offer the usual sacrifice to the dead. So in the underworld he complained that his wife was neglecting her duty, and he persuaded Hades to allow him to go back to the upper world and expostulate with her. But when he got back to Corinth he positively refused to return, until forcibly carried off by Hermes.

Detail of a vase painting from a vase now in Munich, one of the Erinyes and Sisyphus in the underworld

Sisyphos, Ixion and Tantalus

'Sisyphean task' or 'Sisyphean challenge'

In the underworld Sisyphus was compelled to roll a big stone up a steep hill; but before it reached the top of the hill the stone always rolled down, and Sisyphus had to begin all over again (Odyssey, xi. 593). As a result, pointless or interminable activities are often described as Sisyphean. The reason for his punishment is not mentioned in Homer, and is obscure. According to some, he had revealed the designs of the gods to mortals, according to others, he was in the habit of attacking and murdering travellers. Sisyphus was a common subject of ancient writers, and was depicted by the painter Polygnotus on the walls of the Lesche at Delphi (Pausanias x. 31).

According to the solar theory, Sisyphus is the disk of the sun that rises every day and then sinks below the horizon. Others see in him a personification of the waves rising to a height and then suddenly falling, or of the treacherous sea. It is suggested by Welcker that the legend is symbolic of the vain struggle of man in the pursuit of knowledge. S. Reinach (Revue archéologique, 1904) finds the origin of the story in a picture, in which Sisyphus was represented rolling a huge stone up Acrocorinthus, symbolic of the labour and skill involved in the building of the Sisypheum. When a distinction was made between the souls in the underworld, Sisyphus was supposed to be rolling up the stone perpetually as a punishment for some offence committed on Earth, and various reasons were invented to account for it.

Pausanias 2.4.1:

Sisyphus had other sons besides Glaucus, the father of Bellerophontes a second was Ornytion, and besides him there were Thersander and Almus. Ornytion had a son Phocus, reputed to have been begotten by Poseidon. He migrated to Tithorea in what is now called Phocis, but Thoas, the younger son of Ornytion, remained behind at Corinth. Thoas begat Damophon, Damophon begat Propodas, and Propodas begat Doridas and Hyanthidas. While these were kings the Dorians took the field against Corinth, their leader being Aletes, the son of Hippotas, the son of Phylas, the son of Antiochus, the son of Heracles. So Doridas and Hyanthidas gave up the kingship to Aletes and remained at Corinth, but the Corinthian people were conquered in battle and expelled by the Dorians.

Aletes himself and his descendants reigned for five generations to Bacchis, the son of Prumnis, and, named after him, the Bacchidae reigned for five more generations to Telestes, the son of Aristodemus. Telestes was killed in hate by Arieus and Perantas, and there were no more kings, but Prytanes (Presidents) taken from the Bacchidae and ruling for one year, until Cypselus, the son of Eetion, became tyrant and expelled the Bacchidae. Cypselus was a descendant of Melas, the son of Antasus. Melas from Gonussa above Sicyon joined the Dorians in the expedition against Corinth. When the god expressed disapproval Aletes at first ordered Melas to withdraw to other Greeks, but afterwards, mistaking the oracle, he received him as a settler. Such I found to be the history of the Corinthian kings.

Sisyphus, Titian


Albert Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus
Stone Of Sisyphus (unreleased album by Chicago)
Sisyphus cooling (quantum mechanical effect)
Sisyphus (dialogue), a dialogue ascribed to Plato

The Sisyphus Beetle

The first example is the Sisyphus beetle (Sisyphus Schaefferi, Lin.), the smallest and most industrious of our pill-makers. It has no equal in lively agility, grotesque somersaults, and sudden tumbles down the impossible paths or over the impracticable obstacles to which its obstinacy is perpetually leading it. In allusion to these frantic gymnastics Latreille has given the insect the name of Sisyphus, after the celebrated inmate of the classic Hades. This unhappy spirit underwent terrible exertions in his efforts to heave to the top of a mountain an enormous rock, which always escaped him at the moment of attaining the summit, and rolled back to the foot of the slope. Begin again, poor Sisyphus, begin again, begin again always! Your torments will never cease until the rock is firmly placed upon the summit of the mountain. J. H. Fabre, Social Life in the Insect World

Ulysses seeing the Shade of Hercules

Mythology Images

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