The ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus is currently trending on social media sites like TikTok and Twitter. Users have been satirizing the myth in memes posted online.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a cunning and deceitful king who was condemned to an eternal punishment of endlessly pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down each time he neared the top.
As with many of the Greek myths, the tale of Sisyphus has taken on a metaphorical meaning. Hence, tasks that are both strenuous and futile are termed Sisyphean.
The story in Greek mythology
The story of Sisyphus comes from Greek mythology and appears in the works of several ancient Greek writers including Homer and Plutarch. Sisyphus was the crafty and deceitful king of Corinth, known for his cunning nature although there are several different versions of his tale which are often contradictory.
Sisyphus, renowned for his cunning and deceitful nature, cheated death and Hades twice. In the first instance, he audaciously captured and chained Thanatos, the personification of Death, preventing anyone from dying until Ares intervened and freed Death.
In the second episode, Sisyphus persuaded his own wife to neglect the required funerary offerings. He was thereby able to manipulate Hades’s kindhearted wife, Persephone, to release him from the underworld so that he could instruct his wife to perform the necessary offerings. He lived a long life thereafter, with Death unwilling to go near him after the previous experience of being put in chains.
Upon his third death, however, Sisyphus could not escape his fate. Zeus, the king of the gods, intervened and punished Sisyphus by making him endlessly push a massive boulder uphill, only to have it slip from his grasp and roll back down repeatedly for eternity.
In Homer’s Odyssey, the Greek hero Odysseus describes having seen Sisyphus and his eternal punishment thus:
“Then I witnessed the torture of Sisyphus, as he wrestled with a huge rock with both hands. Bracing himself and thrusting with hands and feet he pushed the boulder uphill to the top. But every time, as he was about to send it toppling over the crest, its sheer weight turned it back, and once again towards the plain the pitiless rock rolled down. So once more he had to wrestle with the thing and push it up, while the sweat poured from his limbs and the dust rose high above his head.”
Why is the myth of Sisyphus trending on Twitter and Tiktok?
Having been the subject of popular memes in 2009 and 2011, the myth of Sisyphus and his eternal punishment has again resurfaced on social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok.
Many users have posted memes comparing strenuous, repetitive, boring, and seemingly futile parts of everyday modern life to Sisyphus’ punishment of pushing the giant boulder up a hill every day.
However, the myth of Sisyphus appears to have first begun trending after a user called @awakenatlas posted a video on TikTok outlining her philosophical musings about the ancient Greek tale.
“It is an ode to physical suffering because that brings enlightenment,” said @awakenatlas, “Rolling a boulder up a hill every single day is not a punishment it is his reward.”
As some online users have pointed out, @awkenatlas’s interpretation of the myth resembles that of the French philosopher and author Albert Camus in his work, The Myth of Sisyphus.
According to Camus, Sisyphus embodies the ideal absurd hero, and his eternal punishment reflects the human condition: a perpetual and futile struggle. Camus suggests that by accepting the meaninglessness of life and embracing the absurdity of his task, Sisyphus can find happiness in his existence.