The Myth of Sisyphus revisited

It’s a little-known fact that Sisyphus was married. Condemned to roll a boulder to the top of a mountain and see it roll down the other face, and have to roll it up again day in, day out was his punishment for cheating the gods. He was ashamed at having been tricked into this eternal punishment and had not confided in his wife. He was always late for supper and she was sick and tired of his excuses.

One day, she followed him surreptitiously to find out what he was doing all day. She suspected he had a mistress since he came back in a funny mood and too exhausted to take care of his manly duties. He must roll a heavy boulder up a mountain for eternity… Having finally understood the issue, she took pity on him.

When he came home, he ate a simple but filling meal. She had prepared a hot bath with herbs for him to soak in and loosen up his muscles. He relaxed into it gratefully. He was so tired that he fell asleep, dreaming of the thunder of rolling boulders. While he was sleeping, she ran to the mountain to analyse the situation.

First, she had a good long look at the boulder. It was immense, and she could not budge it. She wondered again how he managed to find the strength to roll it up but, more importantly, how he had the willpower to start over every time. She loved the fool dearly and wanted to help. There was no one on the mountain and she started the steep ascent slowly, looking right and left for clues. She could see his habitual path, well worn and devoid of pebbles, all crushed into sand under the enormous weight of the rock. She shuddered and kept going, all senses on alert. He would need better sandals, for one. She made it to the top, after much effort. There was little room to rest. It was a peak – no wonder the boulder could not stay on top. She looked to see if there was any way to flatten it, so it would rest. That would be a big job.

She saw the sun set. She had very little daylight time left and hurried down carefully. There was no point in spraining an ankle. She would be of no use to him. She came back in the house. Sisyphus was snoring in the tub, and the bath water had cooled. She roused him and put him to bed where he slept the sleep of the dead.

The next morning, he was out the door, a little less stiff, grimly determined to do his duty lest the gods seek revenge on his family. His wife had prepared him lunch and given him coca leaves to munch during the day, to dull the pain. There was a good breeze at the top of the mountain and it cooled him off and dried the sweat off his body. Heading home, he was almost happy for a good day’s work. He was starting to feel pride in his work and was less tired than usual. Also, his wife had been uncommonly nice, and he felt a certain tenderness in his heart.

By the door was a new pair of sandals. He did not wish for visitors and was a little irritated. The table was set for two and his wife was in a great mood. Seeing he wasn’t, she inquired at his displeasure and was happy to understand he was jealous. She explained his sandals were worn out and she had decided to call in a favour from the sandalier. They were his. Ashamed at his thoughts and touched by her kindness, he explained what had happened to him and that he was condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain for eternity. They cried in each others arms, harbouring no thought of trying to deceive the gods again by planing the peak or wedging the boulder. The next day was better than the previous. Sisyphus had the strength of his wife’s love to add to his courage.

The gods were getting restless. They had thought to punish this human for his craftiness, but he was outsmarting them by submitting meekly to their folly and rage. To add insult to injury, the couple was growing fonder in adversity. Unbeknownst to Sisyphus, his wife had decided to petition the gods. She figured they needed a way to save face if they were to release him from punishment. She thought she would use reverse psychology, as the gods were not as smart as they thought they were. She managed an audience with Zeus. On her knees, she explained how deeply unhappy she was that her husband had turned into a workaholic. He took pride in rolling this stupid boulder up the steep mountain. He said he was getting a workout and the girls were admiring his new body. He was looking forward to work, and loved nothing better than admire the sunset at the end of each day. Zeus thought long and hard and came up with the worst punishment he could think of.

Sisyphus was called to Zeus and ordered to immediately retire. He was to spend the rest of his days idle, a life of leisure devoid of meaning. And thus modern society was born.

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