Word of the Day: Sisyphean

When you see the word Sisyphean, what comes to mind? Is it a label of something? Or perhaps a description of an action?

Origin of Sisyphean

Sisyphean was based on the name of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was the founder and king of Ephyra, or later known as Corinth, in Greek mythology. He was very cunning that even the god of the Underworld, Hades, fell to his wiles, when he asked Hades to demonstrate on himself how his handcuffs work. Sisyphus, instead of meeting his end, locked up Hades in his closet. Eventually, Hades was freed and he has to go to the Underworld.

Sisyphus, has another trick up his sleeve. He told his wife not to bury him and informed Persephone, the beautiful wife of Hades, that he needs to go back to the living so his funeral can be arranged. After all, for him to cross to the other side of the river Styx, his wife has to place a coin on under his tongue so he can pay Charon to ferry him across. Persephone agreed and so Sisyphus returned to the land of the living and lived for another stretch of years.

But, as cunning as he was, he eventually was hauled back to the Underworld with his crimes enumerated before him. The gods, angry, condemned him to roll a massive boulder to the top of a hill. He thought that it was a simple task, one he can finish immediately and be done with. Unfortunately for him, the boulder was very heavy, and he has to push it himself, alone. It was a task that was very laborious.

Eventually, he was able to succeed. Just when he thought he was done and he had once again defeated the gods in their own game, the boulder rolled back down. He had to push it up again… for all eternity. A futile task.

Thus, a Sisyphean is a task, a project, or a problem that is both very laborious and futile.

Use Sisyphean in a sentence

The twins went to the place they called Smokey Mountain. It was a mountain of trash dumped a few blocks away from where they live. Seeing the challenge before them, Jane said, “brother, finding all the bottles and cans in that mountain of garbage is a Sisyphean task!”

Her borther replied, “Sisyphean or not, we need to help our parents so we have food in our belly.”

Jane shrugged, and together the twins started digging in the Smokey Mountain, searching for bottles and cans in the hope that their Sisyphean effort will one day end.

(Aside: Let us not forget that there are children working in garbage dumps all around the world to look for something they can sell to buy food for their families. If we can help in any way, please do that. Even a small token that brings smile and hope to these kids can make a huge difference in their lives.)


The image used, “Punishment sisyph”, is in the Public Domain and was created by artists Titian (1488-1576). Source: Wikimedia Commons.


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