Characteristics of Greek Myth

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Characteristics of Greek Myth
(with examples from Prometheus and Io)

Hero with a fatal flaw
Prometheus gives fire to mortals

Adventures of a hero
Prometheus and how he gets where he is, chained to a rock as a punishment by Zeus

Intervention of gods and goddesses
Hera intervenes with Zeus and Io, Zeus does not intervene with his wife’s wrath and lets Io become a cow, Hera takes the eyes after the monster is killed

Supernatural Activity (underworld, superhuman tasks)
Zeus causes black clouds to cover the land, Hera turns Io into a cow

Problem caused by greed and jealousy
Zeus likes Io and is so greedy he has to have her, Hera is jealous and turns the girl into a cow

A woman is responsible for causing problems
Io was pretty and so Zeus liked her, Hera became jealous- catalyst

Explanation of how things are now
Prometheus is chained to the rock as a punishment, Zeus restores Io eventually, Hercules descends Io, Hercules frees Prometheus eventually

References to the natural world
Ionian Sea, Bosphorus Sea, Fire used by man

Not always a happy ending
(several possibilities)

Lesson in the story for the reader
(several possibilities)

The Creation of Man by Prometheus

Prometheus and Epimetheus were spared imprisonment in Tartarus because they had not fought with their fellow Titans during the war with the Olympians. They were given the task of creating man. Prometheus shaped man out of mud, and Athena breathed life into his clay figure.

Prometheus had assigned Epimetheus the task of giving the creatures of the earth thier various qualities, such as swiftness, cunning, strength, fur, wings. Unfortunately, by the time he got to man Epimetheus had given all the good qualities out and there were none left for man. So Prometheus decided to make man stand upright as the gods did and to give them fire.

Prometheus loved man more than the Olympians, who had banished most of his family to Tartarus. So when Zeus decreed that man must present a portion of each animal they scarified to the gods Prometheus decided to trick Zeus. He created two piles, one with the bones wrapped in juicy fat, the other with the good meat hidden in the hide. He then bade Zeus to pick. Zeus picked the bones. Since he had given his word Zeus had to accept that as his share for future sacrifices. In his anger over the trick he took fire away from man. However, Prometheus lit a torch from the sun and brought it back again to man. Zeus was enraged that man again had fire. He decided to inflict a terrible punishment on both man and Prometheus.

To punish man, Zeus had Hephaestus create a mortal of stunning beauty. The gods gave the mortal many gifts of wealth. He then had Hermes give the mortal a deceptive heart and a lying tongue. This creation was Pandora, the first women. A final gift was a jar which Pandora was forbidden to open. Thus, completed Zeus sent Pandora down to Epimetheus who was staying amongst the men.

Prometheus had warned Epimetheus not to accept gifts from Zeus but, Pandora's beauty was too great and he allowed her to stay. Eventually, Pandora's curiosity about the jar she was forbidden to open became to great. She opened the jar and out flew all manner of evils, sorrows, plagues, and misfortunes. However, the bottom of the jar held one good thing - hope.

Zeus was angry at Prometheus for three things: being tricked on sacrifices, stealing fire for man, and for refusing to tell Zeus which of Zeus's children would dethrone him. Zeus had his servants, Force and Violence, seize Prometheus, take him to the Caucasus Mountains, and chain him to a rock with unbreakable adamanite chains. Here he was tormented day and night by a giant eagle tearing at his liver. Zeus gave Prometheus two ways out of this torment. He could tell Zeus who the mother of the child that would dethrone him was. Or meet two conditions: First, that an immortal must volunteer to die for Prometheus. Second, that a mortal must kill the eagle and unchain him. Eventually, Chiron the Centaur agreed to die for him and Heracles killed the eagle and unbound him.

The Myth of Jupiter and Io

Io was a river goddess. Jupiter fell in love with the beautiful maiden, and one day, as she rested on the banks of the River, he changed his shape into that of a cloud, and embraced her. He whispered words of love to her, and then planted an immortal kiss upon her upturned cheek.

Now Jupiter's wife, the goddess Juno, was suspicious when she saw the cloud enveloping the Earth, for she noticed at the same time that her husband Jupiter was absent from Mt. Olympus. So Juno mounted her peacock drawn carriage and came to investigate. Jupiter quickly changed Io into a cow, hoping to conceal his romance with Io from his jealous wife. When Juno came upon the spot where Jupiter had only moments before been embracing Io, she saw only him and a beautiful cow. She immediately realized what had occurred, and said with sweet cunning, "Oh what a beautiful cow. Will you, mighty lord and master of all gods and men, give it to me as a gift." Jupiter was trapped. He could not deny Juno so simple a gift as a cow, yet he did not want to give away his girl friend Io. But in the end, Jupiter gave Juno the cow.

Juno immediately placed the cow under the watchful eyes of her trusted servant Argus. Now Argus had a hundred eyes, and only a few were ever closed at any one time. Thus Argus was able to watch over the cow Io constantly, without ever sleeping, for some eyes were always open. Jupiter was very sad, not only because Io was a cow, but because he could not visit with her without arousing jealousy in Juno. Finally, Jupiter sent his son Mercury to the site, with instructions that Mercury should sing and tell stories, and thereby lull Argus to sleep. So Mercury set out to fulfill his father's command, armed only with his syrinx, or musical pipes, and a head full of stories. Soon enough he found Argus sitting along the banks of the River Inachus, maintaining constant watch over Io, the heifer. After hearing him play on his pipes, Argus invited Mercury to sit awhile, and entertain him.

Mercury sat and played on the pipes, known as a syrinx, and told many stories. Finally he related the story of how the instrument he played upon was created. "Once upon a time, there was a beautiful water-goddess named Syrinx. She avoided young men and only kept company with the moon goddess Diana. Every day she attended to the needs of Diana, and followed her on the hunt. One day the god Pan met Syrinx in the woods, and fell in love with her. He told her how much he loved her, but Syrinx ran away if fear. Pan ran after her, for he wanted to hug her and kiss her. He overtook her on the bank of the river, and reached out to embrace her. She cried out for help from her companion water-goddess, and they responded by turning her into a clump of reeds at the moment of that Pan was about to kiss her. Pan sighed with disappointment when he saw that his beloved Syrinx had turned into a clump of reeds. Pan noticed that the air from his sigh passed through the clump of reeds, and made a beautiful sound. Pan then fashioned the reeds into a musical instrument which he named Syrinx, in honor of the young girl he had loved in vain." At this moment Mercury noted that Argus had fallen fast asleep.

When Mercury saw that Argus had fallen asleep, he reached for his sword, cut off the monster's head, and set Io free, although Io was still in the shape of a heifer. Juno took the eyes from the head of the slain Argus and placed them on the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock, where they remain to this day. And then Juno released a stinging fly to torment Io.

The legacy of the myth of Jupiter and Io includes names of seas, geographical passes, whole races of peoples, a moon of Jupiter, and a major feature on that moon.

Following the release of the stinging fly by Juno, Io swam across a body of water west of Greece, that was afterwards named the Ionian Sea to honor Io's passage. Io then passed over the narrow entrance to the Black Sea. The narrow entrance to the Black Sea is named the Bosporus, meaning "the fording of the ox," in honor of her passage. In the Caucusus she visited with the god Prometheus, who was also being unjustly punished, his crime being the theft of fire from heaven for the benefit of mankind. Finally, after Jupiter promised to no longer pursue Io, Juno released Io from her shape of a cow, and Io eventually settled in Egypt, becoming, according to legend, the first Queen of Egypt. After Galileo discovered the major moons of Jupiter in 1610, they were named for the mythological sweethearts of Jupiter, one of them, of course, being Io. And finally, when Voyager 1 passed Io in March 1979 and took a photo of the surface, the image showed the hoofprint of a heifer!

Jason and the Golden Fleece

Jason's story is an ancient Greek myth, folk tale that is passed from generations to generations. About a hero who traveled on a voyage in search of the Golden Fleece, so that he could help his father get his kingdom back from King Pelias.

Jason's father was Aeson, the King of Lolcus and mother Alcimede. Aeson stepbrother Pelias was eager for the throne of Lolcus, so in a battle, he removed Aeson from power and made himself the King. Aeson and Pelias shared a common mother, Tyro. She was the daughter of Salmoneus and sea god Poseidon. Pelias, to make sure that no one from Aeson's family could challenge him, killed his family. But Alcimede saved their baby, Jason. To save him Alcimede gave away her baby son to Chiron, who became his guardian. But Pelias was obsessed with his throne and he consulted an oracle that told him that a man wearing one sandal would be the reason for his end.

Later on as years went by, Jason grew up. Pelias had started games events as a tribute to his so-called father Poseidon. When Jason arrived in Lolcus, he lost his one sandal while crossing a river and trying to help Goddess Hera, who was in disguise of an old woman. Someone told Pelias that there was a man in Lolcus who was wearing one sandal. Jason came to Pelias and claimed his kingdom, which was rightfully his. But Pelias put a condition in front of him that would return back his kingdom, if he brought him the Golden Fleece. Pelias thought that the task was impossible and Jason would never come back.

The Search for Golden Fleece

Jason was in early twenties when he started his search for the Golden Fleece. Jason gathered a team of 50 people and started his voyage on a ship called 'Agro'. Together they were known as the 'Argonauts'. Later on as the voyage moved further the team increased to about 100 people. One of the famous heroes on this ship was Hercules. It is said the Jason's journey was one of the first longest voyages of its times.

Jason's journey through the Black sea was one of its first introductions. As the Greeks traveled here they colonized the coast and ruled it for almost 3000 years.
Jason's first stop was the island of Lemnos (today rests in Modern Turkey), which was based in the Aegean Sea. Women, who cursed by Goddess Aphrodite, because they had ignored her worship, inhabited the island. So she cursed them and made their body smell so disgusting that their husbands ran away. Angry with Aphrodite, they killed their husbands.

Next they moved with the Doliones, where their King Kyzicos greeted them. After the left the Doliones, the 'Argonauts', lost their way and landed at the same island. This time Kyzicos thought them to be enemies and fought with them. The 'Argonauts' killed many Doliones along with the King. But later on they realized their mistake.

When the 'Argonauts' reached Thrace they met Phineus of Salmydessus. Phineus was blind by choice because he wanted to live a long life (according to a prophecy by Apollo) and if he wanted to predict the sayings of Gods. Jason saved Phineus from Harpies who was sent by Helios (Sun God) to kill him. In return of his favor, Phineus told him the site of Colchis.

To reach Colchis, one had to travel through the cliffs of Symplegades. But the cliffs trampled anyone and anything that traveled between them. So Phineus suggested that Jason release a dove between the cliffs. If the dove is able to reach pass the cliffs so will he. As told Jason did so and the dove passed the cliffs. Jason also traveled through the cliffs of Symplegades safely.

Finally Jason and his 'Argonauts' reached Colchis. Jason meets up with the King Aietes and asks him to return the Golden Fleece. But Aietes says yes only on the condition that he presents some extraordinary tasks. Medea the daughter of Aietes helps Jason in completing the tasks, on the condition that he marries her. But Aietes has other plans. He decides to kill Jason and the 'Argonauts' and not return the Golden Fleece. But he makes the mistake of confiding his plans with his daughter Medea. Medea helps Jason recover the Golden Fleece and they along with the 'Argonauts' flee Colchis.

The Return Journey

Zeus as a punishment for Medea for killing her own brother sent storms in the sea and drove it off course. But after purification by Circle nymph, they could continue their journey.

The Agro could surpass the Sirens with the help of Orpheus who played his lyre and made more beautiful music than the Sirens. The Sirens used to lure the sailors by creating enchanting and soulful music.
As they came to the island of Crete they encountered Talos. Talos started flinging stones at Agro. But Medea knew that Talos had only one blood vessel, closed shut by a bronzenail. Medea cast a spell on Talos, which gave her the chance to removed the nail, which left to Talos to bleed to death.

Jason's Return to Lolcus

When Jason and Medea returned to Lolcus, they found that Pelias had killed Jason's father and his mother had died due to mourning.

Medea used her witchcraft and murdered Pelias by influencing him. She promised him that he would become younger with her help but instead kills him. When Jason became disloyal to Medea and married another woman she killed their offspring's in anger. Jason death occurred due to a sad incident whereupon he was sleeping under the hull of the ship of Agro, when it fell and killed him. This thought because he broke his promise to Medea and was the method of punishment from the gods.

Medea's revenge on Jason is told in the shocking drama of the Ancient Greek Playwright Euripides tragedy 'Medea'.



The mythological tradition names Orpheus as the pre-eminent musician of the "Golden Age" of heroes. Orpheus' music and song are said to have been so enticing that they could charm the very birds from the trees, soothe Cerberus and bring the Furies to tears (Metamorphoses, X.48). Orpheus' parentage is unclear and though all sources agree his mother was the Muse of epic poetry, Calliope, there is dispute over the identity of his father, some authors claiming he was the son of the Thracian king Oeagrus, others claim he was sired by the God of the sun and music, Apollo. Details concerning Apollo's early life are sparse, although it appears as though his mother and aunts taught him to sing and play the lyre.

Orpheus Marries and becomes an Argonaut

Although one might not expect a famous musician to be a "hero" per se, Jason sought out Orpheus to join him and the other Argonauts in his quest to recover the Golden Fleece for King Pelias. This was due to a prophecy given to Jason by Chiron, a centaur famed for his nobility and skill in the arts of medicine and divination, which stated that the mission of the Argonauts would fail if Orpheus did not lend his assistance. Orpheus' sole weapon was his lyre, which he used to raise the spirits of his fellow Argonauts, and to charm fish from the sea as food for their long journey. Orpheus' most famous contribution to the quest was, however, his dealing with the Sirens (Argonautica, 4.890-920). The Sirens were three bird-women, who lived on an island meadow scattered with the bones of their numerous victims. These monsters would sing a seductive song to passing sailors, luring them onto jagged rocks where their ships would be wrecked and the mariners drown. When the Argo neared this island, Orpheus began to play his lyre and to sing an echoing song in order to confuse that of the Sirens, thus preventing the crew from being seduced into a shipwreck. One Argonaut, Boutes, was nevertheless affected by the song of the Sirens and, seeing that his comrades were sailing away from the enchanting music, he jumped overboard but was saved by Aphrodite and taken to the shores of Cape Lilybaeum.

Before he joined the Argonauts, Orpheus was married to a maiden named Eurydice. Unfortunately this marriage was short-lived, as Eurydice was killed when a poisonous snake bit her heel. There is dispute regarding the manner of her death, some say that she was struck as she danced to Orpheus' music, while others maintain that she was fleeing the advances of Aristaeus, Apollo's son. Still others, such as Ovid, state that she was killed when 'roaming with her gay Naiads' (Metamorphoses. X.13). Regardless of the manner of death, all authors agree that Orpheus was distraught at the news of his bride's demise, and he resolved to descend into the Underworld to bring her back to the land of the living. Ovid tells of how Orpheus appealed to Persephone, queen of the Underworld, for the return of his bride and how his song was so beautiful that the shades of the dead wept at the sadness of the music (Metamorphoses X.59). Persephone called Eurydice to her and gave her to Orpheus to take out of the Underworld, on the condition that he not look back at his bride until they both stood back under the light of the sun. The pair climbed the steep path back to the upper world, and Orpheus stepped out into the sunlight, but eager and forgetting that they must both be out of the Underworld, Orpheus looked back before Eurydice had time to follow. She slipped back into Erebus, dying a double-death, leaving Orpheus alone. Plato interprets this myth as a play on appearances versus reality, stating that the shade of Eurydice was merely an apparition reflecting Orpheus' desire for insubstantial, mortal love. Furthermore, Plato infers that, as Orpheus is unwilling to kill himself for his love, rather seeking to bring her back to the living, he lacks heroism and this is why he leaves empty-handed.

Orpheus's Insanity

Following his failure to rescue Eurydice from Hades, Orpheus went mad, Ovid compares him to Heracles, a hero who similarly visited the underworld and would later be driven to insanity (Metamorphoses. X. 64-7). Despite all his efforts, he would not be admitted into the Underworld a second time, and so Orpheus returned to the land of the living, living in the wild and spurning the love of women, although many burned with desire for him, and it is said that this behavior is what inspired the men of Thrace to love adolescent boys rather than women.

Death of Orpheus

One day, Orpheus was singing in a wooded glade when a group of Thracian women happened upon him. These women were Maenads, devotees of Bacchus, and in their drunken frenzy they threw stones and branches at Orpheus, but the beauty of his music stopped the missiles as they were unwilling to strike the bard. Undeterred, the women began to attack Orpheus with their bare hands, tearing him apart. Tradition states that his head and lyre were cast into the river Hebrus, where they still gave out mournful music as they flowed to the sea, and landed on the isle of Lesbos. Orpheus' shade then fled to the Underworld, retracing his steps searching for Eurydice and eventually found her in the Elysian Fields. Since Orpheus had been the bard of Bacchus' mysteries, the god avenged his death by transforming the Maenads into trees. However, this account is contested, as it is unlikely that Bacchus would drive his own devotees to kill his favorite musician (although it is possible that these women were spurred on to kill Orpheus by the fact that he shunned their sexual advances). Alternate versions of the death of Orpheus do exist, for example, Orpheus is said to have shunned the gods (except Apollo) towards the end of his life and, in one version of the story, Bacchus killed him for abandoning his cult. Still other accounts say that Orpheus killed himself after his failure to rescue Eurydice, or that Zeus struck him with lightning for the crime of revealing the mysteries of the gods.

Poems about Orpheus

In later antiquity, several poems were attributed to Orpheus, although few of them survive in their entirety, they have been quoted by subsequent authors (mostly in the 1st century C.E., although papyrus fragments containing Orphic poetry have been found as old as the 6th century B.C.E.). These texts are all theogonies (accounts of the origins of the gods and their deeds), including works on Uranus and Gaia as well as an unconventional telling of the birth of Dionysus. As some of these poems are accompanied by ritual prescriptions, it can be assumed that they would have been performed in ritual contexts in mystery cults. Separate from his theogonies, Orpheus is credited with some 87 hymns revolving around Dionysus, again presumably sung in Bacchic mysteries. It is, however, unlikely that any surviving poems were composed by Orpheus himself (if he existed at all), but rather after the Orphic style.

Atlantis: the Myth

The story of the Isle of Atlantis first occurs in Plato's two dialogues the "Timaeus" and the "Critias." Plato's story centers on Solon, a great Greek legislator and poet who journeyed to Egypt some 150 years earlier. While in the Egyptian city of Sais Solon received the story of Atlantis from priests. The priests respected Solon's reputation and cordially welcomed him. They also respected the Athenians, whom they regarded as kinsmen, because they believed their deity Neith to be the same deity as the Greeks called Athena. Therefore, she was believed to be the patroness and protector of both Greece and Egypt.

The story that the priests told Solon was unknown to him. According to ancient Egyptian temple records the Athenians fought an aggressive war against the rulers of Atlantis some nine thousand years earlier and won.

These ancient and powerful kings or rulers of Atlantis had formed a confederation by which they controlled Atlantis and other islands as well. They began a war from their homeland in the Atlantic Ocean and sent fighting troops to Europe and Asia. Against this attack the men of Athens formed a coalition from all over Greece to halt it. When this coalition met difficulties their allies deserted them and the Athenians fought on alone to defeat the Atlantian rulers. They stopped an invasion of their own country as well as freeing Egypt and eventually every country under the control of the rulers of Atlantis.

Shortly after their victory, even before the Athenians could return home, Atlantis suffered catastrophic earthquakes and floods until it disappeared beneath the sea. All of the brave men were swallowed up in one day and night of horror according to legend. This is why the Egyptians were ever grateful to the Athenians.

Also in the story Plato gives is a history of Atlantis that shows how the rulers eroded to such a state were they wanted to conquer everyone. This history had been recorded by Solon in notes that were handed down through his family.

According to Solon's notes the history of Atlantis began at the beginning of time. It was then that the immortal gods divided the world among themselves and each ruled their proportion. The god Poseidon received Atlantis, an island larger the Libya and Asia combined. He chose for a wife the mortal woman Cleito, and with her begun the royal family of Atlantis.

Poseidon built Cleito's home on a high hill at the very center of the island. The home overlooked a fertile plain bordered by the sea. For his beloved wife's protection Poseidon surrounded her house with five concentric rings of water and land. He carved the rings with the ease and skill of a god. He made hot and cold springs come from the earth. With the development of a future city his descendants never lacked for water.

Cleito bore Poseidon ten sons, five sets of boys. Atlas the first son of the first set of twins, was made king over the vast territory by his father. His brothers were appointed princes and each ruled over a large section of the territory that was distributed to him. The most valuable section of the kingdom remained his mother's home on the hilltop and the land surrounding it. This was given to Atlas. Atlas himself had many sons with the succession of the throne always passing to the eldest son.

For generations Atlantis remained peaceful and prospered. Almost all of the population's needs were met from the island's mines, fields and forests. Anything that the kingdom did not produce was imported. This was possible because a channel was eventually built which transversed all the rings from the ocean to the center of the kingdom, or the acropolis. On this stood the royal palace near the original home of Poseidon and Cleito. Each succeeding king tried to out do his predecessor in building a greater kingdom. Finally the splendid city Metropolis and the outer city of Atlantis existed behind a great outer wall.

Poseidon sat down laws for Atlantis that the rulers were to fellow. The ruling body was to meet regularly. It was to consist of ten rulers that represented the first rulers -- Atlas and his nine brothers -- who reigned with absolute power of life and death over their subjects. These meeting occurred in the temple of Poseidon where the first rulers inscribed the laws on a pillar of orichalcum. First, as required by ancient ceremony, pledges were exchanged. Then a sacred bull was captured and killed. The body was burned as a sacrifice to the god. Then the blood was mixed with wine and poured over the fire as a act of purification for each man. The rulers were served wine in golden cups, each poured a libation over the fire and swore by oath to give judgment according to the inscribed laws. When ending his vow each drank his wine and dedicated his cup to the temple. This was followed by a dinner that preceded the rulers putting on magnificent blue robes in which they judged matters concerning the kingdom according to Poseidon's laws.

As long as they judged and lived by Poseidon's laws they and the kingdom prospered. When the laws began to be forgotten trouble began. More of the rulers eventually began marrying mortals and started acting like foolish humans. Soon pride overtook the rulers who soon began grasping for greater power. Then Zeus saw what had happened to the rulers. They had abandoned the laws of the gods and acted in an evil coalition as men. He assembled all the gods of Olympus around him and was to pronounce judgment on Atlantis. This is where Plato's story stops.

Whether Plato intended to end his story of Atlantis so abruptly or whether he intended to extend it no one knows. Just as no one knows whether Plato believed in the real existence of the island or whether it was purely a mythical kingdom. Many have said they believe that Plato believed in the island's existence because he exerted so much detail in its description, while others reject this by claiming since the story was purely fiction Plato could put in as much detail as he wanted, it does not prove a thing. Also in doubt is the time period of the story. Solon writes the island existed 9000 years before. This would place the time period in the Early Stone Age. In this period it is hard to imagine the type of agriculture, architecture and sea navigation as described in the story. One explanation for this time period inconsistency is that Solon misinterpreted the Egyptian symbol for "100" for "1000." If this be the case then Atlantis would have existed 900 years before. This would place the Atlantians in the Middle Bronze Age where they would possess the tools and equipment needed for the development described within the story.

To collaborate this 900 year theory there is geological evidence showing that roughly about 1500 BCE there was a gigantic volcanic eruption which caused half of the island to sink into the sea. Also a lost city has been said to have sunk in the Bay of Naples. At the time several rich and luxurious seaside resorts were located in the area. In the retelling of the story of Atlantis it is easy to see how one of these cities could be associated with it. The story is still being told which enthralls hundreds, as archaeological digs are conducted to unearth evidence of the real Atlantis. Until then the myth remains.


The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.

If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. According to another tradition, however, he was disposed to practice the profession of highwayman. I see no contradiction in this. Opinions differ as to the reasons why he became the futile laborer of the underworld. To begin with, he is accused of a certain levity in regard to the gods. He stole their secrets. Egina, the daughter of Esopus, was carried off by Jupiter. The father was shocked by that disappearance and complained to Sisyphus. He, who knew of the abduction, offered to tell about it on condition that Esopus would give water to the citadel of Corinth. To the celestial thunderbolts he preferred the benediction of water. He was punished for this in the underworld. Homer tells us also that Sisyphus had put Death in chains. Pluto could not endure the sight of his deserted, silent empire. He dispatched the god of war, who liberated Death from the hands of her conqueror.

It is said that Sisyphus, being near to death, rashly wanted to test his wife's love. He ordered her to cast his unburied body into the middle of the public square. Sisyphus woke up in the underworld. And there, annoyed by an obedience so contrary to human love, he obtained from Pluto permission to return to earth in order to chastise his wife. But when he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. Recalls, signs of anger, warnings were of no avail. Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of earth. A decree of the gods was necessary. Mercury came and seized the impudent man by the collar and, snatching him from his joys, lead him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock was ready for him.

You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. Nothing is told us about Sisyphus in the underworld. Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them. As for this myth, one sees merely the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it, and push it up a slope a hundred times over; one sees the face screwed up, the cheek tight against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with arms outstretched, the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands. At the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward the lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain.

It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

If the descent is thus sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy. This word is not too much. Again I fancy Sisyphus returning toward his rock, and the sorrow was in the beginning. When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy arises in man's heart: this is the rock's victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear. These are our nights of Gethsemane. But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. Thus, Edipus at the outset obeys fate without knowing it. But from the moment he knows, his tragedy begins. Yet at the same moment, blind and desperate, he realizes that the only bond linking him to the world is the cool hand of a girl. Then a tremendous remark rings out: "Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well." Sophocles' Edipus, like Dostoevsky's Kirilov, thus gives the recipe for the absurd victory. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism.

One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness. "What!---by such narrow ways--?" There is but one world, however. Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd. Discovery. It happens as well that the felling of the absurd springs from happiness. "I conclude that all is well," says Edipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile suffering. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.

All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is a thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

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