ClassicsGreek MythologyMythology

Sisyphus- crime(s) and punishment

This guy is interesting. In the modern world he’s basically become the patron saint of pointless office work (which…fair.), being condemned to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity. But here’s the thing people ignore: he kinda earned it. Or at least asked for it. This is one of those hubris things, the don’t-go-against-the-gods trope that we see often in Greek mythology. Which he did multiple times. He also killed a lot of people.

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Who is he?

A king. Well, more of a dictator. He liked power and he liked to show that he had it. So he often killed guests and travelers. He was also pretty smart, in a devious way, as his actions show

What did he do?

You mean aside from the killing? Well that was what started it, but it wasn’t the most egregious offense. So, killing people like he did violated the guest-host obligations. Which were a major thing in the ancient world. And which really pissed off Zeus.

Once he eventually enraged Zeus enough, Zeus ordered him to be chained in Tartarus. Who was actually sent to get him varies in stories: It’s either Thanatos or Hades himself.Either way, the result was the same Sisyphus tricked them into the chains meant for him and refused to release them., and, consequently, no one could die.

This doesn’t sound bad, but it meant a few things: the gods couldn’t receive sacrifices, the sick and suffering could die, and neither could those mutilated in battle. Overall it was just a complete violation of the natural order. 

The solution varies. In some stories, Ares, angered that no one can die because it made wars less fun, releases Thanatos himself. In others, the gods simply threaten to make Sisyphus’ life a living hell. Either way, the bound deity is released, and natural order returns. I don’t think Sisyphus died after that. Maybe he cut some kind of deal with the gods. He did eventually die though.

Remember when I said he was devious? This is how devious. He knew his death was coming, so he ordered his wife to, essentially, defile his corpse and not give him a proper burial. Once in the underworld he used this to argue with Persephone that his wife didn’t respect him, and was allowed to return to chastise her. He refused to go back. (because that was bound to work…). Hermes had to drag him back. All this earned him a place as one of the mortals in Tartarus.


He killed a bunch of houseguests, chained up death itself when Zeus tried to punish him, got his wife to defile his corpse, tricked Persephone, refused to go back to the underworld, and had to be dragged back by Hermes.

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