Opposition to Death

Many have learned not to interfere with the Gods when it comes to betraying promises, breaking oaths, or even simply breaking the laws of Greece or Rome. Many mortals learned this first hand, often resulting in their death or eternal suffering. Prometheus, Ixion, Erysichthon, and many other famous Greeks met the wrath of the Gods when they chose to defy them. While the list of these individuals is long and filled with stories more twisted and sick than the last, one of the most recognizable wretches is Sisyphus.

Sisyphus is a man of much debate among the community that studies him. He is thought to be the founder of Corinth, king, and ruler of what was then called Ephyra. He was known to be the most cunning and cocky man on Earth, a fool and a friend. He was a trickster and sought to trick Hades upon his time to enter the underworld in the hopes of living eternally as God.

The first of the stories believe that upon Hade’s arrival to escort him to the underworld, he stole his handcuffs and kept the God of the dead prisoner in his kingdom for many days. During this time, no one could die. Those who suffered severe wounds, such as soldiers from the battlefield, lived in agony at being chopped to bits. Finally, the Gods released Hades and cast Sisyphus into the underworld to receive his punishment.

But he was too clever. He told his wife not to bury him or put the coin in his mouth to cross the river Styx with Charon.

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This was a common practice in ancient Greece that was important in an individual’s passing over. The coins, called obols, needed to be placed on or in the mouth (sometimes on the eyelids) to pass over into the underworld with them. Once they arrived on the other side of the river Styx would pay the ferryman, Charon to ensure their safe passage across.

Sisyphus showed up in the underworld, however, without this offering. He spoke to the Goddess Persephone, Goddess of the Underworld, and tried to convince her to let him settle this in the mortal world, by ensuring his body received a proper burial. She consented to his return and he walked in the sun once more like a living man, deciding not to repay the Goddess on his promise to set his burial right. Sisyphus could not avoid Hades forever and eventually was drug back to the underworld where he received the punishment of rolling a boulder for all eternity in Tartarus. He was forced to roll a boulder to the top of a hill and each time it reached the top it rolled back down again, and he was forced to try again, for all eternity. Tartarus had many punishments, but this punishment was created especially for Sisyphus.

Another version of the story says that says it was because he exposed many of Zeus’ various affairs with mortals that landed him a firm spot in Tartarus in eternal damnation. In this story, he considered himself a peer among the gods and reported Zeus’ kidnapping of the Goddess Aegina to her father Asopus. He was furious with Zeus, which in turn, cast Sisyphus out of Zeus’ favor. Zeus ordered that Sisyphus be chained up in Tartarus for all eternity as his punishment, however, Sisyphus was known for his trickery. When Thanatos was assigned to the task, Sisyphus began to plan. Thanatos was the embodiment of death and was responsible for keeping up Tartarus. He was known to be terrible, hating both Gods and mortals alike. It is said that he is the one that Sisyphus tricked into handcuffs. Once this occurred no one in the mortal world could die and the stories intersect from here.

Whichever one of these is the true story is unknown, however, what is known is that his punishment was that of one fit for a criminal of the highest caliber and his poor treatment of the Gods ensured his fate in Tartarus. This myth was extremely popular among the Greeks, as it was a lesson in greed and spite. It was taught to their kids as a warning not to disobey the Gods. This story has been told so often and so frequently by the Greeks that the story differs in many accounts of what exactly Sisyphus did to anger the Gods. Some say that it was his locking up and tricking of the God Hades that made him a target for the Gods, but in all versions, Sisyphus was met with the same disastrous fate.

The most prominent theme in the story of Sisyphus is immortality. As one reads through the myth, it is blatantly obvious that Sisyphus tries to escape death multiple times. Sisyphus first resists death by capturing Hades with handcuffs and then later resists death by convincing Persephone to release him to the living world. Although Sisyphus does show the traits of a trickster, is he a bad guy at the end of the day? Just like most themes and lessons that are portrayed in ancient stories, this theme helps break the barrier between humans that existed 2000 years ago and how humans think today. Immortality is a common theme throughout many ancient Greek and Roman myths because whether you exist today or 2000 years ago, everyone wants to live forever.

All in all, many have learned not to interfere with the Gods when it comes to betraying promises, breaking oaths, or even simply breaking the laws of Greece or Rome. The myth of Sisyphus was a great example of how an ancient myth portrays a lesson of greed and spite. Also, Stories like this one communicate common themes and help break the barrier between current and ancient societies. At the end of the day, these ancient stories not only give us great insight into how ancient Greeks and Romans lived but also thought.

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Opposition to Death. (2022, May 10). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/opposition-to-death/

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