In Greek Mythology, Who Was Sisyphus?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the son of King Aeolus. Aeolus ruled over Thessaly and Enarete, and founded Ephyra which is also known as Corinth. Some sources cite Sisyphus as the father of Odysseus. According to these sources, Anticlea, Odysseus’ mother, became pregnant with Sisyphus’ child before marring Laertes, who is credited as Odysseus’ father in many texts on mythology and in many myths themselves. He is credited with founding the Isthmian games to honor Melicertes.

Homer references Sisyphus in "The Odyssey".
Homer references Sisyphus in "The Odyssey".

Sisyphus was not, however, looked kindly upon by his contemporaries. He is known for being deceitful and crafty. A cunning fellow, he succeeded in taking his brother’s throne and seducing his niece. He got into trouble, however, when he revealed a number of Zeus’ secrets. Throughout Greek mythology, invoking the anger of Zeus leads to many kinds of punishment, most of which cause pain and suffering. Sisyphus also exhibited great hubris toward Zeus, believing that he could outwit the great god of all gods.

For his transgressions, the gods set a task upon Sisyphus that would stall and frustrate him throughout the ages. He was told to roll a large rock to the top of a steeply pitched hill. However, the rock was enchanted so that it would always roll down to the bottom as it was about to reach the apex of the hill. According to Greek myth, Sisyphus is still assigned to this frustrating task. He will be rolling the boulder to the top of the hill only to watch it roll back down again for eternity. The story of Sysiphus is referenced in The Odyssey by Homer.

Some people believe that the story of Sisyphus was used to explain the rising and setting of the sun, that is, that constant work represented daily solar movements. In this interpretation of Sisyphus, his rock represents the sun, rising just to the top of the sky every day only to sink back down again and submit to darkness before rising once again.

Like many others in the cast of characters that comprise Greek mythology, Sysiphus has been invoked in artwork and literature many times. The great 16th Century Venetian painter Tiziano Vecelli, who is generally known simply as “Titian,” devoted an entire canvas to Sisyphus in 1549. In Titian’s painting, Sisyphus is wearing a white loincloth and an earth-toned sash about his waist. Instead of rolling the rock, he is struggling upon its weight on his shoulders.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


After researching Sisyphus and posting my comments about the movie "Triangle" here, I went back and watched the movie again. I was surprised to discover that the movie was totally correct and did not incorrectly misrepresent his father. The movie mostly just talked about the father via his son's story.

The movie wants us to believe that Jess forgets 99 percent of everything each time through the loop. For example, at one point she states that she wants to prevent everyone from ever boarding the ship. But, each time she reboards the ship.

Also, she doesn't remember how to save her son.

I think Jess dies each time. She might be asking her duplicate to kill her. When she awakes on the beach, it's like (looking at her eyes) she's awakening from death.


The horror movie Triangle incorrectly attributes Sisyphus' father (Aeolus) as the one destined to roll a rock up a hill only to see it roll back down again.

This movie is about a single mother (Jess) who endlessly tries to save her handicapped son.

The movie's plot is about a yacht disaster in the Bermuda Triangle, a group of three women and two men, and a ship named Aeolus.

Basically, Jess is made to believe that she has to repeatedly kill the other group members. This is so that the group will come back to the ship again.

At any one time, there are several duplicate groups on the ship, with some just arriving etc etc. There are many versions of the same Jess on the ship for example.

Jess fights a younger version of herself and ultimately the oldest falls or gets pushed over the side of the ship. She tells her younger version that she has to kill all the others.

Jess is washed ashore where she takes the place of another version of herself. She does (briefly) get her son back again. But, soon afterwards she watches him die in her car crash.

She has a taxi take her back to the yacht and the story begins again!



No doubt Sisyphus was a pretty buff dude. After rolling a boulder up a hill all day every day for eternity, he could thank Zeus for his enormous and powerful physique.


Sisyphus seems to have been ambitious to usurp the position of the gods. I see many parallels here with the biblical narrative of the garden of eden. Adam could be seen as a Sisyphus, who wanted to be like God, but was instead doomed with his descendants to repeat the endless cycle of history and warfare. Luckily, I think there is more to the story than simply an endless cycle. Perhaps a spiral would be a more applicable pattern to history.


When your boss gives you a job that is impossible because he is upset with you, you could say that this is a "Sisyphean" task. This kind of task will keep you busy forever, and it will be completely pointless. You will get little or no reward for it. Sisyphean tasks can be an enormous waste of time, or a healthy exercise. Running in place on a treadmill, for instance, may seem Sisyphean, but you will continue to stay in shape when you do it on a regular basis.


This endless cycle could be seen as the basis for the book of Ecclesiastes. It repeats how the earth goes round and round and everyone repeats their pointless tasks. It is as though we have been forever cursed to repeat a cycle of futility.

Post your comments
Forgot password?