Millenniums have passed.
Every day the same burden.
The wicked hot sun above him beats down on his shoulders as he pushes. The skin on his back is cracked like baked mud. It breaks and bleeds when he starts his efforts each day. His feet are muddy with blood soaked dirt.
Sisyphus feels the normal strain on his shoulders. His neck bulges. His biceps quake. Dehydrated veins bulge. Beads of salty sweat roll into his eyes and off his body adding to the already gore slicked ground under his feet. His hands are white with effort.
The boulder he labors against has worn perfectly smooth with his efforts over the centuries, but this does not help him in his chore of gaining elevation. Every foot step is an earned torture as he labors to push his boulder higher and higher.
There is no point to this task.
He knows just as he reaches the pinnacle of this elevation the boulder will magically roll away from him.
This exercise in futility is a sentence for hubris. The one crime Zeus never forgave.
Sisyphus’ punishment is to push this boulder up this hill for eternity and nothing can save him. Over the course of his amercement he has come to the conclusion that he deserves it.
As he toils day in and day out his mind worries over his crimes.
His list of misdeeds is many.
In the morning he goes through the list of merchants and travelers he killed indiscriminately. Their blood fueled his reputation and allowed him to rule with an iron fist. He pictures each murder with perfected detail. Some he just ordered dispatched. Those were the first he thought of. The easiest. Then he works through the faces of those he felt the blade enter skin and muscle. He would remember the look of betrayal. None expect death. That was the most surprising part. By the end his reputation was secure, yet the merchants kept showing up, the promise of riches too great. He wondered if in death they also were chained to a boulder for the hubris of thinking they would survive his wrath.
Zeus probably did not care about the crimes of those little people. Sisyphus is well aware how he earned Zeus’ scorn and it wasn’t with murder or betrayal. Those were crimes expected of a king.
By midday his mind usually turns to the crime he committed that tortures him the most. The one that makes his very soul ache. This is the crime that earned him his throne, the one he got away with.
He married the sister of King Salmoneus of Corinth. Her name was Tyro. She had long brown hair that had a wave to it when wet. Her eyes were large and deep brown pools of love. She was warm and soft. She smelled like spices. He had many children with her. His life was happy and good, but still he lusted for power. So he killed his brother in law and took the throne.
Grief stole his wife’s sanity.
This memory always plays out perfectly in every detail. He wishes he could make this one not come, but like clockwork with the sun at its zenith it arrives.
He stands on the parade ground inspecting the Corinthian army.
His second gasps and points up.
Sisyphus follows his gesture to see Tyro at a high window in the knossos. In her hands is their youngest. A little girl. Not even a year. The sound of her small body hitting the ground lives with him as if it has replaced his heart beat. Then his next child. Followed by the third. All in a pile in front of him broken, bleeding and dead.
Then she follows. By the time she jumped he was cold to her suicide. He would have killed her himself if she hadn’t thrown herself out the window. She saved him the trouble.
His oldest son was saved. He was in Ithica were he was allowed to be adopted by the good king Laërtes to raise as his own. On Sisyphus’ death he would return to claim the Corinth throne.
Sisyphus did not have time to be a father. He had more important things to do. He wanted revenge. He wanted the Gods to answer for allowing his children to die.
By the time the sun began its great descent Sisyphus was ready to work over his greatest crime.
Challenging the Gods themselves.
He was feared as a ruler on Gia. All men shat themselves when his name was mentioned. Corinth was considered the center of Greece, but he was still just a man and men died.
When Sisyphus died he was old and feeble. He pushed the limits of his body into an eighty-ninth year. His skin was paper thin. His muscles frail. His hair was grey and his eyes white with cataracts. And torture of tortures when he died it would seem he does so without an heir.
Rumor was his son was lost after the Trojan War. He sailed a boat into the horizon and never returned.
The sadness this news brought almost ruined the motivation behind his machinations, but even with no desire to spend the currency he earned he still bought what he intended to buy.
As he lay feeble and sentenced to the gallows of his bed Thanatos arrived to take him to the underworld.
Thanatos, but not Hermes.
In the moments before death took him fully he questioned the God of Death, “Why do you come and not Hermes?”
It was customary to expect Hermes to guide a soul across the river styx to join the dead in the Underworld. Hermes was the messenger God, the God of Cunning, and trickery. He was not easily bought, but Sisyphus earned a favor from him with enough sacrifices.
First he built a temple in Hermes honor.
The only one of its kind in all of Greece.
Then he cleared Greece of snakes and butchered them by the millions to his effigy. For Hermes he soaked his hands in the blood of of all his victims one after another. Every single one of his murders had a purpose and on the day he met Thanatos the God of Death he got his reward.
Hermes gave Sisyphus the power to trick one God one time.
“Mortals do not question the will of the Gods. Today I bring the chains of death for you to wear for eternity. Put them on.”
Thanatos tossed the chains to Sisyphus.
Sisyphus’ feigned, “how do I wear these oh great God of death, I am but a feeble old man. Please demonstrate?”
With a sigh Thanatos said, “Fine,” and placed the chains on himself realizing too late he was locking himself in death. This act freed Sisyphus from dying. Immediately he felt his body return to its former glory. The vigor of youth returning he jumped from bed to make a sacrifice of thanks to Hermes.
He rushed to the temple and found himself face to face with the entirety of the Greek Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. Hermes stood among them smiling as his own joke.
His greatest crime was not beating death, it was forgetting that his act of chaining Thanatos freed all men from death.
Death was inevitable. It was part of life. It was the cruel joke that capped a lifetime of effort and plans. In the end nothing mattered.
So his punishment was an eternity of pushing this rock up this hill. Every morning he would start and every night all his efforts would be undone.
And today, like all the yesterdays that he has passed doing this chore, as the sun reaches the horizon and the crest of the hill approaches, he knows any moment now he will lose his grip on the boulder and be forced to watch all of his efforts roll back down to the base of the hill.
But like a man on his deathbed the typical hope blossoms in Sisyphus’ heart.
The hope is maybe it will not be the end this time. Maybe he can go just a little bit further, maybe this time he will make the crest.
The hope is fueled by his last moment as a mortal man confronted with the mighty Zeus.
Thanatos was unchained. He stood behind the God of Lightning ashamed. He was tricked by a human. There was no worse fate for a God then to be tricked by a human and as Sisyphus stood there avoiding looking directly at any of the deities in front of him a thought struck him. These beings were only powerful because humans allowed them to be powerful. Humans believed they were powerful. This belief made them Gods.
One day he knew that would change. Man would move on. Man would stop believing.
As evening spread across the horizon and the moon reached up for the night sky Sisyphus found his boulder at the crest of the hill and he knows that day has come.
He plants his blistered feet on the rocky soil knowing man’s belief in Zeus had passed.
Zeus was dead and he was free.
Sisyphus takes a deep breath of the rapidly cooling night air. It tastes like freedom. The ambrosia of knowledge that his life is now his own.
But life is fleeting.
Then Thanatos appears in front of him, his bony hand stretched out with the chains of death snaked loosely through his skeletal leathery fingers, Sisyphus realizes, the Gods may be dead but Death will always live on.