Thursday Interview: Sisyphus


– Now I’ve heard you have one of the toughest jobs on earth. Can you describe a typical day?

– Typical? Hah! My days are identical! Up at the crack of dawn, ten minute drive to the bottom of the slope, then it’s heave, heave, till nightfall.

– When you say heave, you mean you’re pushing a rock, I believe.

– Yup. All 526 pounds of it. Up a 1.4 mile slope that in parts is one in five. I get to the top, the rock rolls all the way down, then I walk back down myself and start all over again. I’ve been doing it for over 2500 years. Not that it makes much sense to count because I’ll be doing it for eternity.

– Wow! But why? Surely not out of choice?

– No, of course not. It’s a punishment from Zeus. I can understand, in a way. I cheated death, you see. Hades – the Grim Reaper, if you like – came to arrest me with this fancy set of chains, so I tricked him into showing me how they worked – on himself! It still makes me chuckle today. Upshot was that with Death in chains, no one could die any more. You’d have these guys getting hacked to bits on the battlefield and turning up for duty the next day. It made a mockery of the whole business of war. Not much wonder Zeus got mad. But even so, when the punishment was announced, I went into a state of shock. I didn’t think anyone could be that cruel. But when it comes to cruelty, Zeus is in a league of his own.

– And it’s been the same all this time? Nothing’s changed and nothing ever will?

– Oh, there’ve been a few changes. You could say it’s got a bit better. When I started, it was in Greece, and man, that was tough. So damnably hot! And the slope was steeper too. So I’ll always be grateful to the Brits for granting me political asylum. A couple of hundred years ago, bloke by the name of Byron came out, heard about my plight and took pity. Started a campaign to get me moved to better conditions. Fortunately the Greeks didn’t care one way or the other, at least not at the time. Now that I’m a tourist attraction, they’re trying to get me back – a package with the Elgin Marbles – but I don’t think it’ll happen. I’ve got a Facebook support group and Amnesty International behind me. There’d be an uproar.

– But how on earth do you put up with it? How do you keep going?

– No choice, man! Look for the positives, that’s the only way. The view when I get to the top – the Cotswolds – or the people who cheer me on. You get the occasional insult, but they’re mostly very supportive. Sometimes they’d even lend a hand, till Health and Safety stepped in. Now there’s a fence on either side, which in fact I prefer. They just upset my rhythm. But still, I always let them. So then they could go and tell their mates they’d helped old Sisyphus with his rock.

– But even so, to think you’ll be doing this forever… Doesn’t it drive you crazy?

– Well, you know what? I represent the human condition. No kidding!  Absurdity – that’s what it’s all about, apparently. This French fellow, Camus, came to visit and we had a few chinwags and he wrote a book about me. The Myth of Sisyphus. To be honest, I’ve never read it, but I was flattered he even bothered to take an interest. Rolling this rock for ever and ever – it does sound pretty absurd, doesn’t it? But Camus also says, ‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’ And strangely enough, he’s right. Things could be better, of course, but what if I just gave up – lay down and let the rock flatten me? What sort of message would that send out?

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