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. 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.