Sisyphean – Friday’s Word of the Day

sisyphean

Today’s word of the day on Dictionary.com is Sisyphean. It means, endless and unavailing, as labor or tasks; of or relating to Sisyphus. It  Entered the English language in the 17th Century.

So who was this Sisyphus fellow that the word is referring to?

Well, according to Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the founder and King of Ephyra (known today as Corinth). He was a vile, dishonest ruler with a very high opinion of himself. He took pleasure in killing travelers and guests to his kingdom as a way of exerting and maintaining his authority. This however, was a violation of xenia (“guest-friendship”) the ancient Greek concept of hospitality; the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home and/or associates of the person bestowing guest-friendship.). Sisyphus was not concerned with the rule of law and even considered himself much more clever than Zeus. For his hubris, Zeus punished King Sisyphus by forcing him to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill, only to have it fall back down the hill. He was condemned to repeat this futile exercise for eternity. And this is where we get our word of the day. Things that are never-ending yet pointless are said to be Sisyphean.

Wikipedia also offered a few other scholarly references to things Sisyphean. ‘According to the solar theory, King Sisyphus is the disk of the sun that rises every day in the east and then sinks into the west. Other scholars regard him as a personification of waves rising and falling, or of the treacherous sea. The 1st-century BC Epicurean philosopher Lucretius interprets the myth of Sisyphus as personifying politicians aspiring for political office who are constantly defeated, with the quest for power, in itself and “empty thing” being likened to rolling the boulder up the hill.

In Plato‘s Apology, Socrates looks forward to the after-life where he can meet figures such as Sisyphus, who think themselves wise, so that he can question them and find who is wise and who “thinks he is when he is not”.’

More recently, J. Nigro Sansonese, building on the work of Georges Dumézil, speculates that the origin of the name “Sisyphos” is onomatopoetic of the continual back-and-forth, susurrant sound (“siss phuss”) made by the breath in the nasal passages, situating the mythology of Sisyphus in a far larger context of archaic (see Proto-Indo-European religion) trance-inducing techniques related to breath control. The repetitive inhalation–exhalation cycle is described esoterically in the myth as an up–down motion of Sisyphus and his boulder on a hill.

In experiments that test how workers respond when the meaning of their task is diminished, the test condition is referred to as the Sisyphusian condition. The two main conclusions of the experiment are that people work harder when their work seems more meaningful, and that people underestimate the relationship between meaning and motivation.

Once again, Dictionary.com is having a bit of fun with us. There are certain leaders, who shall remain nameless, who seem to embody Sisyphus in our times. I’m not going there today. I can think of another application for this word, given that I am on lunch break from my 9-5 droning means of survival. But it is Friday. The weekend offers a bit of relief from the rat race. Have a good one.

slogging for success
is a Sisyphean rut
who you know matters

~kat


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