I’m no Greek scholar or trained in Stoicism, so I’ll ask in my own colloquial custom. How many times do you reckon this old world gobbled up the many who said, “I’m gonna show the world how tough I am!”? Probably at least a dozen hundred times I’d suspect, and I bet the old world was mean enough to say, “I’m gonna show you how tough you ain’t,” just before the condemned was masticated in those slow-moving jaws that never cease gnawing.
I recall the story of the Greek legend, Sisyphus, who was the king of Ephyra (or Corinth today). We are told that Poor Sisyphus was too high-strung, too self-assured, ambitious, and known for “self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness.”
The Gods punished Sisyphus for his insufferable behavior in life. His sentence was to roll a boulder up an impossible hill, only to have it roll back over him, once he finally reached the top. Helpless, he’d trek down the progress he’d made that day where he’d steady himself behind the boulder again there at the bottom of that hill, look up, eyes stinging from sweat and brightness from a midday sun, that never shone otherwise, sigh, wipe his brow, grip the punishing reminder the Gods set before him, lay his shoulder into it and repeat the monotonous routine that was his hard labor for eternity.
Was Sisyphus that bad of a guy, though? Or did life pluck him from the unfortunate few?
There’s something to be made out of Greek Tragedy. I suggest you look it up but as I understand a version of it, the Gods had a way of leading one along, success after success, only to bring him to personal failure or professional defeat. Think Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg (after thoroughly having his way with the Union Army and its, what, five previous commanders?– only to fail spectacularly in Pennsylvania during that hot July month in 1863– or Napoleon post-exile at Waterloo) or any other example as a sure thing launched only to see it crashing back down to earth.
Such as life is how the philosophers describe it but that’s too flippant here.
We return to Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods to push a boulder up a hill. Perhaps old Sisyphus viewed life as a bleak joke. What if life to him was nothing more than a pretense, a thing not to be taken too seriously. Moreover wasn’t it Augustus, the man who turned a Roman Empire from clay to marble, that left us with the closing statement for his consequential place in history, “Have I played my part in the farce of life well enough?”
Irony and fitting words from a man who embodied Imperium.
Read how Albert Camus views cruel fate and how he detest the Gods! In fact, I gather from below that maybe the Gods envy us!
“It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock. . .
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”