The Myth of Sysiphus
Answer of the following questions in 100 words based on the attach document.
Albert Camus, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus,’ (1942)
1. Why does Camus describe Sisyphus in the classical myth, as an “absurd hero” (2)? Why is Sisyphus’ situation absurd for Camus? And why is he a “hero”?
(Answer the question in your own words. Also find examples in the text). The Myth of Sysiphus
2. In Camus’ retelling of the myth, as Sisyphus goes back down the mountain following his ascension with the rock, Camus writes:
“It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me” (2). The Myth of Sysiphus
Why is Camus the most interested in this period in the myth when Sisyphus descends the mountain? Why is this moment the most important for Camus and for his ethical theory?
(Find examples in the text to support your answers). (2-3). The Myth of Sysiphus
3. At the end of the reading, why does Camus write that:
“One must imagine Sisyphus happy” (4).
What is Camus’ main point by concluding his essay this way? The Myth of Sysiphus
4. Finally, how do you interpret Camus’ essay in relation to the world today? Are there any parallels to our contemporary society? Also what lessons might his ideas provide in relation to our own lives?
Think about the question critically and thoughtfully, and answer in your own words. The Myth of Sysiphus
The Myth of Sysiphus
by Albert Camus
The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a
mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with
some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless
If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals.
According to another tradition, however, he was disposed to practice the profession
of highwayman. I see no contradiction in this. Opinions differ as to the reasons why
he became the futile laborer of the underworld. To begin with, he is accused of a
certain levity in regard to the gods. He stole their secrets. Egina, the daughter of
Esopus, was carried off by Jupiter. The father was shocked by that disappearance
and complained to Sisyphus. He, who knew of the abduction, offered to tell about it
on condition that Esopus would give water to the citadel of Corinth. To the celestial
thunderbolts he preferred the benediction of water. He was punished for this in the
underworld. Homer tells us also that Sisyphus had put Death in chains. Pluto could
not endure the sight of his deserted, silent empire. He dispatched the god of war,
who liberated Death from the hands of her conqueror.
It is said that Sisyphus, being near to death, rashly wanted to test his wife’s love. He
ordered her to cast his unburied body into the middle of the public square. Sisyphus
woke up in the underworld. And there, annoyed by an obedience so contrary to
human love, he obtained from Pluto permission to return to earth in order to chastise
his wife. But when he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun,
warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness.
Recalls, signs of anger, warnings were of no avail. Many years more he lived facing
the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of earth. A decree of the gods
was necessary. Mercury came and seized the impudent man by the collar and,
snatching him from his joys, lead him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock
was ready for him.
You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through
his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his
passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted
toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of
this earth. Nothing is told us about Sisyphus in the underworld. Myths are made for
the imagination to breathe life into them. As for this myth, one sees merely the whole
effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it, and push it up a slope a
hundred times over; one sees the face screwed up, the cheek tight against the stone,
the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with
arms outstretched, the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands. At the very
end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose
is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward
tlower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes
back down to the plain.
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
If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture
be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of
today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But
it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus,
proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his
wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to
constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that can
not be surmounted by scorn.
If the descent is thus sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy.
This word is not too much. Again I fancy Sisyphus returning toward his rock, and the
sorrow was in the beginning. When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory,
when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy arises
in man’s heart: this is the rock’s victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is
too heavy to bear. These are our nights of Gethsemane. But crushing truths perish
from being acknowledged. Thus, Edipus at the outset obeys fate without knowing it.
But from the moment he knows, his tragedy begins. Yet at the same moment, blind
and desperate, he realizes that the only bond linking him to the world is the cool hand
of a girl. Then a tremendous remark rings out: “Despite so many ordeals, my
advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well.”
Sophocles’ Edipus, like Dostoevsky’s Kirilov, thus gives the recipe for the absurd
victory. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism.
One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of
happiness. “What!—by such narrow ways–?” There is but one world, however.
Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It
would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd.
Discovery. It happens as well that the felling of the absurd springs from happiness. “I
conclude that all is well,” says Edipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild
and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It
drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a
preference for futile suffering. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled
All Sisyphus’ silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is a
thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the
idols. In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little
voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces,
they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow,
and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will
henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at
least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest,
he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man
glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight
pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate,
created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death.
Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to
see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.
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.