The Myth of Sisyphus

by

Albert Camus

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Sisyphus Character Analysis

Though Sisyphus doesn’t make an appearance until the concluding chapter, he is a central character to the book and, of course, named in the title. He is a Greek mortal, known for his trickery and deceit, and condemned by the gods to an eternity of futile labor. He is made to push a rock up a mountain, only for it to fall down once he’s at the top—he is fated to start this process over again and repeat into infinity. There are a variety of stories regarding why Sisyphus so angered the gods, though Camus doesn’t go into any great detail about any of them (as Sisyphus is more of a symbol than a story). One story tells that Sisyphus put Death in chains, which for a while meant that no one died on earth. Pluto (also known as Hades), the godly king of the underworld, was angered. Later, when Sisyphus was close to death, he instructed his wife to throw his body in the public square (and skip the usual burial rites). This was a trick, as Sisyphus was then able to negotiate with the gods his return to earth in order to chastise his wife for her behavior. Back on earth, he fell in love with the place all over again and refused to go back to the underworld. Eventually, the gods fetched him and put him to the eternal labor of pushing the rock up the mountain. Camus sees Sisyphus as the “absurd hero,” because his work is futile and he is fully aware of its meaninglessness. Camus imagines an “hour of consciousness” in Sisyphus as he walks back down to bottom of the mountain, fully able to contemplate and face up to his existence. Furthermore, Camus believes it is important to “imagine” Sisyphus happy, echoing the author’s suggestion that the absurd must be fully embraced rather than hidden from.

Sisyphus Quotes in The Myth of Sisyphus

The The Myth of Sisyphus quotes below are all either spoken by Sisyphus or refer to Sisyphus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Myth of Sisyphus published in 1991.
12. The Myth of Sisyphus Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Albert Camus (speaker), Sisyphus, Pluto
Related Symbols: Sisyphus’ Rock
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

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, led him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock was ready for him.

Related Characters: Albert Camus (speaker), Sisyphus, Pluto
Related Symbols: Sisyphus’ Rock
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Albert Camus (speaker), Sisyphus
Related Symbols: Sisyphus’ Rock
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:
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Sisyphus Character Timeline in The Myth of Sisyphus

The timeline below shows where the character Sisyphus appears in The Myth of Sisyphus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
12. The Myth of Sisyphus
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Humankind and the Natural World Theme Icon
In this section, Camus recounts the myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a mortal condemned by the gods to roll a rock to the top... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
There are different accounts of Sisyphus’ story, as well as his reason for being punished. Whether it’s that he “stole their... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
Just before he died, Sisyphus wanted to test his wife’s love by ordering that she “cast his unburied body into... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Humankind and the Natural World Theme Icon
Once back on earth, Sisyphus fell in love again with the “water and sun, warm stones and the sea.” He... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Humankind and the Natural World Theme Icon
For Camus, Sisyphus is the “absurd hero,” both through his “passions” and his “torture.” He exerted his entire... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Humankind and the Natural World Theme Icon
Camus is particularly interested in the “pause” when Sisyphus has to go back down to the bottom of the mountain to start again. It... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
Camus likens Sisyphus’ fate to “the workman of today” repeating the “same tasks” every time he goes to... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Humankind and the Natural World Theme Icon
...remark that Camus says “echoes in the wild and limited universe of man.” Camus sees Sisyphus as owning his fate in the same way that the “absurd man” does. Both are... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Camus says, “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain!” Like Oedipus and Kirilov, Sisyphus “concludes that all is... (full context)