Sisyphus’ rock represents mankind’s absurd dilemma, which is ultimately impossible to resolve—that is, that mankind longs for reason and meaning in the world, but the world refuses to answer that longing. Sisyphus was a Greek mortal condemned by the gods for angering them. His punishment was to push a rock up a mountain, only for it to roll back down again once at the top. For eternity, his task is to keep pushing that rock again and again. This irresolvable conflict is embodied in Sisyphus’s Rock—each time he gets it to the top, it falls back down again. Likewise, whenever man comes close to realizing the meaning of life, it quickly becomes apparent that he was mistaken. The rock can thus be taken as symbolic of mankind’s endeavor—arduous but ultimately fruitless. The rock also emphasizes the materiality of the world, which, especially in nature, seems to make a mockery of mankind’s desire for meaning. Camus’ statement that life is meaningless is dependent upon the shortness of an individual’s life, and the longer time scales represented by the natural world—the ocean, the sky, or in this case, a great rock—are physical reminders of the inevitability of death.
Sisyphus’ Rock Quotes in The Myth of Sisyphus
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.
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.
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.