The Myth of Sisyphus

Sisyphus’ Rock Symbol Analysis

Sisyphus’ Rock Symbol Icon

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

The The Myth of Sisyphus quotes below all refer to the symbol of Sisyphus’ Rock. 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:
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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:
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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’ Rock Symbol Timeline in The Myth of Sisyphus

The timeline below shows where the symbol Sisyphus’ Rock 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
...the myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a mortal condemned by the gods to roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only for it to then fall back to the... (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 refused to return to the underworld. Eventually, Mercury came and snatched... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Humankind and the Natural World Theme Icon
...his “torture.” He exerted his entire being “towards accomplishing nothing.” Camus pictures Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain, “the cheek tight against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass,”... (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
Humankind and the Natural World Theme Icon
...represents “the hour of consciousness.” In these moments, says Camus, Sisyphus is “stronger than his rock” and “superior to his fate.” (full context)
Absurdism and Meaning Theme Icon
...Oedipus and Kirilov, Sisyphus “concludes that all is well.” Sisyphus knows “each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain.” It is necessary, concludes Camus, to “imagine Sisyphus... (full context)