The Rebellion Of Sisyphus
By Neil Crabtree
Meet Sisyphus, wily son of Aeolus, guilty of outwitting Death himself, condemned to roll an enormous stone up the steep and rocky hill every day for eternity, only to have it roll back down again, starting the process over, the pushing, the rolling, as though it matters if the stone is high or low. The repetition, once such a burden, now brings comfort. I find the clarity of the assignment refreshing. Here in the Underworld, knowing what is expected makes the uncertain future bearable. I plan my routine, work different muscle groups, back and legs, lats and abs, neck and shoulder, developing into quite the figure of a man. At first it seemed the boredom would break my spirit, but no, it’s not so bad. Boredom must be worse when there are alternatives, and less when the options are withdrawn. The task itself cleanses the mind, the same task done over and over, until only the artist appreciates the subtleties of difference, the shifting of weight, the angle of the grip, the places on the hill offering purchase for this foot or that. And every day I get stronger, every day the stone gets smaller.
The Gods are now a senile crowd, ignored by Greeks and non-Greeks alike, afraid to leave Mount Olympus lest they forget how to get back. The fear they once instilled in my brothers and sisters has been replaced entirely by a different sort of dread; even the Gods are afraid, and as unsure of the cause of this fear as the people they once intimidated. Centuries have taken their toll on The Immortals, condemned by their vanity to resist change and abhor progress. Struggling to remain the same in a river of change, they have been eroded as rocks in a quick and powerful current surely are, or as my own punishing stone has been rounded by thousands of daily chips and frictions. As they begin to crumble, my fate is nearly forgotten, and so the effort made each day is solely of my own determination. This is my lot and my entertainment, the rolling of the stone. It is what I do, on and on and on. Yet how I do it is my own choice, and therein lies the illusion of freedom that sustains the heart against the cruelty of unjust punishment. I am free but not free. Who does not identify with my statement? We are all free and not free, dead but not dead. Judgments follow us beyond life’s borders; we arrive pre-judged before birth, leave condemned after death. My stone at least is real to the touch, it presses me back with solid mass, punishes my mistakes, rewards my focused effort. The Olympians lack this focus, even this minimal sense of direction. My smile wounds them dearly. They cannot understand.
King of Corinth, the son of Titans, I earned my people’s love and respect by the efforts I made for their welfare, ignoring no one who came to my court for aid and assistance. Using my wits, I fought Death, grabbed him by the scruff of his icy neck, and bound him with chains so he might claim no more of my good citizens. Then mighty Zeus had to free the wretch and set him upon me. The Gods like Mediterranean gangsters overpowered me, and set up my terrible imprisonment. Was I wrong to want an end to Death? Ask your own heart when someone you love is stricken. I defied the Gods and all their henchmen, and am punished throughout eternity with a task as arduous as it is meaningless. I am unbowed, and would do so again, knowing full well the consequence. The stone and I are one.
But it is unseemly for a king of men to bear abuse by his captors.
Better to strike! As I did when the hated Erinyes set upon me yet again as I struggled with the stone’s awesome weight. Hitting me with lashes that tore my skin, flying about me on little wings to attack from behind, they delight in my pain. Yet on this day my strength was such I reached out and caught the imp by the heel and smashed her to the ground. I let the stone roll free as I jumped the creature, pinning her beneath my hand. Seizing a shining black rock jutting from the ground I struck again and again and again, crushing face and skull into bloody pulp as the others screamed in terror. Looking up from my cruel effort, I saw the Gods of Olympus ringing the hilltop, watching as I smeared myself with the Erinye’s blood. I stood up and bellowed like an animal but they only stood and watched, until sick of their impassive faces I threw the rock as hard as I could up at them. They ducked the missile, but that action revealed to me something centuries on that hillside had not. They feared the black rock, and had no powers over it. As we stared at each other, I wished them read the hatred in my heart. Yet rather than strike me down, they turned one by one, and exited as if in procession. And I began that day to fashion weapons of black rock, sacred, ancient from times before Gods and men.
Rebellion in Hades! As these Gods overthrew the race before them, surely the time has come for them to be cast down. My fame on earth had been my defiance of these powerful beings. My legend in the Underworld will be greater still, the man who fought the Gods in their homeland, who sounded the battle cry for men to rise up. Rise up! Do their will no longer! Shades of fallen heroes, rise and take your freedom!
There are storms on earth and on Mount Olympus, and a withdrawal of the Olympians to their enclave, seldom venturing out even to check on me. They should act out their rage at my defiance but all is silent now. My reprisal is prepared without incident. Perhaps their vanity keeps them unawares. Let them sleep, I whisper.
For years I worked, making weapons of sacred rock to carry up the mountainside. Rolling the stone, I dream of my last battle. Thirty years I reigned a king. Thirty centuries I have been a slave to this madness. Let men read these last words of a forgotten rebel, the wily son of Aeolus the Titan, and the first King of Corinth. And remember a man once fought with Death himself to help his people. Let them know that beyond the river of life I struck grievous blows to the Gods of Olympus with weapons of stone, crying Freedom! as I fell.
At the gate, I advance unchecked. The guards are not to be seen. All their demigods and guardian creatures have grown careless. I approach the temple and all is silent. A light shines, I see my way clearly. I sniff the air, seeking targets.
I heft the great black club, admiring its vicious design, points on one side, solid hammer the other. Years of labor have made my strength unequalled. The stony sword I swing as lightly as a stem of flowers. I long for combat to begin.
My heart races with the horror I am about to inflict. Kill me they may but I will take many with me. I am done with eternity.
And then making entrance, revelation comes to me like a messenger. At once I begin to laugh, amazed by its clarity. I have to sit at the edge of the fountain, so suddenly comic I find myself, in the house of Zeus seeking revenge. What vanity, my cry of Freedom. I see the will of the Gods in the flowers of the gardens, the glowing waters of the pool, the black rock of my weapons.
For eons they have been waiting for me to bring deliverance. Sisyphus. Son of Aeolus. King of Corinth. Roller of Stones.
I am but their murderous tool.
Neil Crabtree grew up through the Sixties, and feels the strangeness of the 21st Century the way a Capricorn experiences the Age of Aquarius. He is completing a novel, The Barricades of Heaven. Chapters read by writers John Dufresne ( Louisiana Power And Light, Johnny Too Bad) and Les Standiford ( Meet You in Hell, Deal On Ice) have been well received, and Neil is grateful for their encouragement.
Photo courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.
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