Study Guide

Sisyphus Themes

  • Mortality

    Yeah, it's kind of hard to miss the theme of mortality in this myth. Death himself, a.k.a. Thanatos, actually shows up in person, so there you go. The quest to escape his own death is Sisyphus's major driving motivation. You have to hand it to the guy, he does a better job than most of us would, escaping from the Underworld not one but two times. (Not too shabby.) It seems to us that Sisyphus's quest to escape death is all too human. It's not like it's something that too many of us are looking forward to. Who wouldn't do their best to escape it, if it were in their power?

    Questions About Mortality

    1. How does Sisyphus escape from the Underworld?
    2. Why does Ares rescue Thanatos? What's your opinion of his motivations?
    3. Describe the way that Thanatos, a.k.a Death, is depicted in this myth. What might be the larger meaning of this depiction?
    4. Describe what the world would be like if no one could die.
    5. Imagine a debate between Thanatos and Hermes over who's the better psychopomp, or guide to the dead. Write a dialogue where both lay out an argument for why they're better at the job.
  • Manipulation

    Sisyphus is one wily dude, who doesn't think anything of manipulating those around him to get what he wants. Whether he's seducing his niece, toying with his wife, or fooling Death itself, Sisyphus is known far and wide as a trickster extraordinaire. In the end, though, Sisyphus learns the lesson that no matter how many clever manipulations he can concoct, he's just never going to outsmart the gods.

    Questions About Manipulation

    1. What are the major manipulations that Sisyphus executes?
    2. What is the cost to others of Sisyphus's manipulations?
    3. What is the ultimate cost to Sisyphus of all his wily schemes? Was it all worth it? Explain your answer.
    4. Some say that wily Odysseus is actually the son of Sisyphus. Click here to learn more about Odysseus, then compare and contrast the two.
    5. Imagine that Sisyphus concocts a new scheme to escape his rock-rolling punishment. How do you think he would do it? Describe the plot.