Sisyphus' punishment was to roll a rock up a hill forever, but then why couldn't he just drop it? Why couldn't he get it to the top?

  • 4
    Why couldn't he get it to the top? Magic.
    – user62
    Nov 28, 2015 at 21:17
  • Like... what did the magic do?
    – bleh
    Nov 28, 2015 at 22:17
  • it stopped the rock from reaching the top of the hill, even though Sisyphus was trying as hard as he could. I don't know if the Greeks would have called it magic -- maybe they thought that Sisyphus got tired and dropped the rock every time -- but magic is the closest analogy.
    – user62
    Nov 28, 2015 at 22:49
  • Ahh. That makes sense. What about the 1st part?
    – bleh
    Nov 28, 2015 at 23:17
  • This is actually a pretty interesting question (the first part, at least). It doesn't seem like many of the main myths referencing Sisyphus talk about the enforcement of the punishment, merely what the punishment was.
    – HDE 226868
    Nov 28, 2015 at 23:32

1 Answer 1


Homer describes the stone as being so heavy that, while Sisyphus could carry the stone part of the way up the hill, he would get so tired doing so that he would then drop the stone before he got to the top.

Aye, and I saw Sisyphus in violent torment, seeking to raise a monstrous stone with both his hands. [595] Verily he would brace himself with hands and feet, and thrust the stone toward the crest of a hill, but as often as he was about to heave it over the top, the weight would turn it back, and then down again to the plain would come rolling the ruthless stone. But he would strain again and thrust it back, and the sweat [600] flowed down from his limbs, and dust rose up from his head.

I've seen a variety of explanations as to "why couldn't he just drop it," but I don't have a reputable source for these explanations as of right now (presumably because these explanations may not be supported by primary sources). One popular claim is that Sisyphus was promised immortality if he rolled the boulder to the top of the hill.

However, the simplest explanation (and the one best supported by the primary sources) is that Sisyphus had to push the boulder up the hill because that was his punishment.

But Sisyphus is punished in Hades by rolling a stone with his hands and head in the effort to heave it over the top; but push it as he will, it rebounds backward.

(Apollodorus, Library)

The image of Sisyphus pushing the bolder up the hill is used by philosophers like Camus as a metaphor for life. Although this is a modern interpretation of an ancient story, it might answer some of the questions people have about it.

  • Wait so is he doing it out of honor in the last explanation? What will happen if he just stops?
    – tox123
    Mar 26, 2016 at 20:46
  • @tox123 stop overthinking it :). The important thing here is the image of him pushing the bolder up the hill, not all the technicalities behind his punishment. I don't know what would happen if he stopped: presumably the gods would get angry and something bad would happen.
    – user62
    Mar 26, 2016 at 21:26
  • @tox123 this link might answer some of your questions: dbanach.com/sisyphus.htm
    – user62
    Mar 26, 2016 at 22:02
  • 1
    Strange, I always had the idea in my mind that the boulder was round and when he got it to the top it rolled down the other side. Apr 4, 2016 at 16:10
  • The explanation I heard as for why he continued to take the boulder up the hill requires some knowledge of Sisyphus's story. He cheated death the gain immortality, not once, but twice. Further, one of those time, he got immortality for his entire city. According to Stephen Fry, Sisyphus was told he would be allowed to return to life if he got the boulder to the top of the hill, despite Hade's enchantment. Like doctors who constantly and slowly extend lifespan through generations of effort, Sisyphus can only achieve through godlike effort, and he persists, confident he will someday overcome.
    – lilHar
    Oct 18, 2023 at 7:57

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