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Sisyphus, or Sisyphos, is a character in ancient Greek mythology who was punished by Hades to push a large boulder up a hill every day for eternity because it would roll down to the bottom every time he completed the task. Metaphorically, the myth of Sisyphus represents everyday struggle akin to route and laborious tasks, sometimes referred to as Sisyphean Tasks. Memes of Sisyphus Pushing A Boulder became prominent on social media platforms and websites like Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, Instagram and TikTok, among others, going into the early 2020s, mostly due to Sisyphus' plight being relatable to many in the modern era. Additionally, the drastic nature of Sisyphus' punishment was subverted by satirical memes that labeled his task with objectively less laborious tasks.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the king and founder of the city-state Ephyra. According to legend, he angered Zeus when he told the river god Asopus that Zeus had carried off his daughter Aegina. Zeus sent Death (also known by the name Thanatos) to carry Sisyphus off. When he was to be chained up by Thanatos, Sisyphus tricked him into demonstarting how the chains worked and chained Thanatos instead, leading to no mortals on Earth dying during that time. Eventually, Ares freed Thanatos and handed Sisyphus over to him, resulting in Sisyphus' eventual death.
After he died, Sisyphus went to the underworld where he was punished by Hades with an endless task. As stated in Homer's The Odyssey:
And I saw Sisyphus at his endless task raising his prodigious stone with both his hands. With hands and feet he tried to roll it up to the top of the hill, but always, just before he could roll it over on to the other side, its weight would be too much for him, and the pitiless stone would come thundering down again on to the plain. Then he would begin trying to push it up hill again, and the sweat ran off him and the steam rose after him.
In memes and online history, the first known meme about Sisyphus was uploaded to the Know Your Meme website on November 20th, 2011, by KYM user Olex Xelo. The meme was a play on the "They see me rollin'" meme, essentially satirizing Sisyphus' task with the unserious caption (shown below). Despite its 2011 upload, variants of the same Sisyphus meme with the "They see me rollin'" concept were uploaded as early as 2009.
In 2014, a currently unknown meme creator made a Sisyphus drawing that replaced his face with Feels and the boulder with the Feels Bad Man version of Pepe the Frog (shown below, left). Currently, the image's first known posting was on May 24th, 2014, appearing on 4chan's /sp/ board. It was used various times on 4chan going into the 2010s, such as on October 11th, 2015, when it was used by an anon on the /fit/ board who also referenced Sisyphus in the greentext (shown below, right).
Similar Wojak characters made to look like Sisyphus surfaced online in the 2010s. In the 2020s, Sisyphus spread elsewhere online. For instance, on May 25th, 2020, the Twitter page analytical_shit posted an "Are you winning, son?" meme about Sisyphus, earning roughly 3,600 likes in one year (shown below, top). On June 19th, 2020, Twitter user jakebrodes tweeted a similar meme, additionally referencing the "Wait, it's all Ohio?" template. The meme received roughly 21,200 likes in three years (shown below, bottom).
Sisyphus Puns, also known as Greek Mythology Puns or I Had A Joke About Sisyphus, refers to a series of tweets made in mid-August 2021 in which users make puns and jokes about characters from Greek mythology, with a particular focus on Sisyphus. The puns stemmed from a July 31st Tweet, and often follow a snowclone format reading, "I had a joke about X, but…"
Sisyphus is Happy TikTok / TikToker @awakenatlas
On January 29th, 2023, TikToker awakenatlas posted a video in which they claimed, "We're kind of missing the point of the Sisyphus myth. He gets stronger." They went on to claim that Sisyphus' punishment could be interpreted as a reward, meaning that his task is a symbol of daily routine that one should find beauty in. Over the course of four days, the video received roughly 191,900 plays and 19,800 likes. The video went more viral when it was tweeted about by Twitter user seungylee14 on January 31st, 2023, who wrote:
gm to the tiktok lady who said the myth of Sisyphus is about the value of having a good daily routine and that Sisyphus is happy because he is getting more swole every time he pushes the boulder up. my brain gets hot like an old laptop thinking about it
The tweet received roughly 90,500 likes in two days. Then, later on January 31st, 2023, Twitter user Money__Doug quote retweeted seungylee14 with a repost of the TikTok video, gaining roughly 980,000 views and 28,600 likes in two days (shown below).
— Money Doug (@Money__Doug) January 31, 2023
Thereafter, multiple Twitter users levied criticisms against TikToker awakenatlas' take on Sisyphus, such as Twitter user tallntran on February 1st, 2023, who stated:
there is a sick kind of humor in modern people not seeing what's so horrifying about sisyphus being forced to perform a task that he can never complete, every day, for all time. what was once a punishment from the gods is now a 9 to 5
The tweet received roughly 88,800 likes in one day (shown below, left). Also on February 1st, 2023, Twitter user katamaridumassy posted a drawing of Sisyphus with a speech bubble portraying his ecstasy about pushing the boulder, gaining roughly 6,000 likes in one day (shown below, right).
One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy
One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy is the concluding sentence of Albert Camus' essay The Myth of Sisyphus. In July 2023, the quote became popularized on TikTok alongside a series of video memes where users overlay images of Sisyphus rolling the boulder over clips from video games, TV shows and other pieces of media that are comparable to the myth of Sisyphus, often in a comedic way. The memes are often set to the song "Me and the Birds" by Duster.