SISYPHUS, a famous character of Greek mythology, Was a son of iEolus and Enarete and brother of Crerheus, Athamas, and Salmoneus. He built Ephyra (Corinth), and married Merope, daughter of Atlas, by whom he had a 'son - Glaucus. According to Pausanias (ii. 3, 11) Sisyphus succeeded Medea in the sovereignty of Corinth. Having found the body of the drowned Melicertes lying on the shore of the isthmus, Sisyphus buried him and instituted in his honour the Isthmian games. From Homer onwards Sisyphus was famed as the craftiest of men. His name (formed by reduplication from the same root as o-oc549) means the Wise, Wise One. When Death came to fetch him, Sisyphus put him into fetters, so that no one died till Ares came and freed Death, and delivered Sisyphus into his custody. But Sisyphus was not yet at the end of his resources. For before he died he told his wife that when he was gone she was not to offer the usual sacrifice to the dead. So in the under world he complained that his wife was neglecting her duty, and he persuaded Hades to allow him to go back to the upper world and expostulate with her. But when he got back to Corinth he positively refused to return to Deadland ; so he lived to a good old age, and even then Hermes had a tough job to carry him off. In the under world Sisyphus was compelled to roll a big stone up a steep hill ; but before it reached the top of the hill the stone always rolled down, and Sisyphus had to begin all over again. The subject was a commonplace of ancient writers, and was depicted by the painter Polygnotus on the Lesche at Delphi.
The way in which Sisyphus cheated Death is a common incident in folk-tales. Thus in a Venetian story the ingenious Beppo ties up Death in a bag and keeps him there for eighteen months ; there is general rejoicing ; nobody dies, and the doctors are in high feather. In a Sicilian story an innkeeper corks up Death in a bottle ; so nobody dies for rears, and the long white beards arc a sight to see. In another Sicilian story a monk keeps Death in his pouch for forty years. (See Crane, Popular Italian Yaks, Nos. 63, 64, 65, 66, with the translator's notes.) The German parallel is Gambling Hansel, who kept Death up a tree for seven years, during which no one died (Grimm, Household Tales, No. 82 ; in his notes Grimm cites a number of German parallels). The Norse parallel is the tale of the Master Smith (Asbjornsen og Moe, Norske Folke-Ercntyr, 21; Dasent, Popular Tales from the Norse, p. 106). For a Lithuanian parallel, see Schleicher, Litauische Sprichicbrte, Itatsel, und Liedcr, p. 108 sq.); for Slavonic parallels, Krauss, Sagen und Altihrehen der Sadslaven, ii., Nos. 125, 126.