Understanding Camus’ Argument in “Myth of Sisyphus”

The Myth of Sisyphus is a popular Greek myth that follows a mortal and his punishment by the gods. Sisyphus is a mortal and was the ruler of Corinth, a city in Greece. He notoriously was able to cheat death twice. On his second death, he convinced Hades to let him go to the overworld after death, in order to instruct his wife on proper burial procedure. He then stayed in the overworld for many years until his last death, where he was subject to the wrath of the gods. Once back with Hades, he was punished by being made to roll a boulder up a hill. After getting it up, the boulder would roll down the hill, and Sisyphus would be made to repeat the task for eternity.

Most people who read the myth and hear about the fate of Sisyphus feel sadness and pity because repetition and hopelessness seem to be traditionally sad qualities. However, Albert Camus argues that Sisyphus is happy and free to do what he wants. Camus says that by knowing his fate and the hopelessness of his situation, Sisyphus is empowered to accept his new way of life and has nothing to complain about.

Camus states that the absurdity of normal life does not make Sisyphus truly punished. In reality, by changing what he wants himself, Sisyphus is able to meet his expectations and is therefor free to do as he pleases, despite being tasked with rolling the boulder up the hill.

My thoughts on Camus’ Argument

I disagree with Camus’ perspective on Sisyphus’ situation. When looking at the myth, we come to learn that Sisyphus lived a long and happy life for the most part. For this reason, I believe that Sisyphus has a strong ground of memories. Now that he is tasked to roll this rock up a hill in hell for the rest of his life, his past will likely remind him of his unfavorable eternal fate. I think that Camus glosses over the fact that Sisyphus had a privileged life before entering hell. The absurdity of life can be found among people who find themselves involved in long hours at work or at physical labor, which may resemble similarity to rolling up the boulder. However, for Sisyphus, the ruler of a kingdom, his life and mindset is not adjusted to the absurdity of life due to the non-traditional upbringing he had.

I do think that Camus is correct in certain aspects. For example, think about an animal that spends most of its life hunting for food, sleeping, and general survival. The animal would not have the despair that Sisyphus would have, even though the repetition of their life is comparable. This is due to the fact that the animal is doing all they have ever known, while Sisyphus’ condition is an obvious downgrade from his previous life.

This changes one’s look at how our world works. The only difference between the animal and Sisyphus (or any other human with a routine) is perspective and experiences. The perspective of the animal is narrow, focused on survival, which is all that they know to do. The perspective of humans revolves around happiness, which is the absurd expectations we send to our universe. Disappointment is therefore infinitely easier for a human who sets their goals above survival.