Prologue: The Myth of Sisyphus
Sisyphus, who founded the city of Corinth...witnessed the abduction of young Aegina, daughter of Asopus, at the hand of Zeus and revealed the name of the abductor to the girl's father....When at last he died at a great age, the gods made haste to give him a task that would hold him prisoner. He had to roll an enormous rock up a mountain and, when it reached the top, the rock rolled down to the bottom and Sisyphus' task began at the beginning again.
— Pierre Grimal, "Greece: Myth and Logic" in Larousse World Mythology
In Greek mythology, King Sisyphus of Corinth witnessed Zeus's abduction of Aegina and told her father, the river god Asopus, who was searching for his lost daughter. Although Sisyphus was merely a bystander, his disclosure angered the other gods, who unjustly condemned him to spend eternity using his hands and his head to roll a mammoth boulder up a mountain in the underworld, repeating the arduous task over and over again.
Countless desperate children and adults are the modern-day versions of Sisyphus as they toil with their hands and their heads but fail to reach the hoped-for summits of performance in school and in the workplace. And so often they, too, are unjustly accused, in their case, of laziness. They, like Sisyphus, are innocent victims who deserve our sympathy and understanding, for they possess minds that learn and think better than they work. They may radiate brilliance when it comes to logical thinking, humor, and the social skills. But what they produce or the effort they put forth falls short of expectations — the expectations of their parents, their teachers, their bosses. For them, work doesn't work. Like Sisyphus, they feel as if they are getting nowhere as they toil. Their low or nonexistent productivity is not their fault, not in the least intentional. Yet, like Sisyphus, they are often blamed and even punished for crimes they never committed.
Copyright © 2003 by Mel Levine