With the increase of Sisyphus-related memes being shared on Twitter, it raises the question: Don’t you think the ancient Greeks would have loved memes?
What is the story of Sisyphus?
Sisyphus — or Sisyphos — is a character in ancient Greek mythology who was punished by Zeus after trying to trick Death. His punishment was to push a large boulder up a hill every day for eternity, only to find it rolling down to the bottom every time he completed the task.
Evolution of the Sisyphus meme from 2009 till now
Who knows how long people have verbally made fun of Sisyphus, but in terms of internet memes, there’s evidence that one of the first examples occurred as early as 2009. Sisyphus memes are a way for people to satirize the punishing task with a less-than-serious caption.
The meme theme that was relevant in 2009 and again in 2011 is captioning Sisyphus pushing up the boulder with “They see me rollin.’” The catchphrase blew up in pop culture following rapper Chamillionaire’s 2006 single “Ridin’.”
In 2014, a 4chan user altered the Sisyphus image to include the Feels Bad Man meme face and made the boulder the head of the Pepe the Frog meme. Six years later, in 2020, Twitter users added Sisyphus into two other meme formats — the “Are you winning son?” and “Wait, it’s all Ohio?” — making it into a more elaborate, multilayered joke.
Why are people talking about Sisyphus now, in 2023?
Memes are cyclical, and it was about time Sisyphus made a comeback.
In this case, on Jan. 23, it was a TikTok user’s video on how the general public is “missing the point of the Sisyphus myth.” TikToker @awakenatlas has turned off the comments on her original video, but it really gained internet fame when Twitter got hold of it.
Some Classics fans speculated that what @awakenatlas was trying to argue is similar to what French philosopher Albert Camus wrote in his 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus. In the essay, Camus argues that by Sisyphus’s accepting and enjoying rolling the boulder up the hill every day, he defeats the idea that it’s a burden or struggle and instead finds his own sense of identity.
But most Twitter users seemingly see the myth for what it is: Sisyphus being tortured by living the same day over and over again. The general response to the TikToker’s take was that it was “girlbossifying” the myth.
And what better way to handle this fear of mundane repetitiveness than to make a meme?
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