“Sisyphus, Known as the Craftiest of Men” — Roberto Bolaño

Books, Literature, Writers

 

Then, incomprehensibly, he began to make faces that in some way linked him to the wife of the writer from Mainz, to such a degree that Bubis thought they must be brother and sister and only thus could one fully understand the presence of the writer and his wife at the meal. It was also possible, thought Bubis, that they were lovers, because it was common knowledge that lovers often began to resemble each other, usually in their smiles, their opinions, their points of view, in short, the superficial trappings that all human beings are obliged to bear until their deaths, like the rock of Sisyphus, yes Sisyphus, known as the craftiest of men, son of Aeolus and Enarete, founder of the city of Ephyra, which is the old name for Corinth, a city that the good Sisyphus turned into the staging ground of his happy misdeeds, because with his characteristic nimbleness of body and intellectual inclination to see every turn of fate as a chess problem or a detective story to unravel, and his instinct for laughter and jokes and jests and cracks and quips and gags and pranks and punch lines and spoofs and stories and gibes and taunts and send-ups and satires, he turned to theft, in other words parting all passersby from their belongings, even going so far as to steal from his neighbor Autolycus, also a thief, perhaps with the remote hope that one who steals from a thief is granted one hundred years of forgiveness, and at the same time smitten by his neighbor’s daughter, Anticlea, because Anticlea was very beautiful, a treat, but the girl had an official suitor, she was promised to Laertes, of subsequent fame, which didn’t daunt Sisyphus, who could count on the complicity of the girl’s father, the thief Autolycus, whose admiration for Sisyphus had sprung up like the regard of an objective and honorable artist for another artist of superior gifts, so that even though it could be said that as a man of honor he remained true to his promise to Laertes, he didn’t look unkindly upon the romantic attentions Sisyphus lavished on his daughter or treat them as disrespect or mockery of his future son-in-law, and in the end his daughter married Laertes, or so it’s said, but only after surrendering to Sisyphus one or two or five or seven times, possibly ten or fifteen times, always with the collusion of Autolycus, who wanted his neighbor to plant the seed of a grandchild as clever as Sisyphus, and on one of these occasions Anticlea was left with child and nine months later, now the wife of Laertes, her son would be born, the son of Sisyphus, called Odysseus or Ulysses, who in fact turned out to be just as clever as his father, though Sisyphus never gave him a thought and continued to live his life, a life of excesses and parties and pleasure, during which he married Merope, the dimmest star in the Pleiades precisely because she married a mortal, a miserable mortal, a miserable thief, a miserable gangster in thrall to his excesses, blinded by his excesses, among which not least was the seduction of Tyro, the daughter of Sisyphus’s brother Salmoneus, whom Sisyphus pursued not because he was interested in Tyro, not because Tyro was particularly sexy, but because Sisyphus hated his own brother and wanted to cause him pain, and for this deed, after his death, he was condemned in hell to push a stone to the top of a hill only to watch it roll down to the bottom and then push it back up to the top of the hill and watch it roll again to the bottom, and so on eternally, a bitter punishment out of all proportion to his crimes or sins, the vengeance of Zeus, it’s said, because on a certain occasion Zeus passed through Corinth with a nymph he had kidnapped, and Sisyphus, who was smarter than a whip, seized his chance, and when Asopus, the girl’s father, came by in desperate search of his daughter, Sisyphus offered to give him the name of his daughter’s kidnapper, but only if Asopus made a fountain spring up in the city of Corinth, which shows that Sisyphus wasn’t a bad citizen or perhaps he was thirsty, to which Asopus agreed and the fountain of crystalline waters sprang up and Sisyphus betrayed Zeus, who, in a blind rage, sent him ipso facto to Thanatos, or death, but Sisyphus was too much for Thanatos, and in a masterstroke perfectly in keeping with his craftiness and sense of humor he captured Thanatos and threw him in chains, a feat within reach of very few, truly very few, and for a long time he kept Thanatos in chains and during all that time not a single human being died on the face of the earth, a golden age in which men, though still men, lived free of the anxiety of death, in other words, free of the anxiety of time, because now they had more than enough time, which is perhaps what distinguishes a democracy, spare time, surplus time, time to read and time to think, until Zeus had to intervene personally and Thanatos was freed and then Sisyphus died.

But the faces Junge was making didn’t have anything to do with Sisyphus, thought Bubis.

From “The Part About Archimboldi,” 2666, by Roberto Bolaño.

 

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Sisyphus, Bolaño Style

Books, Literature, Writers

A passage from Roberto Bolaño’s big fat novel 2666 (context unimportant)—

Archimboldi’s response surprised Bubis. In it he said that Sisyphus, once he was dead, had escaped from hell by means of a legal stratagem. Before Zeus freed Thanatos, Sisyphus asked his wife not to perform the usual funeral rites, knowing that the first thing Death would do was come for him. So when he got to hell, Hades scolded him and all the infernal lords naturally clamored to the skies or the vault of hell and tore out their hair and took offense. But Sisyphus said it was his wife’s fault, not his, and he requested permission to return to Earth to punish her.

Hades considered it: the proposal Sisyphus made was reasonable and freedom was granted to him on the condition that he stay away for only three or four days, long enough to get his just vengeance and set in motion, however belatedly, the proper funeral rites. Of course, Sisyphus jumped at the chance—not for nothing was he the craftiest man in the world—and he returned to Earth, where he lived happily to a ripe old age, and didn’t go back to hell until his body failed him.

According to some, the punishment of the rock had only one purpose: to keep Sisyphus occupied and prevent him from hatching new schemes. But at the least expected moment, Sisyphus will devise something and he’ll come back to Earth, Archimboldi ended his letter.