The Fable of Sisyphus & the Groundhog
*Today, February 2nd, is Groundhog Day, which stems from a Pennsylvania Dutch superstition: on this day, if a groundhog sees its shadow upon emerging from its burrow, it will return below ground and there will be six more weeks of winter; if it sees no shadow, spring will come early.
Sisyphus & the Groundhog
After twice deceiving the gods and evading Thanatos (aka Death himself), Sisyphus was sentenced by Zeus to forever push a boulder up a hill in Tartarus. Despite the ostensibly perpetual nature of this punishment, the possibility of liberation did still exist. Zeus proclaimed that if Sisyphus managed to push the boulder to the summit, he would be set free.
While this may sound straightforward, the hill was colossal and steep—more of a mountain, really—and the rock was huge. For a man who had always relied on wit rather than brute force and who was accustomed to the opulence of palace life, this was no easy task. But Sisyphus was a resourceful man full of self-belief. He had overcome Death, he could overcome this.
Within hours of setting off, he was dripping and glistening with sweat. The souls of the damned gathered to mock him, mostly to feel better about their own misery, even though, as wispy shades without corporal form, they also secretly envied his gleaming flesh.
Soon he had left even the damned far behind. The slope seemed unending. Thirst and hunger gnawed at him.
Through cautious experimentation, he discovered that he could keep the boulder securely propped up with one hand, while using his free hand to pluck grubs and shrubs, and to scoop up water from puddles at his feet. He devised a way to sleep seated, using his back as support for the boulder while burying his head between his thighs.
After six weeks of toil, the peak came into view. There was no fat left on his body and his shredded muscles writhed like vipers under his skin. Though woozy and weak, he was near the summit.
A few more revolutions of the rock and Sisyphus would be free. As he strained and heaved up the final stretch, triumphant in his outplaying Zeus, a groundhog popped up from a burrow in the hillside.
Startled by the movement at his feet, Sisyphus jerked his head to the right. In diverting his gaze and attention, he tripped, the boulder slipping from his grasp and tumbling behind him. He lunged his right arm back with a desperate, hoarse cry, but it was too late. The boulder had begun its descent down the slope.
As it rolled, the ball of rock cast a shadow over the groundhog, which promptly ducked back into its burrow.
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