Sisyphean Task

Also:

Sisyphean labor
Sisyphean burden

Meaning of Idiom ‘Sisyphean Task, a’

Sisyphean task is a pointless, fruitless, and unrewarding task that must be repeated over and over again; and endless task.  1Webber, Elizabeth, and Mike Feinsilber. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Allusions. Merriam-Webster, 2000.,2Addis, Ferdie. Opening Pandora’s Box: Phrases Borrowed from the Classics and the Stories behind Them. Reader’s Digest Association, 2012.

Compare Herculean Task.

Examples Of Use

“Francis was stuck with the Sisyphean task of trying to get warring factions to see each other’s point of view and strike a compromise.”

“My old boss thought the proper way to treat an employee was to engage them in Sisyphean tasks, moving stock from one place to another for no purpose but to stay busy.”

Sisyphean task idiom meaning and origin

Origin

This rarely used idiom derives from the Greek myth of King Sisyphus, who ruled over Ephyra. He had offended the Gods due to his clever schemes, such as cheating death by fooling Thanatos, kind of the dead, into binding himself with his own chains, thus not only escaping death himself but preventing the death of all others. This angered the God of War since battles had little color without the specter of death! kind Sisyphus was even dragged down to the Underworld only to talk his way out. Making matters worse, he was a terrible ruler. He even angered the Goddess of Hospitality, Xenia, by killing travelers and guest even while encouraging commerce and travel.

In the end, Zeus himself sent Sisyphus to Tartarus, which was the lowest part of the Underworld and basically the modern equivalent of hell. There, Sisyphus was punished by being compelled to spend eternity rolling a huge boulder up a hill. This labor was difficult enough, but when he did manage to succeed, the boulder would roll down the other side of the hill, forcing him to start all over again. Thus, a never-ending and fruitless task came to be known as a Sisyphean task or a Sisyphean labor.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Webber, Elizabeth, and Mike Feinsilber. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Allusions. Merriam-Webster, 2000.
2. Addis, Ferdie. Opening Pandora’s Box: Phrases Borrowed from the Classics and the Stories behind Them. Reader’s Digest Association, 2012.