Sis·​y·​phe·​an | \ ˌsi-sə-ˈfē-ən How to pronounce Sisyphean (audio) \
variants: or less commonly Sisyphian \ si-​ˈsi-​fē-​ən How to pronounce Sisyphean (audio) \

Definition of Sisyphean

: of, relating to, or suggestive of the labors of Sisyphus specifically : requiring continual and often ineffective effort a Sisyphean task

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In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who annoyed the gods with his trickery. As a consequence, he was condemned for eternity to roll a huge rock up a long, steep hill in the underworld, only to watch it roll back down. The story of Sisyphus is often told in conjunction with that of Tantalus, who was condemned to stand beneath fruit-laden boughs, up to his chin in water. Whenever he bent his head to drink, the water receded, and whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches moved beyond his grasp. Thus to tantalize is to tease or torment by offering something desirable but keeping it out of reach—and something Sisyphean (or Sisyphian, pronounced \sih-SIFF-ee-un\) demands unending, thankless, and ultimately unsuccessful efforts.

First Known Use of Sisyphean

1635, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of Sisyphean was in 1635

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Cite this Entry

“Sisyphean.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Aug. 2022.

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