The Rock of Sisyphus*
A Play in One Act and Two Scenes
by Alfred de Grazia
*© Copyright 2001 by Alfred de Grazia
Setting: Archaic Greece. The play is practically a monologue of Sisyphus, son of Aeolus and an ancestor of Ulysses. A crowd, alternately dwindling and growing, is heard from around the stage but sounds from a level below that of the action. Zeus enters briefly at the very end of the drama, and his brother Hades, ruler of the underworld, even more briefly. Featured is a great jagged (not round) boulder, about 2 meters in diameter, vari-streaked-colored and made of papier -maché, which Sisyphus rolls up an inclined irregular thin-slate-stepped plane (whose beginning is out of sight at the rear left side of the stage and peaks to the right front of stage, there appearing to tower above the audience).
The boulder rolls down to begin the play, and then is pushed up, and then only once more tumbles down.
S wears suspender-type loose work pants, is shirtless, with bare legs and bare feet. S pushes up the boulder laboriously as if it weighed a ton. When it rolls back down, as it must, by divine decree, it tumbles down the shallow-stepped inclined plane affixed loosely to a slot). Whenever S wishes to pause going up the cliff, the boulder can be stopped with one hand, his ass, his leg, his stomach, He speaks during his pauses. He reminds us that he cannot keep it from falling down once it reaches the top, although he tries. Each time he must give up his effort and let it fall back down.
The play begins with a loud cry upper right and off-stage.
Sisyphus: "Stop!" "Stay! Rest there! Don't move,
you cruddy rock of stony-hearted fuck-all Zeus!"
But the boulder noses into view and noisily rolls down the inclined plane from the upper right of the stage, halting at the bottom left. An electric red light sign hung from above left center stage blinks three times and changes from 37,202 to "37,203 Trips".
Silence! Sisyphus appears at upper right top of the inclined plane. He works his way down the ramp, pausing several times, to where the boulder came to rest. At his first pause, he turns to address the sky. A cluster of seven small twinkling lights are in the upper right corner of stage and fade out as the play progresses. The Seventh light twinkles, unlike the others.
Sisyphus: Ah, Merope, Merope, come out with the night.
Your man, your lover, your divine hero, your enemy of the gods.
No one but me can see you, the beauty of all islands of Greece,
of all the islands of the night.
Of the millions of stars only thou cannot be seen
and yet I know thee, and thee me
and we are together alone, unseen lovers, man and wife,
deathless, but prey to the vicious who are
powerful beyond our means in this cosmos that
is so crazily constructed against the good.
I see, all see, your six sisters, but only I yourself,
for you have defied the gods as have I and
marrying a human being not worthy of your father
god Atlas in their minds, you
are forbidden to reveal your shining body alongside
your sisters of the Pleiades.
He takes several steps down..There are far noises from all lowest levels of the stage of people gathering and talking indiscernibly, except that words like gods, sisyphus, stars, labor, crime, punish, forever, are to be made out.
Sisyphus: Why am I here trudging up and down
like the lowliest beast of burden, or
even like the goatherd who must rise with the dawn, to
squeeze the teats of his animals for drops of milk,
then carry shit and slops and bushels here and there,
snatching a handful of grapes, munching a crust of bread,
until after downing a thick gluttonous soup
throw himself upon his mat until the next dawn forever and ever, except unlike unlucky me he must die sooner or later.
I have thus far gone up and down the mountain
37,203 times, which happens to be
the number of times the average clerk in the warehouse
of Corinth (I should know, having served as King there
for some time) and the average goatherd of Attica
(Athens having good statisticians from its herd of astrologers)
go to and fro their daily rounds in their lifetime.
I am here because (and I say because
not intending any reason of any value or validity
but only because because is the magic word for pretending one
understands the world) Why, Mommy? Because!
I mocked the gods.
I disparaged the Top God Zeus, calling him a vain womanizer, neglectful of the people of the world, indeed piling woe upon woe.
I praised the human being over the gods,
I was an effective king, attentive to my duties,
but, yes, I was arrogant, not against men and women,
but against the gods,
and therefore I was foolish beyond redemption.
Against them we are weaklings.
We kiss their feet. All that we have able to achieve -
all our arts and sciences, our constructions, our farms -
we meekly accredit to them,
Out of fear we sacrifice, no sacrifice is too dear,
but to say these words of mine is sacrilege,
blasphemy, those are my crimes. Still,
if they let me wetten my parched lips,
I would spit upon them.
Now, why this punishment, why not be fed to wild beasts,
dragged by speeding horses, crucified, flayed, dismembered?
The logic of simple-minded Zeus is clear:
'The punishment of Sisyphus must be forever,
as long as my kind of gods live,
else his kind would outlive us,
breeding interminably their bawling brats.
'His punishment must be public,
on a mountain rooted in Hell and visible from Heaven.
His punishment must be at hard labor,
to remind all mankind what miserable slaves they are.
'His punishment must crush the every appearance of hope,
so that whenever fulfillment, or completion,
or success, or achievement is near,
its companionate hope is doomed and frustrated.
Sisyphus: No tool will be given me to aid my task - no wedge, no lever, no drum to lurch by, not even a jock strap - Look (he stretches down his suspended short pants to expose his genitals)
The lights go out, long enough to enable Sisyphus to climb a third of the way up the mountain.
Scene 2. Morning of the next day
Sisyphus is already one-third of the way up the mountain.
The crowd is cheering. He stops.
The fickle crowd is now jeering.
But as he pauses long, and his head droops forward
the crowd becomes still. Then he lifts his head and
gives a great shout.
He leans against the rock, holding it more or less steady, though wobbly, and addresses, in three-quarters view, the audience.
I have solved the problem. It is a multi-variable calculus.
(The rock wobbles and he has to repeat himself.)
I will explain it all to you, although you are but the unlovable hare-brained riff-raff of the Tartarian underworld.
I begin with the rock itself. (He describes with his hands, and any part of his body and face that can be spared from steadying the rock, the spots on the rock about which he talking.)
This boulder has 13 major and 6 minor axes or angles, its density is distributed from center outward by multiples of 4, averaging them by the distances from the extremities and thicknesses of all angles protruding.
Next, given the plotting, the axiogram of the total rock, I know what point on the rock itself is less likely to let the rock move down from a stationary position, once it has achieved such, at the top of the mountain for instance.
Then I began to measure the mountain as I went up and down, there being 2014 steps up this direct slope of Mt. Tartarus. The steps or slabs average 14 inches of height. The slabs have an average inclination (or declination, as the case may be) going up and down, of 23 degrees, which Polygamos has recently proven to be the inclination of the Earth to the Plane of the Ecliptic. But it would be too tiring to explain this novel discovery.
Now I figure my hero-power. It is 34% of the Standard Hero-Power of Hercules, and amounts to 11/17ths of one horse-power. I multiply it by the time it takes to go up and down the mountain.
And thus I have the data required for the calculation!
"The Calculation of What?" you ask of me.
There is a terrific shout of "Yes!" from the multitude that has been listening fascinated and breathing heavily as he has been speaking about his figures)
Sisyphus: It is -- that which I hold in my head -- the calculation of just how this accursed rock has to be set at the top of the mountain so that it will simply be unable to roll down.
And, genius that I am, I have figured out, using the same data, a second point in these rocky spaces, the emergency point, which is that point short of the uppermost peak of the mountain where the rock will settle if it will not for some unknown reason stay where placed according to the first calculation. I do not expect ever to require it -- this fall-back point.
He bolsters the rock with his head and does a shuffling dance with his feet to the now agitated and lively drum that has suddenly come on from the sky.
Sisyphus: I have determined the point! It is
x (ab)/ay-54545-3y/14 x + 10e = P
He repeats it. He sings it. Actor must chant a pleased air.
x times a and b,
over a and c
less 5 4 5 4 5
less 3 times y divided by
14 superscript x power
plus 10 times e
at the Point P.
He is now nearing the top.
And when I do get to the top, the rock will
refuse to tumble back down of its own accord.
Not even if a god, all gods, Zeus and
his whole kit and kaboodle try to do so by force of will.
Because all the gods cannot break the will
of the mathematics of natural events.
The Point, once made known, is invincible.
There is only one way for the Rock to go.
I have but to give it a mighty shove and it will go thundering down the opposite slope right smack onto the dining table of the gods, yes, siree, indeedy, right smack plumb onto
the historic, world famous table of the gods,
with You Know Who sitting at the head of the table!
Sisyphus has now reached the top of the mountain.
He is now juggling the rock into position
to cease its tumbling motion. It does so,
he yells, "P" and for the first time
since the play began the rock is stationary of its own accord.
Shall I now deliver us from evil? He shouts to
the invisible crowd below
and they shout back YES.
Shall I give to these unworthy pretenders
to the Empire of the Universe what they deserve?
S stands. Then he shouts, NO!
And there is a mighty groan from the multitude.
Because, because, because
to destroy those gods will bring catastrophe to the world,
your world, my world. They are forces of nature,
stupid, blind, pretentious and scheming for selfish reasons.
They delight to bring the world come crashing down!
The world could well be wrecked if we destroyed the gods, for they are synonymous with catastrophe. They emerge from and they merge and depart in catastrophe. My wife, Merope, backs me up in what I say, for she and her sisters were close observers of the celestial source of the great Flood of Saturn that came near to drowning mankind.
I know the Formula.
You know the formula.
The gods know that we know the Formula of
the Point of the Boulder on the Mountain of Destiny.
We must live in that knowledge, and work in that knowledge. It is our only happiness.
And therefore I am about to push the rock down the mountain to where I began this day propelling the boulder to its high seat,
and will forever after push it up and let it fall back,
even though I know how to keep it in place,
or send it hurtling down upon the gods.
And your children and your children's children will watch me do so.
That is my free will, not my fate, it is your free will, not your fate.
To labor unceasingly, eternally,
knowing that the whole world could be changed
by the knowledge we possess.
By the intelligence and wisdom we own.
We are wise, but refuse to use our wisdom
against the natural order of things.
After saying which he taps the boulder and it begins its descent down the mountain, Sisyphus pacing proudly after it.
Once it gets to the bottom, who is there to greet the descended rock and man but, yes, ZEUS. A giant grotesquely costumed Zeus hastens upon the stage, a tall glass of nectar in one hand, and pokes his drowsing brother Hades with his jagged lightning rod, shouting: Stop, stop, the comedy is finished! I, Zeus, King of Gods, command it. Drown them all in a flood of Lethe. Drown them all in Lethal waters.
The Crowd noises are terrifying. Anguished cries rise unnervingly. Zeus is actually frightened at the idea of losing control of humanity.
Zeus: The rock need never go up again! Else every time it reaches the summit, we gods will be fearful that Sisyphus will finally decide to send it crashing down upon us.
(He pauses to reconsider)
No, no, stop, for, without the rock, the people will quit their labor and live like gods.
We will be back in the Golden Age of Kronos, my father whom I murdered.
The rock must keep going up and down, up and down.
Waving at Sisyphus, he cries, "Make him drink, especially him, Sisyphus, make him drink! Drink! He will forever forget and therefore always dumbly climb and descend like a robot.
Then - he realizes what he is doing and reverses himself once more.
No, no, we must do it differently. Stupid brother Hades, drown them all in Lethe's water of forgetting, so as to forget our crimes.
But give nothing to drink to Sisyphus.
I cannot enjoy his punishment if he forgets.
He must remember to hate me and all the rascals of my family.
Gods breed upon the fears of the crowd.
But the gods, too, live happily upon the hatred of clever Men.
If they forget us, they kill us.
We must keep them from killing us.
He raises his own glass to drink of its nectar, and
staggers off stage, singing lustily and drunkenly,
"Trink, trink, Brüdderlein, trinken,
alas, alas, Sisyphus muss thinken.."
Trink, trink, Brüdderlein, .....