And I could feel the rumblings of Ironus in his endless torment, his prodigious surface area being pushed upward by two revoltingly soft human hands. With all his power he tried to embrace Gravity, to become heavier and denser, to resist the human’s force and return to the valley floor. Just as it seemed he could summon no more weight the pitiless human would lose his grip and Ironus would come thundering down again on to the plain, triumphant! But not so. Each and every time the human would return, laying those soft hands upon him, and begin forcing him up the hill again. The sweat which ran off this human’s body and the steam which rose after him wet Ironus’ surface and seeped into his tiny cracks and fissures…
That is a section from a well known account of the Myth of Ironus about a boulder and his punishment by the Gods.
His name was Ironus and as the story goes this hulking slab of iron ore was an extremely proud boulder. He had some reason to be. You see he was a Grecian rock and in those ancient days of Greece in which one might glimpse gorgons and one-eyed giants and heroes choking lions with their bare hands or dispatching fire-breathing chimeras, it was none the less highly unusual to find a huge mass of iron ore just lying about. Greece was limestone country after all, and if asked no chalk, calcarenite, coquina, or travertine could remember exactly how Ironus came to rest there in the valley amongst their layers. Everyrock, however, counted that forgotten day of his arrival as a bad one. Ironus was so proud it seems that he was also cruel and blasphemous.
Rocks are a steady, solid folk. They do what they do well and are very nearly single minded about it. The reason for this is not because rocks are simple or lack imagination. Nor is it because they are lazy or particularly taciturn. It’s simply because rocks are, above all else, terrifically devout.
Any God would count himself lucky to have a world full of rocks as his worshippers, and though the rocks themselves would be hard-pressed to deny that there is an entire pantheon of Gods at work out there, shaping the universe, molding creation, and getting up to their considerable mischief, the truth is that rocks are near monotheistic in practice. Sure they’ll embrace one of Death’s little organic trinkets if asked and they’ll bow to the will of Fire if they must (no reason to start trouble), but rocks adore one god above all others. Gravity. They would follow Master Gravity anywhere.
Which brings us to Ironus.
Ironus was a big, heavy, manganese-rich lump of iron ore who had not moved or been eroded a millimeter for as long as anyrock could remember. He just sat there. And understand that “just sitting there” was an act which would have been very admirable for a rock, had he just done so quietly. Instead, prideful Ironus felt compelled to continually taunt the limestones all around him–
“You weakling limestones! How pathetic you are! You’ll erode to nothing and I’ll still be here. You will be broken down, bit by bit, until your so small a goat fart could blow you away! Some tribute to Gravity that will be! You’ll become tiny little grains of sand and be sucked up by the waters, getting dragged here and there by the tides, moving about in a murky solution for eternity! Haha. You’ll end up weightless bits of dust, continually blown about, continually in motion. You’ll probably spend most of your time up in a cloud somewhere praying a raindrop will form around you so you can feel Gravity again and return to Earth. Pathetic limestones! Look at me! I’m as heavy and massive and motionless as I ever was. Why, laying next to me you’re barely true rocks at all!”
Now that was pretty cruel. It was not the limestones’ fault. They knew full well that they’d probably erode long before that most glorious day of days, the one they were waiting for, when Gravity would take it’s rightful place as the King of all Gods, compressing everyrock and everything into itself. It was the day foretold since the beginning of time, when Fire would no longer melt them and Water would no longer wear them down! Huzzah! It was the day the oldest rocks told of, when Gravity became so strong not even fleet footed Light could escape him! It was the day they’d be reunited with every one of their lost particles, when they’d be whole again. Imagine it! All things crushed into one impossibly dense point under Gravity! It was Heaven. Every limestone new that it would most likely perceive that day in only the dimmest way, as disparate particles spread far and wide over the planet, or worse, as microscopic passengers clinging to the filthy bones of some disgusting animal. This was the fate God had chosen for them and Ironus took every chance to remind them of it.
Cruelty, in and of itself, is hardly a punishable offense where the Gods are concerned. It would be just too hypocritical considering the truly and divinely rarified types of cruelty they’ve been known engage in, but as it so happens, one day, in a fit of self-congratulation, Ironus crossed the line and his simple cruelty to the rocks around him was transformed into blasphemy.
On that particular day some humans had been loping about, chattering as they do, chipping at the limestones with little sticks. Ironus first taunted them, pointing out their disgusting softness and meager life-spans, but when they did not seem to take notice, he directed his scorn again toward the limestones–
“Ah look how easily you are chipped and pulverized! You pathetic collections of sediment. See how the soft ones don’t dare approach me! They sense my power. They are scared! They know I am too strong, that I would tear their flesh and mash their bones in my immovability! They fear me crushing them into the Earth and soaking their iron-rich fluids into myself! They can feel the Gravity on me! Oh yes. Take heed little limestones! I am solidity and permanence. I am weight. I am mysterious and huge and eternal! I am Gravity incarnate! Heed me little limestones, for when the Great Crush comes it will be I, Ironus, floating here in the center of space, it will be my impossible density which galaxies spiral around! You would do well to please me little limestones for I am Gravity itself!”
Well, needless to say, at this, Master Gravity had heard enough. Cruelty is one thing but putting oneself on equal footing with a God! And shouting it to anyrock within sensing distance! Well that was another matter entirely. That was hubris of the worst kind, the kind which just positively begged to be demolished and crumbled.
It was for this reason that Gravity contrived to have an earthquake occur just then, a simple matter really, and used its’ shaking and shifting pomp to open a fissure in the ground and to draw proud Ironus down into the underworld, surrounding limestones, humans with sticks, and all; Such was his annoyance. There, in a deeper valley, under a darker sky, surrounded by the same berated stones, Ironus would learn the difference between God and mineral.
It is said that as punishment Gravity sentenced Ironus to an eternity of being rolled up a hill.
Each morning, and each afternoon, and each evening, a small soft human would lay hands upon Ironus, and move him forcibly from his resting place, violating his claim to gravity, and pushing him further from the valley and up the hillside. It was a punishment which fit the crime, for if Ironus gave in, and allowed the puny human to move him, he’d be shoved over the hill’s peak, and in a great rumbling roll would find himself accepted again into Gravity’s bosom, in the valley on the other side. If he’d only give in he’d be allowed to sit in all his great weight, unmolested there, forever after. But Gravity knew what a spectacularly prideful creature Ironus was, and knew that his ego would never allow him to give in, or indeed allow him to even perceive this means of release. He knew that day after afternoon after evening Ironus would resist, and he did exactly that.
Ironus, weighty and massive though he was, could never lay claim to any sort of intelligence and never gave any serious thought to the processes at work. All he saw was the soft human whom he despised, and all he heard were the jibes of the limestones all around him. He continuously struggled and fought and did all he could to lower his center of gravity, to shift and to slide from the human’s wet pink little hands. Each day the human began again unperturbed and each day Ironus struggled against him. But all the while he was being acted upon by the friction and moisture of the human’s toil. All the while his surface was being weakened and softened and broken down. Each day he resisted, screaming futilely about his strength and weight and power, and each day he eroded a little bit more.
Gravity knew full well this chunk of ore would resist right up until the moment he found himself taken up into a cloud by the wind, a miniscule little red dust particle, with no recourse but to pray for rain.
And it was so.
As it turns out the great poignant tale of Sisyphus was somewhat misconstrued by we humans, not the least by Sisyphus himself. It was Ironus who was actually being punished, and were Sisyphus to have walked away from Ironus, he would have simply been replaced by another quivering, pink, fleshy little man. But Sisyphus never grasped this fact, possibly because he was himself prideful, or stupid, or had some kind of persecution complex, and after countless millennia of toil, seeing Ironus eroded to dust, poor Sisyphus simply switched to another rock and kept on going.
for some interesting related reading on the myth of Sisyphus check out the following:
The basic myth from mythweb.
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.
The Absurd Hero a reaction to Camus’ famous essay by Bob Lane.
The Myth of Sisyphus: A Cycle by Samanera Bodhesako.
Sisyphus, in his own words at kiro5hin.
Hope you enjoyed.
Note: This post was one in a series of reworkings of old posts which date from before the redesign of The Nonist. The text has been totally reworked and the image is new. I will be periodically adding these reworkings into the flow of new content in an effort to eventually remove all the old pages from circulation.