In thinking about the question of modernity—and really nowadays, what other questions do historians talk about?—I like to use the analogy of the myth of Sisyphus.  It seems to work both in the classroom, and conversations over beer in the kruchma.  So when asked to give a paper at the Institute of Ethnographic and Folklore Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences—the genesis of what you are now reading—I figured that I would try to sketch some of these thoughts out, and connect the story to my own forays into the history of late communism in Bulgaria.[1]  Now most of you know the story of Sisyphus, so I will make my retelling of it brief.  Sisyphus was a prince, the son of Aeolus of Thessaly, and reportedly, the cleverest of men.  He was said to think himself as wise as Zeus.  Sisyphus often tricked the gods, most notably when he tied up and incapacitated Hades, the god of death, creating a situation where no one could die (and also, inadvertently, making a world where no sacrifices could be made to the Gods).  In response, the Gods developed a punishment so severe that Sisyphus would, at the very least, wish himself dead.

While living—and death was impossible—he was forced to roll a boulder up a hill in perpetuity.  He always made it almost all the way to the top, but always, the instant before he reached the top of the hill (and presumably the end of his ordeal), the boulder slipped free from his grasp, rolled down the hill, and Sisyphus was forced to start his toil anew.[2]

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About Cristofer Scarboro

Dr. Cristofer Scarboro King’s College, USA
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