Yesterday, I got into an argument over an analogy used in this post. I had to change it to a more fitting one. It ended up being a lot better one as well!
That then got me thinking about pointless or impossible quests in literature and two sprang to mind. Well one in literature and one in Greek mythology. The sentiment still stands!
The first is from one of the greatest novels of all time. About a man from La Mancha. Who’s name we don’t need to know. It’s only his quest that is important. A dreamer who wanted to be a knight and do knightly things.
That man succeeded, well to his muddled mind at least. Even if he did think some windmills were giants and charged at them. Tilting at windmills. The most pointless, heroic, quest. The phase has snuck into the English Language to mean “fighting with enemies or problems that do not exist”
He had a good heart, even if it is a bit miss-placed.
He can be thought as one of the greatest comic characters from literature. Written in the early 17th century over, almost, two decades. The story of our “great knight” spans two huge volumes. With much laughter for the reader as well as sorrow as you know what is going on around our deluded hero.
He does have a squire, as all good knights do. An proudly illiterate peasant, Sancho Panza. He is the narrative voice of the novel. Wondering, like the reader, what his master is getting up to or what the heck is he going to do next. The original sidekick?
The other person with a pointless quest is Sisyphus. Someone who found out the hard way that it’s not a good idea to annoy the Gods. He did and was given a simple task. Push a rock up a hill. Simple? Well… Gods do tend to have quite an evil sense of humour.
In a way Sisyphus deserved this novel punishment. Chronic deceitfulness as well as murdering of travellers were some of his lesser crimes. In a way he got off lightly. He didn’t have his eyes pecked out by ravens for eternity or simmering in a giant pot for as long. Sorry, that should read “being boiled alive for eternity“.
His punishment is, now, thought of an analogy of modern life. A never-ending struggle that will never be successful.
He makes an appearance in quite a lot of literature. I came across him in a book about the human condition. From the seminal book by Robert M. Pirig, Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Used to describe the feeling of a Father to his teenage son.