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Orianna2000
09-15-2011, 11:26 PM
Is there a fable or myth where someone is given a task that proves impossible, with a theme of "one step forward, two steps back"? Like, for instance, they must clean up a pile of stones, only for every stone they remove, two more are added to the pile. So it's impossible for them to ever finish.

I keep thinking there's a real myth that uses this concept, but Google's turned up nothing. My MC feels that she's never going to finish a task, and I'd like her to compare it to "the famous myth of So-and-So" if possible.

Maybe I'm just thinking of "The Torment of Tantalus"? But that's a different scenario, food and water that's eternally just beyond your grasp.

crunchyblanket
09-15-2011, 11:29 PM
I feel like I've heard something like this before too. For some reason I feel like it's related to counting something....bah! *goes off in search of books*

Chris P
09-15-2011, 11:30 PM
Sisyphus. He had to roll a rock uphill only to have it roll back down overnight. He's usually mentioned in the same breath as Tantalus. IIRC they are the only two people punished in Hades.

crunchyblanket
09-15-2011, 11:31 PM
Sisyphus. He had to roll a rock uphill only to have it roll back down overnight. He's usually mentioned in the same breath as Tantalus. IIRC they are the only two people punished in Hades.

Haha, I was just about to come back in here with my Eureka moment

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus

Yes, it was Sisyphus

DeleyanLee
09-15-2011, 11:32 PM
Sisyphus. He had to roll a rock uphill only to have it roll back down overnight. He's usually mentioned in the same breath as Tantalus. IIRC they are the only two people punished in Hades.

That's who I was thinking of too, FWIW.

Orianna2000
09-15-2011, 11:45 PM
I was going to say that I've never heard of Sisyphus, but then again, I did use rocks as the example in my original post, so perhaps I read the story long ago and it got buried in my subconscious.

Thanks, guys! :)

Selcaby
09-16-2011, 02:18 AM
Thor had to count all the stones in Wales. And when he lost count, he had to start again.

Or is that only in The Long, Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul?

crunchyblanket
09-16-2011, 02:34 AM
Thor had to count all the stones in Wales. And when he lost count, he had to start again.

Or is that only in The Long, Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul?

Aaaand that's the counting one I was thinking of :D

MisterFrancis
09-16-2011, 02:48 AM
Hercules fighting the Learnaean Hydra?

Or was that Xena?

sunandshadow
09-16-2011, 03:31 AM
There's one about trying to carry water in a sieve, which is impossible, but is solved by plugging the bottom of the sieve with clay.

Orianna2000
09-16-2011, 05:35 AM
There's one about trying to carry water in a sieve, which is impossible, but is solved by plugging the bottom of the sieve with clay.
Oh! There's the one about the Danaides, too. I don't know the whole story, but these sisters are forced to pour water into a fountain which has holes in it, so the water is constantly rushing out. It's an unending task. There's a gorgeous painting of the scene by Waterhouse--I should have remembered because I often use it as my desktop wallpaper. Duh!

Cyia
09-16-2011, 06:02 AM
Sisyphus is who I thought of, too. Though the Hydra, with its two new heads for every chopped one would work as well.

DeleyanLee
09-16-2011, 06:05 AM
Sisyphus is who I thought of, too. Though the Hydra, with its two new heads for every chopped one would work as well.

Well, as long as you don't have a handy torch. ;)

Rufus Coppertop
09-16-2011, 06:17 AM
IIRC they are the only two people punished in Hades.

There are more. Have a look at the account of Aeneas' catabasis in chapter six of the Aeneid.

lastlittlebird
09-16-2011, 06:52 AM
Standard black hole warning: TV Tropes link contained in this post!

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ImpossibleTask

Some good examples from myths and fairy tales there.