Sisyphus was the son of Aeolus and Enarete. He founded Corinth, at first called by him Ephyra, and he was 'the most crafty of men', as Homer called him. His name is usually thought to be a reduplication of sophos, 'wise' (perhaps in the form 'Sesophos' or 'Sisophos'), this having the effect of intensifying the sense, so that he is 'very wise', even 'too wise'. Significantly, his father Aeolus was also crafty and cunning (see this name).

In the Trojan War, Odysseus was given the nickname Sisyphides for his devious schemes, especially the brilliant one that resulted in the Wooden Horse. Sisyphus has given his name to the term 'Sisyphean' to denote an everlastingly laborious undertaking: he was condemned in the Underworld to roll a heavy stone up a hill and start all over again when it rolled down from the top.