This article is about Tantalus from Greek mythology. For the peak on the Hawaiian island of O‘ahu, see Tantalus (Oahu).

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Tantalus, also Tntalos, in Greek mythology was a son of Zeus and the nymph Plouto (not to be confused with the Roman name for Hades). Thus he was a king in the primordial world. He was associated with Phrygia or Mount Sipylus in Lydia, both in Asia Minor. He became one of the inhabitants of Tartarus, the deepest portion of the Underworld, reserved for the punishment of evildoers.

His children were Pelops, Niobe, and Broteas, all three fathered on his wife Dione.


Story of Tantalus

Tantalus is known for having been welcomed to Zeus' table in Olympus. There he stole nectar and ambrosia, brought them back to his people, and revealed the secrets of the gods. He also offered up his son, Pelops as a sacrifice to the gods, an archetypal story of shamanic initiation in which he cut Pelops up, boiled him, and served him up as food for the gods.

The gods were said to be aware of his plan for their feast, so they didn't touch the offering; only Demeter, disturbed by the rape of her daughter Persephone, "did not realize what it was" and ate of the boy's shoulder. Fate, ordered by Zeus, brought the boy to life again (she collected the parts of the body and boiled them in a sacred cauldron) rebuilding his shoulder with one wrought of dolphin ivory, made by Hephaestos and presented by Demeter.

Pelops, thus reconstituted, was brought back to life having gained new qualities. To reinforce the initiatory theme, the revived Pelops is kidnapped by Poseidon and taken to Olympus to be the god's lover.

The Greeks of classical times claimed to be horrified by Tantalus' doings, and accused Tantalus of trying to trick the Olympian gods back into their older identities by offering them a sacrifice-banquet of human flesh.

The kernel of myth embodied in this tale reinforces Olympian suppression of human sacrifice, which had apparently been offered in earlier times, especially to Demeter in her earlier embodiment as the Great Goddess, but which was now taboo. Alternatively, Tantalus is cast as a Promethean figure who divulges divine secrets to mortals and presides over sacred initiations consisting of mystic death and transfiguration.

Tantalus' punishment, now proverbial for temptation without satisfaction, was to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches. Whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches raised his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any.

In a separate story, he was also blamed for having stolen the dog of Hephaestus (god of metals) (alternatively, he convinced his friend, Pandareus to do so).

Related terms

Tantalus is the origin of the English word "tantalize". The idea being that when a person tantalizes someone else, that person is making them like Tantalus: there is something desirable that is always just out of that person's reach.

A Tantalus, by an obvious analogy, is also the term for a type of drinks decanter stand in which the bottle stoppers are firmly clamped down by a locked metal bar, as a means of preventing servants from stealing the master's liquor.

Spoken-word myths - audio files

The Tantalus myth as told by story tellers
1. Zeus and Tantalus, (including Pelops and Poseidon), read by Timothy Carter
Bibliography of reconstruction: Homer, Odyssey, 11.567 (7th c. BCE); Pindar, Olympian Odes, 1 (476 BCE); Euripides, Orestes, 12-16 (408 BCE); Apollodorus, Epitomes 2: 1-9 (140 BCE); Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI: 213, 458 (8 CE); Hyginus, Fables, 82: Tantalus; 83: Pelops (1st c. CE); Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.22.3 (160 - 176 CE)


External links

  • The story of Tantalus, fully developed (http://www.haidukpress.com/tantalus/index.html) compiled from selected primary sources to highlight the shamanic and promethean aspects of the story. By Pindar's time this view would have been rejected.de:Tantalos

es:Tntalo (mitologa) he: טאנטאלוס fr:Tantale (mythologie) it:Tantalo (mitologia) nl:Tantalus pl:Tantal (mitologia) pt:Tntalo sv:Tantalos uk:Тантал


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