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Tantalus

Tantalus in Greek mythology became a famous inhabitant of Tartarus, the portion of the Underworld reserved for the punishment of the evil. He was the father of Pelops and Niobe.

Tantalus was a son of Zeus and the nymph Plouto (or Pluto, not to be confused with the Roman name for Hades). He became a king of Phrygia or Lydia in Asia Minor, was extremely wealthy and was invited to dine with the gods.

Already blamed for having stolen the dog of Hephaestus (god of metals) (alternatively, he convinced his friend, Pandareus to do so), Tantalus was placed in Tartarus because he killed his own son Pelops just to test the powers of the gods. One day he thought he would show that gods had no clairvoyance. He killed Pelops, mutilated his dead body to make it unrecognisable, and served it as meat for the gods' lunch. The gods were aware of his plan, so they didn't touch it; only Demeter, disturbed by the rapture of her daughter Persephone, (or Dionysus) did not realise what it was and had a little of the baby's shoulder. Hermes, ordered by Zeus, brought the baby to life again (he collected the parts of the body and boiled them in milk) and rebuilt his shoulder in dolphin's ivory.

Tantalus' punishment, now proverbial for endless efforts to achieve results, 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 Tantalus bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any.

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 drinks.

Homer. Odyssey XI, 582-92; Apollodorus. Bibliotheke III, v, 6; Apollodorus. Epitome II,1-3; Ovid. Metamorphoses IV, 458-9; VI, 172- 76 & 403-11.



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