Ancient Greek Mythology is a rich source of phrases that today have their own meaning in modern spoken language. One of these with a specific meaning is the punishment of Tantalus. What was this punishment and what wrongs was it used to redeem? Who was Tantalus and by whose will was he punished? Here's what mythology says about this inhabitant of ancient Greece.
Origin of Tantalus and his place among the people of Earth
According to mythology, Tantalus was the son of the supreme god Zeus and the nymph Pluto. Like many other well-known personas, he was of semi-divine origin. According to the myths he ruled over the lands around Mount Sipylus and the city of Lydia in the region of the same name. The ancient Greek historian Strabo described him as King of Phrygia in Asia Minor.
Homer's Odyssey also speaks of him. The ancient Greek author was impressed by his tremendous wealth, including his gold mines, extensive fertile lands and countless herds of livestock. According to Strabo, the gold came from the Phrygian mines in Mount Sipylus. Tantalus also took advantage of the favor of the gods due to his semi-divine origin. He had everything in order to be the happiest and most carefree person on the Earth.
Way of life and behavior of Tantalus
As a descendant of god and man, Tantalus did however bear a purely human nature, which found expression in his attitude toward people and the gods. Immeasurable wealth received as a gift often make a person overly prideful, while excessive pride results in crimes. The same happened to Tantalus.
He was often host to and even a guest of the Olympian gods but he would steal from the divine ambrosia in order to give it to his fellow countrymen. This act was not meant to in any way speed up the development of his people, it was merely a reckless attitude, one belonging only to the gods.
Tantalus's attitude toward his father, the supreme Zeus, was also reckless in nature. Tantalus would often tell his father that his fate was more wonderful than even that of the gods and that he therefore did not need anyone or anything.
His actions would often test the patience of his all powerful father. Tantalus stole the golden dog of Pandareus, king of Ephesus. The dog was greatly loved by Zeus but Tantalus swore that he knew nothing about the theft.
Finally, the pet of the gods broke all boundaries with a horrible act, to check whether the gods were truly omniscient. He murdered his son Pelops and served him as food for the gods. They knew what Tantalus had served them and did not reach for the food.
Only the goddess Demeter, who was drowning in sorrow over her daughter Persephone, unwillingly ate the shoulder of the boy. The angered gods brought Pelops back to life, made him a new shoulder from ivory and decided to punish Tantalus for the terrible deed.
The punishment of Tantalus
Following the order of Zeus, Tantalus was thrown into the dark underworld of Hades, where he would suffer eternal torment - the so-called punishment of Tantalus. The punishment consisted of Tantalus being in a lake of clean water that rose up to his chin. Every time he bent down to drink, the water would recede. Above his head hung branches bearing all kinds of fruits - apples, succulent pears, figs and olives but every time Tantalus reached to take one, a strong wind blew them far from him.
In this way, Tantalus suffered endless thirst and hunger despite the abundance of food and water. There was another punishment for him: over his head hung a rock that barely balanced without falling on Tantalus. Fear was his constant companion.
With eternal hunger, thirst and fear, the gods had punished Tantalus for his countless sins. Tantalus felt constant hopelessness, powerlessness and dissatisfaction with what was just out of reach every single moment.