Mythology Monday: Tantalus Breaks Two Taboos For The Price Of One


You may be aware of the myth of Tantalus, or at least the punishment he received in Ancient Greek Hell. But what you might not know is what he was being punished for. So buckle in, folks, as Tantalus does quite possibly the dumbest thing he could possibly do.

So, to start off with, Tantalus is the King of Phrygia. He is also one of Zeus’s mortal offspring, because of course he is. You can’t swing a dead cat in Ancient Greece without hitting one of Zeus’s illegitimate kids.

Anyway, one day, Tantalus decides to have Dad and the rest of the Olympians over for a fancy dinner party. There’s just one problem: what is fine enough to serve to the gods? So he hits on a solution. That solution is one of his kids.

So he kills one of his sons, Pelops, cooks him up, and places him on the table right in front of his guests. Now, I really don’t know what Tantalus’s thought process here is, because if there were two things you just didn’t do in Ancient Greece (and, do be fair, pretty much anywhere else), they would be 1) killing a blood relative, and 2) cannibalism.

Needless to say, the gods aren’t too happy about his little Hanibbal Lector act, and decline to dine on Pelops. Well, everyone except Demeter, but she’s depressed about Persephone and isn’t really paying attention, so she eats one of his shoulders.

Zeus, however, has Clotho bring Pelops back to life, sans the shoulder Demeter accidentally ate. Not to worry, though, because Hephaestus makes him a new one out of ivory, so he’s basically good as new. He gets to do some pretty cool shit, too, like go to Mt. Olympus so Poseidon can teach him how to drive a chariot.

As for Tantalus? Well, he gets to go straight to Tartarus when he dies. And here’s where we get to his punishment: standing under a fruit tree in a pool of water. Which doesn’t sound awful, until you get to the part where the water and fruit pull away from him whenever he tries to consume them.

And that, friends, is where the word “tantalize” comes from.

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