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In Greek mythology Tantalus was a son of Zeus and the nymph Plouto.

Thus he was a king in the


primordial world, the father of a son Broteas whose very name signifies "mortals". Other versions
name his father as Tmolus "wreathed with oak,"son of Sipylus, a king of Lydia. Both Tmolus and
Mount Sipylus are names of mountains in ancient Lydia. Thus, like other Greek heroes such as
Theseus, or the Dioskouroi, Tantalus had both a hidden, divine sire and a mortal one. Tantalus' mortal
mountain-fathers placed him in Lydia; otherwise he might be located in Phrygia or Paphlagonia, all in
Asia Minor. Tantalus became one of the inhabitants of Tartarus, the deepest portion of the Underworld,
reserved for the punishment of evildoers. The association of Tantalus with the underworld is
underscored by the names of his mother Plouto ("riches", as in gold and other mineral wealth), and
grandmother, Chthonia ("earth").
His children were Pelops—eponym of the Peloponnesus—the unfortunate Niobe, and Broteas. The
identity of his wife is variously given: Dione, whose name simply means "The Goddess," perhaps the
Pleiad with that name; or Eurythemista, a daughter of the river-god Xanthus; or Euryanassa, daughter
of Pactolus, another river-god, both of them in Anatolia; or Clytia, the child of Amphidamantes.
Tantalus, through Pelops was the founder of the House of Atreus.
The geographer Strabo, quoting earlier sources, states that the wealth of Tantalus was derived from the
mines of Phrygia and Mount Sipylus. Near Sipylus (modern Spil Mount), archaeological features that
have been associated with Tantalus and his house since Antiquity are in fact Hittite. On Mount
Yamanlar some two km east of Akpınar are two monuments mentioned by Pausanias: the tholos tomb
of Tantalus (Christianized as "Saint Charalambos' tomb") and the "throne of Pelops," in fact a rocky
altar. A more famous rock-cut carving mentioned by Pausanias is the Great Mother of the Gods (Cybele
to the Greeks), said to have been carved by Broteas, but also in fact Hittite.
Contents
[hide]
• 1 Story
of
Tantalu
s
• 2
Interpre
tations
of the
Tantalu
s figure
• 3 Other
charact
ers with
the
same
name
• 4
Related
terms
• 5 Notes
• 6
Ancient
sources
• 7
Modern
sources
• 8
Externa
l links
• 9
Spoken
-word Greek underworld
myths - Residents
audio • Aeacus • Minos
files • Cerberus • Persephone
• Charon • Rhadamanthus
• Hades
[edit] Story of Tantalus
Geography
Tantalus is known for having been welcomed to Zeus' table in • Acheron • Erebus
Olympus, like Ixion. There he too misbehaved, stole ambrosia, • Asphodel • Lethe
brought it back to his people,[5] and revealed the secrets of the Meadows • Phlegethon
gods.[6] • Cocytus • Styx
Tantalus offered up his son, Pelops, as a sacrifice to the gods. • Elysion • Tartarus

Famous Inmates
• Ixion • Tantalus
• Sisyphus • The Titans
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, distraught by the loss of her
daughter, Persephone, "did not realize what it was" and ate part 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 ivory made by Hephaestus and presented by
Demeter.
The revived Pelops was kidnapped by Poseidon and taken to Olympus to be the god's eromenos. Later,
Zeus threw Pelops out of Olympus due to his anger at Tantalus. The Greeks of classical times claimed
to be horrified by Tantalus' doings; cannibalism, human sacrifice and parricide were atrocities and
taboo. Tantalus was the founder of the cursed House of Atreus in which variations on these atrocities
continued. Misfortunes also occurred as a result of these acts, making the house the subject of many
Greek Tragedies.
Tantalus' grave-sanctuary stood on Sipylus.[7] But hero's honours were paid him at Argos, where local
tradition claimed to possess his bones.[8] On Lesbos, there was another hero-shrine in the little
settlement of Polion and a mountain named for Tantalos.[9]
Tantalus' punishment, now proverbial for temptation without satisfaction ("tantalizing"[10]), 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. Over his head towers a threatening stone, like that of Sisyphus.[11]
In a different story, Tantalus was blamed for indirectly having stolen the dog made of gold created by
Hephaestus (god of metals and smithing) for Rhea to watch over infant Zeus. Tantalus' friend
Pandareus stole the dog and gave it to Tantalus for safekeeping. When asked later by Pandareus to
return the dog, Tantalus denied that he had the dog, saying he "had neither seen nor heard of a golden
dog." According to Robert Graves, this incident is why an enormous stone hangs over Tantalus' head.
Others state that it was Tantalus who stole the dog, and gave it to Pandareus for safekeeping.
There is a similarity between the names Tantalus and Hantili, the latter a name of two Hittite kings.
Thus, there may be a loose historical connection between the mythical Tantalus and the Bronze Age
Hittite kings, who likewise ruled over Asia Minor. In Robert Graves' historical novel, Hercules, My
Shipmate, Graves appears to claim that Tantalus was a member of an invading Greek tribe who was
condemned to his torment in Tartarus for refusing to reject his patriarchal deities in favor of a local
version of Ashtoreth.

[edit] Interpretations of the Tantalus figure


The tale of Tantalus reaffirms that human sacrifice and parricide are taboo in Ancient and Classical
Greek culture. Yet it seems to suggest that human sacrifice had once been offered in archaic times,
especially to Demeter.
Alternatively, Tantalus can be seen as a Promethean figure who divulges divine secrets to mortals. He
presides over sacred initiations consisting of mystic death and transfiguration. His dismemberment of
Pelops and Pelops' resurrection can be seen as an archetypal shamanic initiation.[citation needed]

[edit] Other characters with the same name


There are two other characters named Tantalus in Greek mythology, both minor figures and both
descendants of the above Tantalus. Broteas is said to have had a son named Tantalus, who ruled over
the city of Pisa in the Peloponnesus. This Tantalus was the first husband of Clytemnestra. He was slain
by Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, who made Clytemnestra his wife. The third Tantalus was a son of
Thyestes, who was murdered by his uncle Atreus, and fed to his unsuspecting father, Thyestes.

[edit] Related terms


The name "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[12].
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. The decanters themselves, however, remain clearly visible.
The chemical element tantalum (symbol Ta, atomic number 73) is named for the mythological Tantalus.