Tantalus (Ancient Greek: Τάνταλος Tántalos) was a Greek mythological figure, most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was also called Atys.

He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.

He was the father of Pelops, Niobe and Broteas, and was a son of Zeus[1] and the nymph Plouto. Thus, like other heroes in Greek mythology such as Theseus and the Dioskouroi, Tantalus had both a hidden, divine parent and a mortal one.

According to other sources, his father was Tmolus or Manes, the first king of Lydia.

Mount Yamanlar Karagol IzmirTurkey
Karagöl ("The black lake") in Mount Yamanlar, İzmir, Turkey, associated with the accounts surrounding Tantalus and named after him as Lake Tantalus


Plato in the Cratylus (395e) interprets Tantalos as ταλάντατος talantatos (acc. ταλάντατον in the original), "who has to bear much" from τάλας talas "wretched" (now the word talas is held to be inherited from Proto-Indo-European). R. S. P. Beekes has rejected an Indo-European interpretation.[2]

Historical background

Lineage Tantalus
Genealogical tree of Tantalus

There may have been an historical Tantalus – possibly the ruler of an Anatolian city named "Tantalís",[3] "the city of Tantalus", or of a city named "Sipylus".[4] Pausanias reports that there was a port under his name and a sepulcher of him "by no means obscure", in the same region.

Tantalus is referred to as "Phrygian", and sometimes even as "King of Phrygia",[5] although his city was located in the western extremity of Anatolia, where Lydia was to emerge as a state before the beginning of the first millennium BC, and not in the traditional heartland of Phrygia, situated more inland. References to his son as "Pelops the Lydian" led some scholars to the conclusion that there would be good grounds for believing that he belonged to a primordial house of Lydia.

Other versions name his father as Tmolus, the name of a king of Lydia and, like Sipylus, of another mountain in ancient Lydia. The location of Tantalus' mortal mountain-fathers generally placed him in Lydia;[6] and more seldom in Phrygia[7] or Paphlagonia,[8] all in Asia Minor.

The identity of his wife is variously given: generally as Dione the daughter of Atlas;[9][10] the Pleiad Taygete, daughter of Atlas; Eurythemista, a daughter of the river-god Xanthus[11]; Euryanassa, daughter of Pactolus, another river-god of Anatolia, like the Xanthus;[12][13][11] Clytia, the child of Amphidamantes;[14][11] and Eupryto.[15] Tantalus was also called the father of Dascylus.[16]

Tantalus, through Pelops, was the progenitor of the House of Atreus, which was named after his grandson Atreus. Tantalus was also the great-grandfather of Agamemnon and Menelaus.

The geographer Strabo, quoting earlier sources, states that the wealth of Tantalus was derived from the mines of Phrygia and Mount Sipylus. Near Mount Sipylus are archaeological features that have been associated with Tantalus and his house since Antiquity. Near Mount Yamanlar in İzmir (ancient Smyrna), where the Lake Karagöl (Lake Tantalus) associated with the accounts surrounding him is found, is a monument mentioned by Pausanias: the tholos "tomb of Tantalus" (later Christianized as "Saint Charalambos' tomb") and another one in Mount Sipylus,[17] and where a "throne of Pelops", an altar or bench carved in rock and conjecturally associated with his son is found. A more famous monument, a full-faced statue carved in rock, mentioned by Pausanias, is a statue of Cybele, that was said by Pausanias to have been carved by Broteas, but it is in fact Hittite.

Further afield, based on a similarity between the names Tantalus and Hantili, it has been suggested that the name Tantalus may have derived from that of these two Hittite kings.[18]

Relation and Name Sources
Pin. (Sch.) on Eur. Aris. Iso. Sch. on Apol. Lyco. Dio. Hor. Par. Ov. Str. Sta. Apol. Tac. Plu. Hyg. Pau. Clem. Ant. Non. Ser. Gr. Anth. Tzet. W. Smith R. Graves
Tmolus and Pluto ✔️ ✔️
Zeus ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Zeus and Pluto ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Euryanassa ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Dione ✔️[19] ✔️ ✔️
Eupryto ✔️
Eurythemista ✔️
Pelops ✔️[20] ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️[20] ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Niobe ✔️[21] ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️[21] ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Dascylus ✔️
Broteas ✔️


Tantalus became one of the inhabitants of Tartarus, the deepest portion of the Underworld, reserved for the punishment of evildoers; there Odysseus saw him.[22] 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").

Tantalus was initially known for having been welcomed to Zeus' table in Olympus, like Ixion. There, he is said to have misbehaved and stolen ambrosia and nectar to bring it back to his people, and revealed the secrets of the gods.[23][24]

Most famously, Tantalus offered up his son, Pelops, as a sacrifice. He cut Pelops up, boiled him, and served him up in a banquet for the gods. The gods became aware of the gruesome nature of the menu, so they did not touch the offering; only Demeter, distraught by the loss of her daughter, Persephone, absentmindedly ate part of the boy's shoulder.

Clotho, one of the three Fates, was ordered by Zeus to bring 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 grew to be an extraordinarily handsome youth. The god Poseidon took him to Mount Olympus to teach him to use chariots. Later, Zeus threw Pelops out of Olympus due to his anger at Tantalus. The Greeks of classical times claimed to be horrified by Tantalus's doings; cannibalism and filicide were atrocities and taboo.

Tantalus's punishment for his act, now a proverbial term for temptation without satisfaction (the source of the English word tantalise[25]), 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 the one that Sisyphus is punished to roll up a hill.[26] This fate has cursed him with eternal deprivation of nourishment.

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's 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 it, 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's head. Others state that it was Tantalus who stole the dog, and gave it to Pandareus for safekeeping.

Tantalus was also 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's grave-sanctuary stood on Sipylus[27] but honours were paid him at Argos, where local tradition claimed to possess his bones.[28] In Lesbos, there was another hero-shrine in the small settlement of Polion and a mountain named after Tantalos.[29]

Other characters with the same name

in Greek mythology, there are two other characters named Tantalus—minor figures and descendants of the above Tantalus. Broteas is said to have had a son named Tantalus, who ruled over either the city of Pisa in the Peloponnesus or of Lydia in present-day Turkey. 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.

Influence and references in popular culture

  • To tantalise originates from the story of Tantalus. When something is tantalising, it is desirable and always just out of reach.[30]
  • The chemical element tantalum (symbol Ta, atomic number 73) is named for the mythological Tantalus. Its discoverer Anders Ekeberg wrote "This metal I call tantalum … partly in allusion to its incapacity, when immersed in acid, to absorb any and be saturated.".
  • A Tantalus is a type of drinks decanter stand in which the bottle stoppers are clamped down by a locked bar, as a means of preventing servants from stealing the master's liquor. The decanters are clearly visible but the liquor is out of reach.
  • The Pythagorean cup is also known as Tantalus cup, as it cannot be filled completely.
  • In naval history, an early 20th-century British Merchant Navy freight ship (SS Tantalus) and a United States Navy landing craft repair ship of the World War II (USS Tantalus) were named for Tantalus.
  • Lucian's satire Dialogues of the Dead, in which Menippus travels into the underworld speaking to various shadows, includes a short conversation between Menippus and Tantalus, concerning the punishment of the latter.[31]
  • Emily Dickinson's poem "'Heaven'—is what I cannot reach!" makes allusions to Tantalus in lines in the first stanza, especially lines two through four: "'Heaven'—is what I cannot reach!/The Apple on the Tree—/Provided it do hopeless—hang—/That—'Heaven' is—to Me!"[32]
  • In John Steinbeck's novel East of Eden, Kate mentions Tantalus while thinking up methods of revenge: "Or how about a tapeworm? Did anyone ever use tapeworms? Who was the man who couldn't get water to his mouth through a sieve--Tantalus?" [33]
  • Susanna Clarke's novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell refers to Tantalus: "This wine is one of the vintages of Hell – but do not allow yourself to be dissuaded from tasting it upon that account! I dare say you have heard of Tantalus? The wicked king who baked his little son in a pie and ate him? He has been condemned to stand up to his chin in a pool of water he cannot drink, beneath a vine laden with grapes [that] he cannot eat. This wine is made from those grapes. And, since the vine was planted there for the sole purpose of tormenting Tantalus, you may be sure the grapes have an excellent flavour and aroma – and so does the wine."[34]
  • In the "Mass Effect" series of games the spaceship "Normandy" is propelled by the "Tantalus Drive" while she is in silent running. The Tantalus Drive creates a "gravity well" in front of the ship into which the "Normandy" "falls". The gravity well remains the same distance ahead of the spaceship meaning that the "Normandy" will never reach the gravity well and fall into it. This is much like the fruit and water moving away as Tantalus reaches for them.
  • An episode of Stargate SG-1 is titled The Torment of Tantalus, and it features a character whose goals of knowledge and security are constantly out of reach.

Tantalus in art

Tantalus by HGoltzius CCornelius 1588

Engraving by Hendrik Goltzius and C. Cornelius (1588)

See also


  1. ^ Euripides, Orestes.
  2. ^ R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 1449.
  3. ^ George Perrot (2007). History of Art in Phrygia, Lydia, Caria And Lycia (in French and English). Marton Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-4067-0883-7.
  4. ^ This refers to Mount Sipylus, at the foot of which his city was located and whose ruins were reported to be still visible in the beginning of the Common Era, although few traces remain today. See Sir James Frazer, Pausanias, and other Greek sketches (later retitled Pausanias's Description of Greece.
  5. ^ Thomas Bulfinch. Bulfinch's Mythology. Kessinger Publishing Company. pp. 1855–2004. ISBN 1-4191-1109-4.
  6. ^ Pindar. Olympian Odes, 1.24–38, 9.9; Strabo 1.3.17; Pausanias 5.1.6, 9.5.7.
  7. ^ Strabo, xii.8.21
  8. ^ Diodorus Siculus, 4.74.
  9. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae, 82 & 83
  10. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses, 6.174
  11. ^ a b c Robert Graves. The Greek Myths, section 108 (1960)
  12. ^ Tzetzes on Lycophron, 52
  13. ^ Scholia ad Euripides. Orestes, 5
  14. ^ Scholia ad Euripides. Orestes, 11
  15. ^ Apostol. Cent. 18.7
  16. ^ Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 2. 752
  17. ^ Various sites called the "tomb of Tantalus" have been shown to travellers since the time of Pausanias.
  18. ^ M. L. West (1999). The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. Oxford University Press. p. 475. ISBN 978-0-19-815221-7.
  19. ^ This certainly pertains to her as the daughter of Atlas and thus, the sister of the Pleiades. Compare Hyginus. Fabulae, 82 & 83 & Ovid. Metamorphoses, 6.174
  20. ^ a b Not named but certainly points out to him
  21. ^ a b Not named but certainly describes her
  22. ^ Odyssey xi.582-92; Tantalus' transgressions are not mentioned; they must already have been well known to Homer's late-8th-century hearers.
  23. ^ Pindar. Olympian Odes, 1.60 ff
  24. ^ Euripides, Orestes, 10.
  25. ^ "Tantalize - Define Tantalize at Dictionary.com". dictionary.com. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  26. ^ This detail was added to the myth by the painter Polygnotus, according to Pausanias (10.31.12), noted in Kerenyi 1959:61.
  27. ^ Pausanias, 2.22.3.
  28. ^ Pausanias, 2.22.2.
  29. ^ Stephen of Byzantium, noted by Kerenyi 1959:57, note 218.
  30. ^ "Cup of Tantalus - the Tantalus Cup". www.kleinbottle.com. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  31. ^ "LUCIAN, DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD 1-20 - Theoi Classical Texts Library". www.theoi.com. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  32. ^ Meyer, Michael "Poetry: An Introduction" sixth edition. page 326
  33. ^ Steinbeck, John "East of Eden" paperback, Penguin Publishing (page 513)
  34. ^ Clarke, Susanna "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell" paperback, Bloomsbury Publishing ISBN 1-58234-416-7 (page 500)


External links

  • Media related to Tantalus at Wikimedia Commons
Deviant (comics)

The Deviants are a fictional race of humanoids appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics.

HMS Tantalus (P318)

HMS Tantalus was a British submarine of the third group of the T class. She was built as P318 by Vickers Armstrong, Barrow, and launched on 24 February 1943. So far she has been the only ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name Tantalus, after the mythological Tantalus, son of Zeus.

Harbour Air Seaplanes

Harbour Air Seaplanes is a scheduled service, tour and charter airline based in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. The predominately seaplane airline specializes in routes between Vancouver, Nanaimo, Victoria, Sechelt, Comox, Whistler and the Gulf Islands, primarily with de Havilland Canada floatplanes. Along with Westcoast Air, Saltspring Air and Whistler Air, it operates de Havilland Beavers, Otters and Twin Otters.

Mount Tantalus

Mount Tantalus is a mountain in southwestern British Columbia, Canada, located 24 km (15 mi) southeast of Falk Lake and 134 km (83 mi) south of Monmouth Mountain. It is the highest mountain in the Tantalus Range of the Pacific Ranges and is famous for its snow-covered face.


In Greek mythology, Pelops (; Greek: Πέλοψ), was king of Pisa in the Peloponnesus. His father, Tantalus, was the founder of the House of Atreus through Pelops's son of that name.

He was venerated at Olympia, where his cult developed into the founding myth of the Olympic Games, the most important expression of unity, not only for the Peloponnesus, "island of Pelops", but for all Hellenes. At the sanctuary at Olympia, chthonic night-time libations were offered each time to "dark-faced" Pelops in his sacrificial pit (bothros) before they were offered in the following daylight to the sky-god Zeus (Burkert 1983:96).

Serratus Mountain

Serratus Mountain is a jagged, ridge-like mountain between Mount Tantalus (North) and Lake Lovely Water (South). Like most other peaks in the Tantalus Range, it is composed of loose rock. Most routes here are scrambles. The mountain is a standard single-day destination from the Jim Haberl hut.

Stargate SG-1 (season 1)

The first season of the military science fiction television series Stargate SG-1 commenced airing on the Showtime channel in the United States on July 27, 1997, concluded on the Sci Fi channel on March 6, 1998, and contained 22 episodes. The show itself is a spin-off from the 1994 hit movie Stargate written by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich. Stargate SG-1 re-introduced supporting characters from the film universe, such as Jonathan "Jack" O'Neill and Daniel Jackson and included new characters such as Teal'c, George Hammond and Samantha "Sam" Carter. The first season was about a military-science expedition team discovering how to use the ancient device, named the Stargate, to explore the galaxy. However, they encountered a powerful enemy in the film named the Goa'uld, who are bent on destroying Earth and all who oppose them.

Synchrotron Radiation Center

The Synchrotron Radiation Center (SRC), located in Stoughton, Wisconsin and operated by the University of Wisconsin–Madison, was a national synchrotron light source research facility, operating the Aladdin storage ring. From 1968 to 1987 SRC was the home of Tantalus, the first storage ring dedicated to the production of synchrotron radiation.

Tantalus (Oahu)

Mount Tantalus (Puu-ohia) is an extinct cinder cone in the southern Koʻolau Range on the Hawaiian Island of Oʻahu. It also has a summit crater, Tantalus Crater. The cinder cone formed after the demise of Koʻolau Volcano, during a time of rejuvenated-stage volcanism in southeastern Oʻahu that also formed Punchbowl Crater, Diamond Head and Koko Head. Tantalus overlooks the modern city of Honolulu, which is built on top of Tantalus cinders.

Tantalus Fossae

Tantalus Fossae is a group of troughs in the Arcadia quadrangle of Mars with the northernmost areas in Mare Boreum quadrangle, also the northern portion is also in Vastitas Borealis (Northern Basin, where its elevation is lower than within Alba Mons), it is located east of Alba Mons at 50.9° north latitude and 97.5° west longitude. They are about 2,400 km long and was named after an albedo feature at 35N, 110W. Troughs, like this one are called Fossae on Mars. More information and more examples can be found at Fossa (geology).

Tantalus Media

Tantalus Media (formerly Tantalus Interactive) is a video game developer based in Melbourne, Australia, founded in 1994 by former Beam Software programmers Trevor Nuridin, Tim Bennett and Andrew Bailey. In the mid 1990's Tantalus was partly owned by UK developer Perfect Entertainment, which secured contracts with Psygnosis for ports of their popular PlayStation games to the Sega Saturn. During this time, Tantalus was known as Tantalus Entertainment, but reverted to Tantalus Interactive after they became independent when separating from Perfect in 1998. Private investment then allowed the business to develop it's inhouse title 7th Gear to the point it was able to secure a contract from Akklaim to use the game engine for a "kart" style game with the South Park license. The company changed its name to Tantalus Media in 2007 following a hostile buy out from then CEO Tom Crago and an investment from private equity company Netus. In 2010 following the completion of the DS & PSP title Megamind: The blue defender, CEO Tom Crago re-acquired the business from Netus.

Tantalus Media are best known for licensed platform conversions and have created over 45 games for platforms as such as Xbox, Sega Saturn, Dreamcast, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and PC, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Nintendo Switch and iOS.

Tantalus Provincial Park

Tantalus Provincial Park is a provincial park in British Columbia, Canada, comprising most of the Tantalus Range, just west of the town of Squamish.

Tantalus Range

The Tantalus Range is a subrange of the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains in southern British Columbia, Canada. The range is easily viewed from the "Sea to Sky Highway" that travels from Vancouver to Squamish and Whistler. To Squamish people, the local indigenous people of the area, the name of the Tantalus Range is Tsewílx'.

The range's southern end is on the western edge of Squamish and it runs only about 35 km northwest on the west bank of the Squamish River and is less than 16 km wide at its widest. It is about 460000 ha (4600 km² or 1775 mi²) in area. Mount Tantalus 2603 m (8540 ft) is the highest in the range.

The origin of the name, as well as the names of many of its peaks, are from Greek mythology. Tantalus was doomed in Hades to be half-submerged in cold water with fruit dangling close but not close enough to eat, which is where the word tantalize has its root. Allegedly the name was conferred by a local mountain climber who was "tantalized" by the sight of the range's impressive spires and icefalls from across the turbulent waters of the Squamish River. Alternately, another version of the legend has Tantalus and his family frozen before a banquet, unable to move - very descriptive of the ice-draped and somehow regal character of the peaks and icefields of the range..

The Tantalus Range is a favourite with climbers, and also with photographers and filmmakers. The best views of it can be had just north of Squamish from the Brohm Ridge and Cheakamus Canyon stretches of BC Highway 99 (the Sea-to-Sky Highway).

Neighbouring ranges:

Garibaldi Ranges

North Shore Mountains

Clendinning Range(unnamed ranges not listed at present)

Tantalus Theatre Group

The Tantalus Theatre Group was a Chicago, Illinois based collaborative-arts organization focusing on experimental theater. The group was started in 2003 and has produced the following original works: Toy Chest, The Strange Dreams of Nobody in Particular, The Serpent Woman (adapted from Carlo Gozzi's original), Slide, Ragnarok, Sinister Puppetmen of the Fabrication Gallery, Dreadful Penny's Midnight Cavalcade of Ghoulish Delights, Evildoer, and Xeros.

Tantalus monkey

The tantalus monkey (Chlorocebus tantalus) is an Old World monkey from Africa that ranges from Ghana to Sudan. It was originally described as a subspecies of the grivet (Chlorocebus aethiops). All species in Chlorocebus were formerly in the genus Cercopithecus. It is a common species with a wide range, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has rated its conservation status as being of "least concern".This species has three recognized subspecies:

C. t. tantalus

C. t. budgetti

C. t. marrensis


In Greek mythology, Tartarus (; Ancient Greek: Τάρταρος, Tartaros) is the deep abyss that is used as a dungeon of torment and suffering for the wicked and as the prison for the Titans. Tartarus is the place where, according to Plato's Gorgias (c. 400 BC), souls are judged after death and where the wicked received divine punishment. Like other primal entities (such as the Earth, Night and Time), Tartarus is also considered to be a primordial force or deity.

TA'RTARUS (Gr. Tartaros; The name is probably onomatopoeic, the reduplication being designed to express something terrible or disagreeable, like Barbaros, Karkaron, and many other words), according to Homer, is a deep and sunless abyss, as far below Hades as earth is below heaven, and closed in by iron gates. Into T., Zeus hurled those who rebelled against his authority, as, e.g., Kronos and the Titans. Afterwards the name was employed sometimes as synonymous with Hades or the underworld generally, but more frequently to denote the place where the wicked were punished after death -lowest Hell, in fact. A noticeable feature about these punishments is their congruity with the nature of the offenses perpetrated.

The Red Tusk

The Red Tusk is a mountain in the Tantalus Range of the Pacific Ranges in southwestern British Columbia, Canada, located 5 km (3.1 mi) southeast of Mount Tantalus and 11 km (6.8 mi) west of Cheekye.

The Red Tusk gets its name from the reddish metamorphic rock that forms the mountain. It has a similar appearance to the smaller, but more famous Black Tusk in the Garibaldi Ranges further east.

USS Tantalus (ARL-27)

USS Tantalus (ARL-27) was one of 39 Achelous-class landing craft repair ships built for the United States Navy during World War II. Named for Tantalus (a legendary king of Lydia condemned to stand in a pool of water up to his chin and beneath fruit-laden boughs only to have the water or fruit recede at each attempt to drink or eat), she was the only U.S. Naval vessel to bear the name.

Originally laid down as LST-1117 on 10 October 1944 at Seneca, Illinois by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company; launched on 2 January 1945; sponsored by Mrs. Angeline Colomone; and commissioned on 13 January 1945 with Lieutenant Frank L. Guberlet in command.

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