Tantalus (Τάνταλος) is the ancestor of the Tantalids in ancient Greek mythology and the son of Zeus and the nymph Pluto. He was a Lydian or Phrygian king, his wife was the oceanid Dionysus, and they were both parents of Pelops, Niobius, and Brotey. Tantalus was a demigod, but always welcome to Olympus, and a great transgression against the gods was that he stole nectar and ragweed and gave them to the people by telling them the secrets of the gods.
Tantalus is punished in the Underworld – never to be able to drink water, but to be thirsty; never feel safe; and never eat, even if there is food.
Tantalus Son of Zeus
In Lydia near Mount Sipil was a rich city, named after the mountain – Sipil. This city was ruled by the favorite of the gods, the son of Zeus Tantalus. The gods had rewarded him abundantly in everything. There was no one on earth who was richer and happier than the Sipil king Tantalus. The extraordinarily rich gold mines in Mount Sipil gave him innumerable riches. No one owned such fertile fields, no one had such orchards and vineyards. In the meadows of Tantalus, the darling of the gods, grazed huge flocks of fine-wooled sheep, whirling bulls and cows and herds of wind-fast horses. King Tantalus had everything in abundance. He could have lived contentedly and happily until old age, but he was ruined by his excessive pride and his crimes.
The gods considered their favorite Tantalus equal to themselves. The Olympians often came to Tantalus’ glittering gold chambers and feasted merrily with him. Tantalus, more than once summoned by the gods, even ascended the bright Olympus, where not a single mortal steps. There he took part in the council of the gods and feasted at the same table with them in the palace of his father, the thunderer Zeus. Tantalus was proud of this great happiness. He began to be considered equal even to the cloudman Zeus himself. Often, on his return from Olympus, Tantalus took with him the food and drink of the gods — ragweed and nectar — and gave them to his mortal friends, feasting with them in his palace. Tantalus even communicated to the people the decisions that the gods made in their meetings on the bright Olympus about the fate of the world. He did not keep the secrets that his father Zeus entrusted to him. Once during a feast on Olympus, the great son of Cronus turned to Tantalus and told him:
“Son, I will do whatever you wish; ask me whatever you want. Out of love for you, I will fulfill your every request.”
But Tantalus, forgetting that he was a mere mortal, proudly replied to his father, the aegis of Zeus:
“I don’t need your mercy. I don’t need anything. The lot that fell to me is better than the lot of the immortal gods.”
The Thunderer did not answer his son. He frowned terribly, but held back his anger. He still loved his son despite his arrogance. Soon Tantalus twice severely insulted the immortal gods. Only then did Zeus punish the arrogant.
There was a golden dog on the island of Crete, the birthplace of the Thunderer. It once guarded the newborn Zeus and the wonderful goat Amalthea, who fed him. And when Zeus grew up and took power from Cronus over the world, he left the dog on the island of Crete to guard his sanctuary. The king of Ephesus, Pandareus, seduced by the beauty and strength of this dog, secretly sailed to Crete and abducted the dog on his ship. But where to hide the wonderful animal? Pandarey thought about this for a long time during his voyage to the sea, and finally decided to entrust Tantalus to guard the golden dog. The king of Sipil hid the wonderful animal from the gods. Zeus was angry. He summoned his son Hermes, the messenger of the gods, and sent him to Tantalus to ask him to return the golden dog. In an instant, the fast-moving Hermes flew from Olympus to Sipil, appeared before Tantalus, and told him:
“King Pandareus of Ephesus stole the golden dog from the sanctuary of Zeus on the island of Crete and gave it to you to guard. The Olympian gods know everything; mortals can hide nothing from them! Return the dog to Zeus. Be careful not to incur the wrath of the Thunderer!”
And Tantalus answered the messenger of the gods:
“You threaten me in vain with the wrath of Zeus. I have not seen the golden dog. The gods have a mistake, it’s not mine.”
Tantalus swore with a terrible oath that he was telling the truth. This oath angered Zeus even more. This was the first insult that Tantalus inflicted on the gods. But the Thunderer did not punish him this time either.
Tantalus incurred the punishment of the gods with the next, second, insult to the gods, which was at the same time a terrible evil deed. When the Olympians gathered at a feast at Tantalus Palace, he decided to test whether they were omniscient. The king of Sipil did not believe in the omniscience of the Olympians. Tantalus cooked a terrible meal for the gods. He slaughtered his son Pelops and offered his meat, cooked in a delicious dish, to the gods during the feast. The gods immediately understood Tantalus’ evil intent, and none of them touched the terrible dish. Only the goddess Demeter, in grief over her stolen daughter Persephone, thinking only of her and not noticing anything around her in her grief, ate one shoulder of the young Pelops. The gods took the terrible dish, put all the flesh and bones of Pelops in the cauldron and set it on fire. And Hermes with his spells revived the boy again. It stood before the gods even better than it had before, missing only the shoulder that Demeter had eaten. By order of Zeus, the great Hephaestus immediately made a shoulder of shiny ivory for Pelops. Since then, all descendants of Pelops have a bright white spot on their right shoulder.
But Tantalus’ crime filled the cup of patience of the great king of gods and men, Zeus. The Thunderer threw Tantalus into the dark realm of his brother Hades; it is there that he serves his terrible punishment. Tormented by thirst and hunger, he stands in clear water. It reaches his chin. It is enough to bend Tantalus and quench his agonizing thirst. But he said to tilt Tantalus and the water disappeared, leaving only dry black earth under his feet. Above Tantalus’s head are branches of fertile trees: juicy figs, red apples, pomegranates, pears and olives hang low above his head; heavy ripe bunches almost touch his hair. Exhausted by hunger, Tantalus stretches out his hands to the beautiful fruits, but a gust of wind blows and blows away the fruit-strewn branches. Not only hunger and thirst torment Tantalus; eternal fear constricts his heart. A rock hangs over his head; she barely holds on, threatening to fall at any moment and crush Tantalus with her weight. Thus the king of Sipil, the son of Zeus Tantalus, struggled in the realm of the terrible Hades, experiencing eternal fear, hunger and thirst.
Exposed according to Homer’s Odyssey