A Modern Greek Mythology: Tantalus

This week’s story is that of Tantalus. If you didn’t already know, you will soon learn that his name is where we get the word “tantalize.” If you would like to learn more about the original myth before or after you read my version, you can click this link here.

Tantalus’ Dinner for the Gods

Tantalus lived a wealthy life in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He was the son of Zeus, after all. He was a businessman of sorts, not for any particular corporation or business, but just unto himself with the sole purpose of making sure he ended up on top. Throughout his life, Tantalus committed many crimes against the gods including stealing valuable items from them and telling their secrets to mortals.

But the gods didn’t punish him for those. They believed that Tantalus could get back on the right track. However, Tantalus had no desire to be on that track. Instead, he wanted to test the gods, see if they really were as great as they portrayed themselves to be.

Tantalus invited all the gods of Olympus to his large house that overlooked Central Park. The panoramic windows provided a perfect view of the city. Typically, Tantalus would hire a team of chefs to prepare a meal of such importance, but Tantalus didn’t trust anyone but himself for this task. Before the gods arrived, Tantalus called his son, Pelops, from his room. Tantalus grabbed a knife and slit his son’s throat. He then carved his body into chunks and started preparing them in a stew.

When he was done preparing the dinner, he put on a pinstripe suit and slicked back his dark, greasy hair. He heard a knock at the door and answered to find the Olympians waiting outside his house, all arrayed in stunning wardrobes.

“Come in! Come in!” he greeted them with an overexaggerated smile. The gods filed in and took their seats at the table.

“Where is young Pelops?” Zeus asked, looking around. He expected to be greeted by his grandson.

“Oh, Pelops won’t be joining us today. He decided to stay the night at his friend’s house,” Tantalus said, forcing a laugh.

The gods chattered away while Tantalus finished up the stew in the kitchen. After a few minutes, he announced, “Dinner is ready.” He carried the large pot to the table and began to serve the stew.

He filled everyone’s bowls, but nobody went for it. Suspicion rested on every god’s face. Every god except for Demeter, who took a large bite of the meat in her stew. Demeter wasn’t thinking all too clearly. It was the time of the year that her daughter Persephone spent in the Underworld with Hades.

“Stop!” Zeus yelled.

Demeter dropped her spoon.

“You dare feed us a child?” Zeus hollered. He held up his bowl and inspected the meat inside. “Oh, young Pelops, what has your wretched father done now?” He turned to Tantalus, who started laughing hysterically.

“Guess you are as smart as you look,” Tantalus said.

Zeus rushed to Tantalus and grasped his face in his hand. He squeezed until Tantalus’ head popped like a balloon, and then he threw Tantalus’ body to the ground. Zeus turned to the Olympians and gestured to the bowls. “Put him back together.”

The Olympians got to work and took all the meat out of the bowls, reassembling them to form the body of Pelops. The only piece missing was his shoulder. Demeter carved him a new one out of ivory to replace the part of him that she digested. Then they brought poor Pelops back to life.

Zeus then met Tantalus in Tartarus, the darkest depths of the Underworld. Tartarus was reserved for only the worst evildoers, and it was there that Zeus punished Tantalus. Zeus placed him next to a fruit tree with branches just barely too high for him to reach. There was also a stream nearby, but if Tantalus ever reached for the water, it would move away from his touch. Tantalus would be eternally taunted with food and water but never be able to eat or drink any of it. He would forever starve.


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