Monday, May 02, 2005



Tantalus (2001)

From James Hunter at

Tantalus was the son of Zeus and was the king of Sipylos. He was uniquely favored among mortals since he was invited to share the food of the gods. However, he abused the guest-host relationship and was punished by being "tantalized" with hunger and thirst in Tartarus: he was immersed up to his neck in water, but when he bent to drink, it all drained away; luscious fruit hung on trees above him, but when he reached for it the winds blew the branches beyond his reach.

There are differing stories about what Tantalus' crime was. One account says that he tried to share the divine ambrosia with other mortals, and thus aroused the ire of the gods. A more famous account says that he invited the gods to a banquet and served them the dismembered body of his own son, Pelops; when the gods discovered the trick, they punished Tantalus and restored Pelops to life, replacing with ivory a part of the shoulder which had been eaten by Demeter.

Tantalus' family was an ill-fated one. His daughter, Niobe, lost all her children and was turned to stone. His son, Pelops, was murdered, cooked, and restored to life. His grandsons, Atreus and Thyestes, struggled for power, and Atreus committed a variation of Tantalus' cannibalistic trick with Thyestes' children. His great-grandson, Agamemnon, was murdered by another great-grandson, Aegisthus, who was in turn killed by a great-great-grandson, Orestes.

From a story at Hitherby Dragons called "Tantalus Looks for Work":

Tantalus walks into Burger Land. He knocks on Sharon's door. At her signal, he enters. He says, "I would like to apply for a job here."

"Do you have fast food experience, Mr. . . ."


"Mr. Tantalus?"

"No." He shakes his head.

Sharon looks around in her desk. She passes him a form. She says, "Fill this out, and we'll check your references, and then you can come in again."

Tantalus begins to fill out the form.

"It's a funny name," Sharon says. "It's like that guy, what's his name---"


"Yeah. The guy who stood in a land of plenty, but had nothing to eat or drink."

"Yes," Tantalus says. "That was me."

Sharon laughs nervously.

"It was everything that Burger Land is not," Tantalus says. "This is a land where food and water flow freely."

He passes the form across the desk. He looks apologetic.

"But I don't have any references," Tantalus says.

"That was really you? I mean, in Hell?"

"I cooked my son and served him to the gods," Tantalus says, "so I spent roughly three thousand years starving in the Underworld. Now my sentence is up and I would like to become a productive member of society."

Sharon's face has gone curiously blank. There is a silence. Then she stands up. She indicates the door with a nod. "Not in Burger Land," she says.

So he goes out.

It's odd how mythic figures get re-translated as logos and brand names to sell consumer goods. Mercury's dispatches become floral deliveries. Mars, god of war, is sugared over to sell candy bars.

Being the moniker of a planet is one thing, but should the goddess of beauty sell sex toys at a site called Venus Envy?

Tantalus still seems emblematic for today's you-can-have-it-all get-on-the-fast-track culture. Can one really balance parenthood with a career and not sometimes feel a cycle of dissatisfaction?

Click your remote furiously through those 150+ cable channels. Can you "reach" anything to nourish your spirit and slake your thirst for meaning?

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