Friday, October 7, 2011

Tantalus

Tantalus was first known for being a mortal guest on Olympus. It is said that he stole ambrosia and nectar, with the idea to bring it back to his people. He also revealed secrest of the Gods to his people. What he's most famous for, however, is a sacrifice he performed.

Tantalus sacrificed his own son, Pelops. He cut up the boy, boiled him, and served him up in a banquet for the Gods. Most of the Gods weren't fooled however, and did not touch the offering. Only Demeter ate the "food", not paying attention to what was going on around her because of the loss of Persephone.

Zeus ordered Clotho, one of the three Fates, to bring the boy back to life. Clotho collected all the parts of the body and boiled them in a sacred cauldron. The missing shoulder was built out of ivory by Hephaestus, and given to Clotho by Demeter. Rhea gave Pelops the breath of life while Pan danced in joy. Pelops emerged with beauty that rivaled the Gods. Poseidon instantly fell in love with the boy, and took him to Olympus in a chariot drawn by golden horses. Pelops became Poseidon's cup-bearer and attendant whenever the sea God visited the palace on Olympus. Later Pelops returned to the world of mortals, and had misadventures of his own.

Tantalus had also committed a third crime, perjury. A golden dog given to Rhea so she had help watching over the infant Zeus (it was said that Hephaestus made the dog, but that doesn't make sense being that Hephaestus is supposed to be the son of Hera). Once it was no longer needed to guard Zeus, the dog was placed in Zeus' temple at Dicte. It was here that the dog was stolen. Eventually Tantalus came into possession of it. When Hermes asked Tantalus about the dog, Tantalus swore an oath by Zeus that he knew nothing about it. Hermes exposed the lie, and discovered the thief.

The Greeks were horrified by what Tantalus had done. Cannibalism, human sacrifice and infanticide were atrocities and as taboo as they are in our society today. Hades' punishment for Tantalus' crimes was to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches. Whenever he reached for food, the branches moved out of his reach. When he tried to drink, the water receded before he could get a drop. There was also a threatening boulder placed over his head, in punishment for the act of perjury. He was one of the few that received eternal punishment, with no chance to go to the Asphodel Meadows.

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