TANTALUS, son of Zeus, ruled over Sipylus in Lydia. He was very rich in worldly goods and famed for his wealth in both Asia and Greece. If ever the Olympian gods paid honor to a mortal, it was to him. Because of his divine origin, they cherished him as a friend, and at last he was even, permitted to dine at the board of Zeus and listen to the words which passed between the immortals. But his vain human spirit could not bear the exquisite burden of unearthly bliss, and he began to sin against the gods in a number of ways: he betrayed their secrets; he filched nectar and ambrosia from their board and distributed it among his companions in the world below; he hid the image of a dog, wrought of precious gold, which another had stolen from Zeus’ temple in Crete, and when the king of the gods demanded it back, he swore he had never seen it. Finally, in his matchless arrogance, he invited the gods to his palace as a return for their hospitality, and in order to test whether they really knew all things, he had his own son Pelops slain and prepared for their meal. Only Demeter ate of the gruesome dish—one shoulder-blade. The other gods recognized what had been put before them and threw the torn limbs of the boy into a cauldron, from which Clotho, one of the Fates, drew him forth in fresh beauty. But one shoulder was of ivory!
With this, Tantalus had exceeded all bounds of iniquity, and the gods thrust him down to Hades, where he was punished with cruel torments. He had to stand in the middle of a lake whose waters came to his chin, yet he suffered burning thirst, for he could not reach the draught so close to his lips. Whenever he bent down to quench his thirst, the water receded, and at his feet lay the dark dry earth. At the same time he had to endure the pangs of hunger. Behind him, on the margin of the lake, grew beautiful fruit trees which arched their boughs over his head. Looking up, he saw juicy pears, red-cheeked apples, glowing pomegranates, plump figs, and green olives. But the moment he reached to pluck them, a strong wind whipped the branches up into the clouds. His last and most terrible torment was the incessant fear of death. A great block of stone hung in the air over his head and constantly threatened to crush him. So impious Tantalus, who scorned the gods, was destined to threefold, perpetual suffering in the underworld.