The Myth of Tantalus

November 19, 2021 1 By Lance Kelly

Tantalus was condemned by Zeus to suffer interminably for serving his son at a banquet on Mount Olympus. For this insult to the gods, his punishment was to be staked to a post in a lake with water up to his neck. A tree of ripened fruit was suspended above him. He was afflicted with a raging thirst and hunger but every time he moved to drink, the water receded; and no matter how much he strained and stretched, the fruit could not be reached. From this myth comes the word ‘tantalise’, which is to be tempted or tormented by something desirable but elusive.

The world, which has been superimposed upon the simplicity of the earth, exists to tantalise human beings by its bogus suggestion of fulfilment of their deepest desires; but in all recorded history, no one has ever found this to be the truth. The world will always short change man or woman, whatever is sacrificed in conceding to its demands. This is because the world is an effect of the legacy of the gods. Although they participated in the world, they were immortal beings and not subject to the limitations of their mortal subjects. Tantalus was part human and part divine, a demi god fathered by Zeus. This privileged position elevated him above the normal ranks of mortal beings and allowed him to have access to the gods and their intimate ways. Tantalus was soon tempted by what he saw as something he wanted beyond all other desires: to be a god himself like his father and the other divine beings on Mount Olympus.

It’s only possible to be tempted by something where there is attachment. The deepest attachment for human beings is to the physical body, from which arises the fear of death. Every emotional and psychological disturbance has its root in this fundamental lack in knowledge of our immortal being. The gods, who were immortal, had no concept of fear or death. Having no past, they had no future and could exist only once before disappearing across the horizon of time. The gods played the game of love and revelled in the power struggles between themselves and the affairs of mortal man. But the difference was that they were not attached to the outcome and could withdraw at will back to the rarefied air on Mount Olympus. It was the gods’ preoccupation with sex and the manipulation of the psychic energies of lust and power that continues to reverberate within the echelons of the psyche. The compulsion to think, daydream and fantasise about sex and create erotic scenarios in the mind continues to tantalise human beings to this day.

Tantalus is eternally marooned in the backwaters of the unconscious, symbolic of humanity’s insatiable appetite for sensual experience in the flesh. Each of us is compelled by a burning inner passion to discover the fulfilment of our heart’s desire. This entails living without compromise or fear of what others might say, or being a slave to our own emotions of guilt and self-judgment. The world fears true individuality, as did Zeus and the other gods who suppressed the virtue of humanity whenever it threatened their own power and position of authority. The power of myth is our divine connection with eternity. Tantalus was on the ascending wave of becoming a god, but abused his privileged position – and in his arrogance paid the price for his indiscretion. But all who venture to realise their inner divinity must pass through this level of ignorance on the way to becoming free of the tantalising grip of the world. In this way the Godrealised man and woman looks back with infinite compassion on the plight of their fellow human beings and serves as a beacon of truth to guide the others home.