The Myth of Tantalus Teagan Foster

My fate is cruel? No doubt it makes you think

Of Dante , how I’m in it up to here.

The pool is warm, I tell myself; to drink

It wouldn’t cool me anyway, so tears

Are not in order . And to eat the fruit

That hangs above me on that long, lone tree branch

Would only lead to fouling what I stand

In. No, it’s better this way. This way suits

Me fine, thank you. In water free of stench,

I contemplate one perfect apple wind

Would only blow away were I to reach

Weep not for me, gentle reader . Each

Man wants some object that will always tease

And taunt. The trick is learning to be pleased

The poem’s tone is despairing. Lines 3 through 5 state that “to drink/ It wouldn’t cool me anyway, so tears/ Are not in order” (Krissak). By telling us this, the speaker seems to want to drink, but knows that they will just become thirsty once more. The arrangement of the lines and words also contributes to the despairing tone. Because the poet chose to write “It wouldn’t cool me anyway, so tears/ Are not in order” (4-5) the speaker seems to be contradicting what he wants. He wants to drink, but knows it wouldn’t cool him off, therefore adding to the despairing tone. The poet also uses words that have a negative connotation to show the tone, such as “tears”, “tease”, “taunt”, and “lone”. All of these words have a negative connotation that show the despair of the speaker. The author also chose to include a paradox in the poem. In lines 12 to 14, the poet states that "Each/ Man wants some object that will tease/ And taunt" (Krissak). The paradox indicates that everyone will want something, but be unable to reach it, no matter how hard they try to claim it.

Tantalus was invited to Olympus, where he stole some of the god’s food, ambrosia, and revealed their secrets. As an apology, he offered his son, Pelops, as a sacrifice to the gods. However, they were aware of his plan, and Pelops was resurrected and Tantalus punished for his deeds. Tantalus, in Tartarus, stands in a pool of water with an apple hanging over his head. Whenever he reaches for the apple, the branch pulls away, and when he tries to drink the water, it recedes out of his reach. The lesson of the poem is to not be greedy and appreciate what you have.

In the second book of the popular series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the author, Rick Riordan, includes a direct reference to the myth of Tantalus. He does this by bringing the character of Tantalus into the story as the camp’s temporary activities director. Riordan also left the punishment that the gods had created for Tantalus, but changed it to a curse where anything edible fled his touch. The overall effect of the myth in modern form has made an impact on our language and our culture in the form of books.

All of these texts connect to explain how Tantalus was punished for his deeds. Riordan's book explains the punishment and even dips into the history of the myth in an easy to understand manner, which inspires his readers to explore into the depths of Greek mythology and learn about the origins of the myth, leading them to the summary of Tantalus and the poem. The website summarizes Tantalus's history with the gods and why he was punished, with the tantalizing apple hanging over his head while standing in water


"Tantalus and Pelops." Tantalus and Pelops. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2: The Sea of Monsters. New York, NY: Miramax /Hyperion for Children, 2006. Print.


Created with images by shaferlens - "apples" • huggleperson - "lake" • Stewart Black - "Apple 010 / 100"

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