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n. Greek Mythology
A king who for his crimes was condemned in Hades to stand in water that receded when he tried to drink, and with fruit hanging above him that receded when he reached for it.

[Latin, from Greek Tantalos; see telə- in Indo-European roots.]
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


(Classical Myth & Legend) Greek myth a king, the father of Pelops, punished in Hades for his misdeeds by having to stand in water that recedes when he tries to drink it and under fruit that moves away as he reaches for it


Brit a case in which bottles may be locked with their contents tantalizingly visible
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014


(ˈtæn tl əs)

n., pl. -lus•es.
1. a legendary king of Phrygia who was condemned to remain in Tartarus, chin deep in water, with fruit-laden branches above his head: whenever he tried to drink or eat, the water and fruit receded out of reach.
2. (l.c.) a rack containing visible decanters secured by a lock.
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.Tantalus - (Greek mythology) a wicked king and son of ZeusTantalus - (Greek mythology) a wicked king and son of Zeus; condemned in Hades to stand in water that receded when he tried to drink and beneath fruit that receded when he reached for it
Greek mythology - the mythology of the ancient Greeks
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.
References in classic literature ?
And now it is the time; from Hell's abyss Come thirsting Tantalus, come Sisyphus Heaving the cruel stone, come Tityus With vulture, and with wheel Ixion come, And come the sisters of the ceaseless toil; And all into this breast transfer their pains, And (if such tribute to despair be due) Chant in their deepest tones a doleful dirge Over a corse unworthy of a shroud.
Frequently they suffered for miles the torments of Tantalus; water continually within sight, yet fevered with the most parching thirst.
He climbed its highest peak and looked throughout the whole isle of Pelops, son of Tantalus; and soon the glorious hero with his dread eyes saw horse-taming Castor and athlete Polydeuces both hidden within a hollow oak.'
"I saw also the dreadful fate of Tantalus, who stood in a lake that reached his chin; he was dying to quench his thirst, but could never reach the water, for whenever the poor creature stooped to drink, it dried up and vanished, so that there was nothing but dry ground--parched by the spite of heaven.
1) Nay, but the piteous tale I've heard men tell Of Tantalus' doomed child, Chained upon Siphylus' high rocky fell, That clung like ivy wild, Drenched by the pelting rain and whirling snow, Left there to pine, While on her frozen breast the tears aye flow-- Her fate is mine.
Then he raised to his lips the repast that, like a voluntary Tantalus, he refused himself; but he thought of his oath, and he would not break it.
A tantalus containing three kinds of spirit, all of a liqueur excellence, stood always on this table of luxury; but the fanciful have asserted that the whisky, brandy, and rum seemed always to stand at the same level.
I passed the time with one restless eye upon the clock, and the other on the Tantalus which Raffles ruthlessly declined to unlock.
It was cruel to make a Tantalus of the chubby-checked boy.
"Yes, there was a tantalus containing brandy and whisky on the sea-chest.
So, what happens when--once again--the water seems to be within the reach of Tantalus? What else?
Summary: In Greek mythology Tantalus was punished for reasons that are not entirely clear.