tantalize (tan-tə-līz)

Tantalus reaches for a fruit that he will never be able to reach, while standing in water that he will never be able to drink. (Image by xenomorph from greekmythology.com)

Many of you are probably familiar with the word tantalize, but you may not know of its origin in Greek mythology.

Tantalus was Zeus’s son. The gods favored Tantalus so much that they invited him to a grand feast on Mount Olympus itself. To return the favor, Tantalus hosted a feast in his palace. Although he was a very rich king, nothing seemed good enough for his most honored guests. His most beloved treasure was his son, Pelops. Therefore, Tantalus decided to kill Pelops and make a stew with Pelops as the main ingredient. When he offered this delightful meal to the gods, they were angry, for the gods of Olympus hated human sacrifice.

The Olympians punished Tantalus by throwing him in the Fields of Punishment to suffer forever. He was condemned to stand in water up to his neck with branches of fruit hanging over him. Whenever he stooped to drink, the water would quickly recede and whenever he reached for the succulent fruit overhead, the branch would bend out of reach.

Pelops was resurrected by the gods. However, one of his shoulder bones was missing because Demeter, grief-stricken by the loss of her daughter Persephone (who was kidnapped by Hades), accidentally took a bite of the stew. The gods replaced his shoulder bone with a piece of ivory and gave him majestic gifts.

Tantalize is a verb meaning “to tease or torment by presenting something to the view and exciting desire but continually frustrating the expectations by keeping it out of reach“(Merriam Webster).