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[tan-tl-uh s] /ˈtæn tl əs/
noun, plural Tantaluses for 2.
Classical Mythology. a Phrygian king who was condemned to remain in Tartarus, chin deep in water, with fruit-laden branches hanging above his head: whenever he tried to drink or eat, the water and fruit receded out of reach.
(lowercase) Chiefly British. a stand or rack containing visible decanters, especially of wines or liquors, secured by a lock. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for Tantalus


(Brit) a case in which bottles may be locked with their contents tantalizingly visible


(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
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for Tantalus

Greek Tantalos, king of Phrygia, perhaps literally "the Bearer" or "the Sufferer," by dissimilation from *tal-talos, a reduplication of PIE root *tel-, *tol- "to bear, carry, support" (see extol). Cf. tantalize.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Tantalus in Culture
Tantalus [(tan-tuh-luhs)]

A king in classical mythology who, as punishment for having offended the gods, was tortured with everlasting thirst and hunger in Hades. He stood up to his chin in water, but each time he bent to quench his thirst, the water receded. There were boughs heavy with fruit over his head, but each time he tried to pluck them, the wind blew them out of reach.

Note: Something is “tantalizing” if it is desirable but unattainable.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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