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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. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for Tantalus
Historical Examples
  • Anstice took a cigarette from the case his host held out, and Major Carstairs made a gesture towards the Tantalus on the table.

    Afterwards Kathlyn Rhodes
  • The next two forms, Tantalus and Sisyphus, have also a kinship.

    Homer's Odyssey Denton J. Snider
  • The vineyard has no value to Tantalus, unable to reach its fruit.

    The Principles of Economics Frank A. Fetter
  • Who cannot attain the latter is a Tantalus, seeking but never reaching the fruit.

    Homer's Odyssey Denton J. Snider
  • "Give me the key of the Tantalus," said Carrington promptly.

    Simon J. Storer Clouston
  • It was a melancholy exemplification of the story of Tantalus.

    Fred Markham in Russia W. H. G. Kingston
  • I met a traveller who had returned from Hades where he had conversed with Tantalus and with others of the shades.

  • We were doomed to a fate scarcely less terrible than that of Tantalus.

    Saved from the Sea W.H.G. Kingston
  • It was Tantalus and Sisyphus rolled into one unsightly package and fastened to his soul.

    The Lani People J. F. Bone
  • But in this emergency Poseidon came to the aid of the son of Tantalus.

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 American Heritage® 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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