[ tan-tl-uhs ]

noun,plural Tan·ta·lus·es for 2.
  1. 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.

  2. (lowercase)Chiefly British. a stand or rack containing visible decanters, especially of wines or liquors, secured by a lock.

Words Nearby Tantalus

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use Tantalus in a sentence

  • There are pleasures of Tantalus as well as pains of Tantalus.

    The Proud Prince | Justin Huntly McCarthy
  • Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus, and was born on Mount Sipylus.

  • But Wade refused to play Tantalus to the lure of this temptation and kept silent.

    Hidden Gold | Wilder Anthony
  • Near the Danades stands Tantalus, the father of Niobe, who on earth was a most inhuman and brutal king.

  • The inhuman Tantalus was condemned to the torments of Tartarus, where he stands up to his chin in a clear stream.

British Dictionary definitions for tantalus (1 of 2)


/ (ˈtæntələs) /

  1. British a case in which bottles may be locked with their contents tantalizingly visible

British Dictionary definitions for Tantalus (2 of 2)


/ (ˈtæntələs) /

  1. 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

Cultural definitions for 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.

Notes for Tantalus

Something is “tantalizing” if it is desirable but unattainable.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.