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Tantalus

[tan-tl-uh s]
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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.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for tantalus

Historical Examples

  • I shall probably have to bear the pains of Tantalus three months longer.

    Erdgeist (Earth-Spirit)

    Frank Wedekind

  • Is there, in Tantalus' dim cup, The shadow of water, nought beside?

    Silhouettes

    Arthur Symons

  • But in this emergency Poseidon came to the aid of the son of Tantalus.

  • A man in such a situation is somewhat like Tantalus reversed.

  • Boundary unlocked his tantalus and took out a full decanter of whisky.

    Jack O' Judgment

    Edgar Wallace


British Dictionary definitions for tantalus

tantalus

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

noun
  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
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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

Word Origin and History for tantalus

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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

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.

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Note

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.