Gods weren't crazy about Tantalus
I'M SURE a lot of nice people live on Mount Tantalus and along Tantalus Drive, but I've always detected a hint of smugness among the inhabitants of that lofty perch, as if they were Greek gods looking down on the rest of us.
I recently discovered that our Mount Tantalus shares a connection to mythical gods of Mount Olympus, but not in a way that brings any credit to the owners of the million-dollar homes that boast breathtaking views from Diamond Head to Barbers Point.
In fact, if Tantalus residents knew the true story of their mountain's namesake, it might wipe the smugness off their faces, or at least make them claim that they thought Tantalus was named after the "third paddler on the right in the first Polynesian sailing canoe to land in the islands."
I came across the real story of Tantalus while doing some light reading (as I'm apt to do) in a delicate 12-pound volume of ancient Greek mythology. (You ought to see my heavy reading.)
To put it lightly, this guy Tantalus was a real piece of work.
FIRST OF ALL, he wasn't a god, as some references to Tantalus in Hawaii housing, hiking and travel brochures allege. Although he was the son of Zeus, the father of all the gods, he was a mortal. He was the king of Sipylus and extremely rich.
He was sometimes allowed to join Zeus and the gods on Olympus at meals, but he made a real pig of himself, stuffing himself with nectar and ambrosia. It's said that he even stole some of the nectar and ambrosia to share with his mortal friends, which was stupid because, even for the gods, ambrosia didn't come cheap.
He also eavesdropped on the immortals' conversations and then told all of his mortal friends what they said. That was not such a big deal because what the gods usually talked about was how freakin' expensive ambrosia was and why was it so hard to get your immortal hands on a good bottle of vintage nectar anymore?
Tantalus apparently was something of an arrogant jerk who didn't believe the gods really had all the power they claimed to have. So, as we'll see, he kind of screwed up there.
Just to act like a big shot, Tantalus invited the gods to dine in his palace. And to discover if they were really all-knowing, he prepared an interesting test: He had his own son, Pelops, slain and turned into stew for the gods' dinner. It wasn't what you would call an "Olive Garden moment."
Well, most of the gods knew immediately something was up. The fact that the odd femur and leg bone was floating around in the cauldron might have been a clue. Greek mythological history says that only Demeter, who wasn't the sharpest arrow in the gods' quiver, "ate of the gruesome dish," munching happily on an entire shoulder blade. (She later reported it tasted like unicorn.)
The other gods threw the pieces of Pelops back into the cauldron, and Clotho, one of the fates (the showoff one), resurrected Pelops, with an ivory shoulder to replace the one that Demeter ate. (Things were a bit tense between Demeter and Pelops after that.)
FOR HIS little stunt, the gods sent Tantalus to Hades, where he was forced to stand for all eternity in a lake whose waters came just to his chin. It was Hades, so you know it was pretty hot. But whenever Tantalus dipped his head to drink water, the water would recede. I don't know about you, but as a punishment from the gods, I think this was a pretty good one. There also was apparently some delicious fruit that the gods put just out of Tantalus's reach, so he was kind of bumming there, too.
Now, our Mount Tantalus was allegedly named by some hiking students who thought they were naming it "after a Greek god who was always thirsty." They probably should have checked in with Paul Harvey to get "the rest of the story."
The story of Tantalus actually gets a lot worse. He had a daughter, Niobe, the queen of Thebes, who ticked off another god. That god had Niobe's seven daughters and seven sons killed in front of her and then turned Niobe into block of marble. (The gods had very little sense of humor in those days.)
So, those residents of our Mount Tantalus should consider being a little more humble as they sit on their mountain and look down on the rest of us mere mortals of average real estate. You might have a great view, but your dude, Tantalus, was a real idiot.
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