King Tantalus Who Only Cared About Himself: A Wonderful Ancient Greek Myth That Is Hardly Ever Told Illustration

King Tantalus Who Only Cared About Himself: A Wonderful Ancient Greek Myth That Is Hardly Ever Told

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a king named Tantalus. Everyone in his kingdom, including his wife and son, thought he was the most wonderful man in the world. Everyone believed he was a very good king, concerned about his people and their needs. But the truth was, King Tantalus was just plain rotten. He put up a good show, but he was evil.

King Tantalus could care less about his wife or his son or his people. The only thing King Tantalus cared about was himself. He thought his wife and his son and his people were stupid. He thought of himself as the smartest man in the world, much smarter than most of the gods, quite possibly smarter than all of them. Everyone in his kingdom believed there was no way to trick a god. Everyone knew the gods were all-knowing. Everyone, that is, except King Tantalus.

King Tantalus decided to trick the gods into doing something embarrassing, something they would never do, something they would never want anyone knowing about. That would prove he was smarter than any god.

King Tantalus knew there was one thing that the gods would never do. They would never eat human flesh. He was sure of it. Otherwise, there would not be any people left on earth!

King Tantalus decided to invite some of the gods to dinner. For the main course, he had his own son killed and made into a stew. If the gods were all-knowing, they would not eat it, and no harm done. But, if they did eat the stew, King Tantalus could reveal the "secret" ingredient, and blackmail the gods forever into giving King Tantalus everything he wanted. He knew the gods would never want a mere mortal to show the world how stupid they really were.

If gods refused to be blackmailed, he would threaten to tell his kingdom the gods had killed his son and made him into a stew. He knew the people would believe him. They always believed him. No one would leave offerings for the gods after that. King Tantalus was so delighted with his idea that he giggled and chuckled and laughed about it for days. The people were pleased to see their king so happy.

When the gods came to dinner, they knew right away what King Tantalus had done. First, they brought his son back to life, stronger and more handsome than ever before. Then, they punished King Tantalus by planting him firmly in the royal garden, next to an apple tree. The gods enchanted his feet so he could not move. They also enchanted the apple trees. Every time the hungry King Tantalus reached for an apple, the apple tree moved the branch just out of reach. Although apples did fall from the trees, none of the apples landed anywhere near the hungry king.

Word soon spread about the kingdom. Anyone who wanted to could peer over the garden wall and see King Tantalus stuck in the ground. At first, the people in the kingdom were upset and thought something should be done. A few even tried to enter the garden, but the apple trees wound their branches and blocked them. The people did not worry about the king for long. As the gossips spread more and more stories of the rotten ugly things King Tantalus had done, the people turned their backs on the royal gardens. 

King Tantalus slowly withered away.

The king's son, however, turned out to be a wonderful leader, concerned about his people and their needs. And all was well with the kingdom under his caring rule.

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