Analysis

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Last Updated on July 16, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 592

The poem contains a religious lesson, which comes through the retelling of the myths of Tantalus and his son, Pelops.

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Tantalus is favored by the gods until the dreadful day when he tests the gods by preparing his own son, Pelops, as a meal and feeding him to those gathered around Zeus's table. In the story, Demeter digs in and starts eating Pelops's shoulder; by the time the gods realize they have been served human meat, they can only offer the resurrected Pelops a prosthetic shoulder. Tantalus also steals nectar and ambrosia, which is thought to keep the gods immortal. In some versions of the myth, he distributes this immortality elixir to mortals, which thus elevates mankind to the status of the gods.

Tantalus is eternally punished in Hades for his deception; he is subjected to continual thirst and hunger, with water and food placed before him that he can't quite reach. Symbolically, since Tantalus gave into his arrogant desire to be like the gods and to have the power to bestow immortality to others, he is eternally denied the most basic of human needs: water and nourishment.

However, Pindar's poem mentions a different aspect of Tantalus's punishment in his version of the tale, saying that Tantalus has a stone hung above his head and is constantly "divided from joy" due to the threat that looms above him. This can symbolically be read as a separation from the same kind of joy victory can bring—prestige in the community, respect, the honor of the gods. The threat of being crushed perpetually looms over him, which keeps him in an eternally humble state of mind. Pindar moralizes on the tale by teaching that if a man is honored by the gods, he should handle his glory with humility, or he may lose the fortune that has been bestowed upon him.

In contrast, Tantalus's son, Pelops, takes the favor of the gods humbly, which can be seen in how he addresses Poseidon in the myth:

Look you, Poseidon, if you have had any joy of my love and the Kyprian's sweet gifts, block the brazen spear of Oinomaos, and give me the fleeter chariot by Elis's river, and clothe me about in strength. Thirteen suitors he has killed now, and ever puts aside...

(The entire section contains 592 words.)

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