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Tantalus, who was a bad person, was sent to the fields of punishment.

He stood in a pool, with a fruit tree above him, but the food and drink would always go away from him when he tried to eat it.

So what was symbolized of this punishment, to starve and thirst forevermore?

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    Well he was a greedy guy who fed the gods his own children so I guess the punishment was representing the fact that his crime involved food. – Bellerophon Mar 27 '16 at 19:36
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There are two main reasons attributed to Tantalus's punishment, sources from theoi.com:

  • He was invited to Olympus by Zeus, ate the food of the gods (ambrosia and nectar), and was given divine secrets, which he then blabbed (Hom. Od. xi. 582).
  • He wanted to test the gods and see how perceptive they were, so he invited them to his home for dinner, and killed his son Pelops and cooked and served the boy to the gods. (Hygin. Fab. 83 ; Serv. ad Aen. vi. 603, ad Georg. iii. 7.)

Theoi mentions other stories which I've never heard before, so I don't know how common they are (including one which says he fell in love with Zeus's cup-bearing boy Ganymede and carried him off!).

In any case, the punishment is that food and drink always seem to be within his grasp but are never attainable, and his two major sins both involved food which should not have been eaten.

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