Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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This singular punishment inflicted upon Tantalus gave rise to the expression “to tantalize.”

Another criminal was Sisyphus, who, while king of Corinth, had misused his power, had robbed and killed travelers, and even deceived the gods. His reprehensible conduct was punished in Tartarus, where he was condemned [168] to roll a huge stone to the top of a very steep hill; and just as he reached the summit, and fancied his task done, the rock would slip from his grasp and roll to the foot of the hill, thus obliging him to renew all his exertions.

“With many a weary step, and many a groan,
Up the high hill he heaves a huge round stone;
The huge round stone, resulting with a bound,
Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground.
Again the restless orb his toil renews,
Dust mounts in clouds, and sweat descends in dews.”
Homer (Pope’s tr.).

Salmoneus, another king, had vainly tried to make his subjects believe he was Jupiter. To that effect, he had once driven over a brazen bridge to imitate the roll of thunder, and, to simulate the thunderbolts, had thrown lighted torches down upon the multitude, purposely assembled below.

“Th’ audacious wretch four fiery coursers drew:
He wav’d a torch aloft, and, madly vain,
Sought godlike worship from a servile train.
Ambitious fool, with horny hoofs to pass
O’er hollow arches of resounding brass,
To rival thunder in its rapid course,
And imitate inimitable force!”
Virgil (Dryden’s tr.).

This insolent parody so incensed Jupiter, that he grasped one of his deadliest thunderbolts, brandished it aloft for a moment, and then hurled it with vindictive force at the arrogant king. In Tartarus, Salmoneus was placed beneath an overhanging rock, which momentarily threatened to fall, and crush him under its mass.

“He was doomed to sit under a huge stone,
Which the father of the gods
Kept over his head suspended.
Thus he sat
In continual dread of its downfall,
And lost to every comfort.”

[169] Still farther on was the recumbent form of Tityus, a giant whose body covered nine acres of ground. He had dared offer an insult to Juno, and in punishment was chained like Prometheus, while a vulture feasted on his liver.

“There Tityus was to see, who took his birth
From heav’n, his nursing from the foodful earth:
Here his gigantic limbs, with large embrace,
Infold nine acres of infernal space.
A rav’nous vulture in his open side
Her crooked beak and cruel talons try’d:
Still for the growing liver digg’d his breast,
The growing liver still supply’d the feast.”
Virgil (Dryden’s tr.).

Here in Tartarus, too, was Ixion, king of the Lapithæ, who had been given the hand of Dia in marriage on condition that he would give her father a stipulated sum of money in exchange, but who, as soon as the maiden was his, refused to keep his promise. The father-in-law was an avaricious man, and clamored so loudly for his money, that Ixion, to be rid of his importunities, slew him. Such an act of violence could not be overlooked by the gods: so Jupiter summoned Ixion to appear before him and state his case.