Emblem 055: Tantalus

He’s being punished down in the Greek underworld. Thirsty, he’s up to his waist in sparkling mineral water with a twist of lime. He scoops it up in his hands and pours it into his mouth. It disappears, not even a drop goes down his throat. Famished, he stands under a tree on which grows every type of fruit. Apples, Queen Ann cherries, those pears they ship in from Korea that taste like caramel. Also hot wings, tri-tip, really good Thai food– you name it, it’s growing on the tip of a branch just over his head. He gathers it by the handful and crams it into his mouth. It vanishes before he even gets a taste. He’s empty and stays that way. The pain is continuous, the craving never fades.

Meanwhile up in the sunlit realm of mortals he has difficulties with relationships. He’s nice looking, has a great sense of humor, dating is no problem. But once things get serious he tells the story of how no one has ever met his needs—no one’s even recognized them.

Naturally during the honeymoon period his partner goes all out to make a difference. For some reason this doesn’t work. The story doesn’t change. Partner tries harder, partner shows Tantalus he’s got his back, here’s that tabletop hockey game you always wanted when you were a kid that no one ever got for you. Same song. Sooner or later the partner begins to feel unappreciated, then depleted, then a little invisible. He packs his share of things and vanishes. Tantalus grieves over his unmet needs.

Contrary to the myth Tantalus hasn’t done anything to deserve this. On the other hand he’s not chained to that tree. He can leave tree, underworld and weird repetitive punishment anytime he chooses. But it’s hard to walk away from something he’s never had. As if the not-having is the closest he can get to it, and yes it hurts but it’s better than giving it up all hope and expectation. Isn’t it?


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