Asteroid Files: Tantalus

Helios on Tantalus– Have you ever wanted something that you shouldn’t have? Did your desire ever haunt your dreams, wishing you could make it real? Hell, who hasn’t? Well, this asteroid knows all about that feeling….

The Astronomy– 2102 Tantalus is an Apollo asteroid discovered on December 27, 1975. It is a Q-type asteroid and has an orbital period of 1.47 years (535.19 days) and an eccentricity of .299

2102 Tantalus is a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) because its minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) is less than 0.05 AU and its diameter is greater than 150 meters. The Earth-MOID is 0.0439 AU (6,570,000 km; 4,080,000 mi). Its orbit is well-determined for the next several hundred years. It will pass 0.04439 AU (6,641,000 km; 4,126,000 mi) from Earth on 2038-Dec-27, which is just slightly closer than the 1975-Dec-26 approach of 0.046 AU. The asteroid is about 2–4 km in diameter.

The Myth– Tantalus was a Greek mythological figure, most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was the father of Pelops, Niobe, and Broteas, and was a son of Zeus and the nymph Plouto. Thus, like other heroes in Greek mythology such as Theseus and the Dioskouroi, Tantalus had both a hidden, divine parent and a mortal one.
In mythology, Tantalus became one of the inhabitants of Tartarus, the deepest portion of the Underworld, reserved for the punishment of evildoers; there Odysseus saw him. The association of Tantalus with the underworld is underscored by the names of his mother Plouto (“riches”, as in gold and other mineral wealth), and grandmother, Chthonia (“earth”).

Tantalus was initially known for having been welcomed to Zeus’ table in Olympus, like Ixion. There he is said to have misbehaved and stolen ambrosia and nectar to bring it back to his people, and revealed the secrets of the gods. Most famously, Tantalus offered up his son, Pelops, as a sacrifice. He cut Pelops up, boiled him, and served him up in a banquet for the gods. The gods became aware of the gruesome nature of the menu, so they did not touch the offering; only Demeter, distraught by the loss of her daughter, Persephone, absentmindedly ate part of the boy’s shoulder.

Clotho, one of the three Fates, was ordered by Zeus to bring the boy to life again. She collected the parts of the body and boiled them in a sacred cauldron, rebuilding his shoulder with one wrought of ivory made by Hephaestus and presented by Demeter. The revived Pelops grew to be an extraordinarily handsome youth. The god Poseidon took him to Mount Olympus to teach him to use chariots (H: Oh, is THAT what the kids are calling it now, Poseidon?). Later, Zeus threw Pelops out of Olympus due to his anger at Tantalus. The Greeks of classical times claimed to be horrified by Tantalus’s doings; cannibalism and filicide were atrocities and taboo.

Tantalus’s punishment for his act, now a proverbial term for temptation without satisfaction (the source of the English word tantalize), was to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches. Whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches raised his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded before he could get any. Over his head towers a threatening stone like the one that Sisyphus is punished to roll up a hill. This fate has cursed him with eternal deprivation of nourishment.

In a different story, Tantalus was blamed for indirectly having stolen the dog made of gold created by Hephaestus (god of metals and smithing) for Rhea to watch over infant Zeus. Tantalus’s friend Pandareus stole the dog and gave it to Tantalus for safekeeping. When asked later by Pandareus to return the dog, Tantalus denied that he had it, saying he “had neither seen nor heard of a golden dog.” According to Robert Graves, this incident is why an enormous stone hangs over Tantalus’s head. Others state that it was Tantalus who stole the dog, and gave it to Pandareus for safekeeping.

Tantalus was also the founder of the cursed House of Atreus in which variations on these atrocities continued. Misfortunes also occurred as a result of these acts, making the house the subject of many Greek tragedies.

Why He Matters– This is an easy one at first glance, but there is a lot to unpack here. Tantalus represents a point of great desire. Wherever he falls in your chart, this will be something that you really want- in fact a better word might be a compulsion. This can easily go wrong, especially when the object of your desire is another person, and that person wants nothing to do with you. Therefore, this asteroid is especially important in synastry, especially when there is a love triangle at play.

Now, if we break this myth down, we see that Tantalus might not be the black and white villain he is painted to be. When he goes to Olympos, he steals the secrets of health and long life to help his people. Then when he serves his son as a dinner, the implication is that he is doing so to try and please the gods. The amount of malice in the act depends on which interpretation you read. Then, in the story of the golden dog guardian (which was new to me), you see loyalty to his friend, trying to protect him from the gods. Tantalus is a complex figure, an antihero who makes bad decisions based on good intentions. More of a bumbling buffoon than evil mastermind- and who isn’t when desire is involved?

And so we get to the Torment of Tantalus (his punishment in Tartaros). He is tempted with abundance around him, yet he is cursed never to taste the bounty or quench his undying thirst. At that point, the giant rock overhead just seems like overkill. Of course, this is only irksome if you still need sustenance in the underworld, if not then why bother? A debate for another time- but it is telling with that line “This fate has cursed him with eternal deprivation of nourishment”. This puts Tantalus in direct opposition to the function of Ceres, who would have been the one most offended by the buffet he provided. In fact, you could say that Tantalus is the absence of Ceres, making their contacts in the chart incredibly interesting.

To find out where he shows up in your chart, go to astro.com, put in your birth details and in the extended options, all the way at the bottom of the next page, there will be a menu of additional objects. Under that is a blank space where you can enter the number 2102, for Tantalus. Once you have it entered, generate the chart! Where does Tantalus affect your life? Let us know in the comments below!

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